Conflicts happen when leaders start imposing programmes and practices across cultures. Differentiating between values, policies and practices can help minimise conflicts
A corporate culture that leads to predictability and consistency in turn leads to the ease of movement of people across geographies and uniform experience to customers
How to create a uniform workplace culture for a multi-national organisation that isn’t at odds with the multicultural nature of the employees
I am a senior HR professional in a multi-national company. We have offices in India, China and a few western countries. To enhance dissemination and cross-pollination of ideas, our employees are transferred to different units whenever the need arises. This has made our workforce largely trans-national. While this is a good thing, we are facing serious issues when it comes to having one workplace culture policy. Despite serious efforts, we have been unable to manage cultural diversity at our workplace due to language and cultural differences among employees. Our efforts towards establishing a uniform code of ethics for all our offices haven’t delivered results. How do we create a company-wide culture that isn't at odds with the multicultural nature of our employees? Is expecting one kind of culture to prevail overambitious? Should we work towards creating country-specific work cultures?
- Mr. How-to-create-one-company-culture
Dear Mr. How-to-create-one-companyculture, It is laudable that you want to institutionalise one culture across the corporation. Before we get into the creation of culture, let us understand a few fundamental concepts and develop clarity on that. The basis for culture creation is company values, which include things like trust, integrity, customer centricity, ethics, excellence, etc. I believe there can’t be any conflicts across the world on such fundamental values. Issues come up while operationalising these values through policies and programmes.
There can’t be many conflicts on policies across the world since they reflect the organisational philosophy and if you are part of an organisation anywhere in the world you have to accept the policy framework of the company which is reflective of the company’s values, beliefs and the needs at a point of time. On this again there can’t be options, employees have to just align. Conflicts, if any, happen when leaders start imposing the programmes and practices across the cultures. Learn to differentiate between values, policies and practices and this will minimise the conflicts.
Let us look at some examples: philosophy and if you are part of an organisation anywhere in the world you have to accept the policy framework of the company which is reflective of the company’s values, beliefs and the needs at a point of time. On this again there can’t be options, employees have to just align. Conflicts, if any, happen when leaders start imposing the programmes and practices across the cultures. Learn to differentiate between values, policies and practices and this will minimise the conflicts. Let us look at some examples:
1- Compensation and benefits policy: If you are part of an organisation, there can’t be conflicts on determining the compensation structure that is linked to market conditions, rewards based on merit, recognition and rewards programmes designed to get right behaviours, celebrating success, etc. You have to accept this as a given. Compensation philosophies and policies can be same across the company and geographies. However, specific C&B programmes will evolve depending on the local legal needs and market conditions. These programmes will also vary from business to business. I don’t see any conflict in that. Conflicts start when you start imposing programmes or practices.
a. The way you will celebrate success in a sales organisation will be unique and different from the way you will do that in a manufacturing plant. Similarly from country to country and even within India, the processes and the practices of celebrations will be different. Start respecting the local cultural needs and allow each location to determine how to celebrate.
b. Recognition programmes: The most important element being “People are recognized for good work/contributions/ suggestions etc.” Methods will differ from place to place and person to person.
c. Rewards programmes: The most important cultural element being “People are rewarded for significant contributions”: It will change depending on the place and business, but the cultural thread of
rewarding contributions is common.
d. Incentive programmes or PLI programmes will vary. You may have sales incentive programmes, productivity-related incentive programmes, project completion incentives etc. One size does not fit all.
2- Ethics and code of conduct across the company can be the same. However, depending on the local legal needs few additional clauses may have to be inserted or amended to the ethics policy in each country.
3- Celebration of festivals is another cornerstone of the culture building in a corporation wherein the senior leaders and the employees mingle, have social events and establish informal work relationships. This has to be also localized. For example, in an Indian factory, you may celebrate by performing Vishwakarma Pooja followed by a nice vegetarian lunch.
4- Customer centric mindset can be a cultural imperative imposed in the corporation across all businesses and geographies. The practices and the programmes will vary from business to business and from geography to geography depending on the local cultural needs, customer needs, nature of business, etc. The most important thread is “we are customer centric”how it gets manifested is unique and different.
Vibrant uniform cultures do get created on the basis of the following foundations:
1- It is crucial for leaders to always remain focused on values, philosophies, company beliefs and polices. Work for stated objectives and you can be inflexible about them.
2- Be open and flexible about the practices and processes which are vehicles to get the policies and values in action. These have to be local and have to serve the business objectives effectively. Leaders must exhibit flexibility and innovation when it comes to practices and processes. Such practices have to be continuously evolved, questioned and changed as appropriate.
3- Another method of building the culture is through rituals. Few rituals that are institutionalized across the company. For example, celebration of founder’s day, birthday bash, every meeting starts with safety prayer, etc. go a long way in building the culture.
4- Lots of compelling stories and internal case studies communicate and establish values and beliefs of the company, such stories and cases have to be woven in to the training programmes, employee induction, town hall meetings etc.
5- Few corporate symbols like company logo, flag, company songs, similar look and feel of all the offices, etc. These can be standardised, they also enable culture building. In the businesses, culture is never country specific. You have a corporate culture that leads to predictability and consistency; this in turn leads to the ease of movement of people across the geographies and also uniform experience to the customers. However, the corporate culture gets reflected and manifested through several localised programmes that are appropriate to local environment and the nature of business.
(Vivek Paranjpe is Consultant & Strategic HR Advisor to Reliance Industries. Allow Vivek to clear your career and professional dilemmas by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)