Corporate culture cannot bridge acute cultural differences (revised)

It may appear well defined corporate culture can serve as a bridge over the stormy waters of acutely different cultures in the global organization. This is not necessarily the case.

Now let’s get this straight. There is a lot to be said for providing a shared context, shared values and a common set of behavioural guidelines. However, in order to ensure that this culture is not administered inappropriately, it is critical to ensure that the limitations of the culture are acknowledged. Paradoxically, it is only when these limitations are recognized that the corporate culture is most effective.

Here are some examples of behaviours which cannot be changed by one shared culture.

  • When a culture prefers discretion to transparencydiscretion will reign.
  • When age dictates seniorityyounger managers will not be respected.
  • When delegation is seen as abdication, managers will be centralistic.
  • Where loyalty to boss reigns supremeteamwork in the western sense will falter.
  • When people prefer relationships to process, process will remain “on paper

Even if elevators, screen savers, bulletin boards, management training sessions, and other “enablers” push and promulgate such artifacts as transparency, teamwork, delegation,  process adherence, the impact of these efforts may be negative, because the culture quickly becomes a theocratic dictate. How does this happen?

Instead of acknowledging the limitations  of corporate culture, the corporate culture is often positioned like tenets of a religious creed by over-zealous HR managers and training staff, and then shoved down (or up) the appropriate body orifice of the staff with the passion of a CFO making budget cuts. This breeds deep scepticism and cynicism.

I work in the most acute diversity one can imagine and come from a very diverse personal background. My experience has taught me that deep relationships, cultural humility and a global mindset are as important if not more, than a set of artifacts in addressing the cultural differences in global organizing.

Follow me @AllonShevat

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