Michele Gelfand

Award-Winning Cultural Psychologist, Stanford University's John H. Scully Professor in Cross-Cultural Management & Professor of Organizational Behavior
  • Leading expert on the impact of organizational culture on teamwork and performance
  • Author of the best-selling book “Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World”
  • Her research and writing on culture has received $13 million in funding from the DoD and the FBI, and has been cited over 50,000 times in national media
  • Helps groups understand the differences between “tight” and “loose” cultures, where their own falls, and how to pivot if needed

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Renowned psychology expert and Stanford University professor Michele Gelfand is one of the leading researchers and writers on culture and the impact of culture on behavior. She’s the author of the wildly popular book Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World. Gelfand’s research and writing focuses on the difference between “tight” and “loose” cultures, and how that distinction impacts businesses globally. Arguing that culture drives performance more than mission statements, HR campaigns, or even financial incentives ever will, she helps organizations understand if their culture is “tight” or “loose,” why that is, how that drives everything from performance to revenue to position in the marketplace, and how to create a more “open” or “loose” culture. Gelfand’s work on tight-loose theory and its impact on business performance has been cited over 20,000 times and has been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, National Public Radio, Morning Joe, Voice of America, Fox News, NBC News, ABC News, The Economist, De Standard, and more. She is exclusively represented by Leading Authorities speakers bureau.

In eye-opening and fast-paced presentations that hit on the “cultural DNA” driving and guiding the way we act at work, Gelfand explores why certain companies veer tight while others veer loose. She explores how social norms are informed by these invisible guidebooks, and what that means for not only employee experience but also for our customers, markets, stakeholders, and clients. Gelfand uses real-life examples from the organizations she’s studied to explore how we should be thinking about our work cultures and how to establish the optimal tight-loose balance to create the high-performing culture we all strive for.

Called an “engaging writer with real intellectual range” by The New York Times, Gelfand has published in many scientific outlets such as Science, Journal of Applied Psychology, American Psychologist, among others. Her research has received over 13 million dollars in funding from the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, and the FBI. She received the 2017 Outstanding International Psychologist Award from the American Psychological Association and was invited to be on the board at the National Academy of Sciences in 2018.

She is co-editor of Values, Political Action, and Change in the Middle East and the Arab Spring, The Psychology of Conflict and Conflict Management in Organizations, and The Handbook of Negotiation and Culture. She is the founding co-editor of the Advances in Culture and Psychology annual series and the Frontiers of Culture and Psychology series. She is the Past President of the International Association for Conflict Management, Past Division Chair of the Conflict Division of the Academy of Management, and Past Treasurer of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology.

Gelfand is the recipient of numerous honors and accolades, such as being elected to the National Academy of Sciences (2022) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2019). Her other recognitions include the 2019 Outstanding Contributions to Cultural Psychology Award, the 2016 Diener award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Annaliese Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation given to 7 scholars worldwide. She was elected to be an Honorary Fellow of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology.

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Speaker Video

Michele Gelfand: Is Your Organization "Tight" or "Loose"?

Michele Gelfand: The Secret Life of Social Norms

Dr. Michele Gelfand On Cultural Differences & Tight-Loose Theory

The Secret Factor Driving Corporate Performance: Tight & Loose Cultures. Every leader wants to create a high-performing workplace culture. But let's be honest: a mission statement, motivational video, or even financial rewards do little to move the needle. That's because none help shape the actual social norms that make up company culture. To improve these building blocks, business leaders need to perform a cultural audit and understand how to design their cultures based on the science of social norms. They need to balance their flexibility—or looseness—and standardization—or tightness. The best leaders have cultural ambidexterity; they know when to deploy each. Gelfand will help today's leading businesses shape their culture to generate the best of both worlds.

Going Global? How To Ensure Cultural Compatibility Through Mergers & Growth. Billion-dollar mergers require extraordinary due diligence. But vetting financial statements, legal risks, and even nation-state instability isn't sufficient. In today's world, executives must ensure cultural compatibility. From Daimler Chrysler to Amazon and Wholefoods, Gelfand will discuss the cultural icebergs that lie beneath the surface of these deals, how they limit performance, and more importantly, how to avoid cultural pitfalls. She will also help you to identify the types of employees who will perform effectively in different environments as you grow your business across cultural borders.

Increasing Your Cultural Intelligence (CQ). Most people know about IQ and even EQ (emotional intelligence). But in our globalized and interdependent world, what people really need is to increase their CQ. Through an exciting array of self-assessments, fun exercises, and best practices that are based on years of her scientific research, you’ll not only increase your understanding of people from different cultures better, you’ll have new insights into own worldviews.

Chaos & Order: Managing Relationships At Work. From onboarding to annual retreats, more and more organizations are giving employees self-assessment tools to promote healthy conversations at work. Many of these tools focus on implicit bias or issues relating to communications gaps. These are important, but they don't address the No. 1 driver of friction at work: Cultural differences. Whether workers are fundamentally tight or loose has huge implications for the way they engage colleagues and customers. With humor, stories, fascinating data, and self-assessment, Gelfand will help your employees better manage their relationships at work.

Unlocking The Puzzle Of Innovation. Innovation is one of the most important organizational skills in our time. But companies often miss the critical cultural ingredients of this process. Michele Gelfand will discuss how organizations can shape their social norms to capitalize on the creative process and the implementation process that are both needed in this process, and the types of people, practices, and leaders that facilitate innovation.

The Secrets To Effective Negotiation. Negotiation is perhaps the most important but most undervalued skills in organizations. Based on her 20 years of research and teaching executives on the topic all around the world, Michele Gelfand illuminates the secrets to effective negotiations—whether they involve co-workers, suppliers, customers, or one’s spouse and kids.

News vs. Noise: Understand the Cultural Fault Line Driving Our Differences. Many puzzling trends around the world, from populism to ISIS to rapid shifts that occurred during Arab Spring, actually spring from the same cultural faultline. Michele Gelfand moves us beyond speculation and post-hoc explanations to discuss how culture is affecting politics and conflict all around the globe and how to better anticipate these trends.

Our Fifty Divided States: The Cultural Code That Explains Our Differences. Often we think about our divides in terms of Red versus Blue, Rural versus Urban, Poor versus Rich. But Michele Gelfand can help us understand the real nature of our divides—where they come from, the trade-offs that they involve, and ways that we can better manage these divides in the 21st century.

The Secrets To Better Parenting. Parenting is one of the most important skills that are needed in families. Michele Gelfand offers a new perspective on how to become a better parents and create cultures in households that translate into better relationships and better outcomes for all.

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