Difficult? Yes. Dangerous? Likely.
Attempting to identify and solidify a link between corporate culture and ethnic culture is difficult and can even be dangerous. Someone has posited that the "blueprint of every corporate culture is based on the ethnic culture in which it originated." The ethnic-cultural roots of a company do bear significantly upon the eventual formation of its company-wide culture. A link certainly exists—a line can be drawn between the two—but it is important to keep in mind that this link is tricky, and why.
A broader but sharper perspective
With over a billion employees engaging interculturally around the globe, and 250 million expatriates in the world (a number that is growing by 10+% annually), it is increasingly difficult to map out the "origins" of a company's ethnic culture. The lines we attempt to draw between ethnic and corporate cultures become increasingly blurred.
In order to generate a corporate culture that also embraces ethnic culture conscientiously and consistently, it is important to broaden and to sharpen your perspective on your entire organization. Say you are part of an organization owned by someone from one country, managed by someone from another country, with a staff of 20 people from 10 countries. Obviously, all these people bring with them a variety of culturally-influenced habits and thinking patterns when they join the organization.
How should you define the parameters of the ethnic culture in which your corporate culture originated? How would you approach creating, modifying, or continually cultivating a corporate culture so that it takes into account the diversity of cultures?
How do you create a "third space" environment where everyone feels free to participate, to contribute, and to innovate? Some companies think it is enough merely to "diversify" their staff systematically and expect multicultural teaming just to sort of evolve of its own accord. Or they "diversify" corporate communications with stock photos depicting what the company might look like from the outside looking in, or how they would like for their company to look.
Bringing together a diverse staff to function positively and productively is more complex than commissioning a colorful mural for the lobby. It is not enough to circulate brochures with a list of your company's branch locations and the average (stereotypical) snapshots of an American, Turkish, Chinese, Nigerian, or German professional. We need something new.
Self-culture, not ethnic culture
So what do we need in order to create a corporate culture that acknowledges and capitalizes on the strengths of many ethnic-cultural backgrounds? Our answer to this question, borne out over the last decade of experience and mutual interaction, is a paradigm shift from an ethnic-cultural perspective to a self-cultural perspective. With the Three Colors of Worldview and 12 Dimensions of Culture, KnowledgeWorkx has created frameworks for structured dialogue to help people assess their personal culture, and to further think through the potentialities and possibilities for their corporate culture.
Through this approach, through the "lens" of their staff's newly-discovered self-culture reports, a corporation's leadership team can get a broader, yet sharper perspective on the cultural make-up of their entire organization. From there, it is appropriate and efficacious to begin formulating a corporate culture that will work best for and bring out the best in everyone.
Utilizing a collective approach to the development of organizational culture
What typically happens when an organization decides to focus on its corporate culture is that the dialogue is carried out by the senior management. Senior leadership will often proceed as though we are able to read our staffs' minds and determine, "Here is what is/isn't acceptable behavior for our organization; here is what you need to stick to." In today’s world, relying solely on leadership-level perceptions and opinions can be a dangerous gamble! In today's increasingly globalized world, employees are increasingly vocal, smart, and connected!
To counteract senior management's tendency to drive the conversation, there is a useful method by which every employee is invited to participate in defining which behaviors are acceptable and which are unacceptable. (You can learn more about this in our article "Vision, Mission, Values… What About Behavior?") Through discussion with people at multiple levels in the organization, you can accurately delineate what is acceptable behavior and what is not, and then create a "behavioral charter", which can help to narrow down core values for your corporate culture.
Learn a vocabulary by which to challenge your assumptions
Most organizations simply do not have the vocabulary and concepts necessary to facilitate a collective organizational culture discussion. Such a discussion, properly executed, would utilize questions like these:
"Do you believe that consensus-based leadership is better than hierarchical leadership?"
"Do you believe that public discussion of problems with a 'transparent, direct communication style' is a better way to solve problems than a series of one-on-one meetings and 'quiet, indirect communication style'?"
"Do you prefer to have your individual performance levels measured on every single touch-point, and each target? Or are you focused on team-wide success and preferring to be held collectively accountable for how your team reaches targets?"
"When conflict occurs, how do you attempt to resolve it (or, do you attempt to resolve it)? Would you call a team meeting and say, 'Hey guys, we have a problem'? Do you yourself 'tune out' when people do that? Would you prefer to wait and defer to someone else to take that kind of action?"
Pivotal to dealing with of all these issues—performance management, conflict resolution, leadership styles, etc.—and pivotal to anticipating them while you are in the throes of creating a company-wide culture—is the need to communicate effectively. Many corporate leaders find they lack language that speaks in terms of cultural preference. And most of your staff will not have been exposed to the kind of language they need to have in order to be able to express their cultural preferences accurately.
So KnowledgeWorkx's first steps in corporate culture development are to expose people to the 12 Dimensions of Culture and Three Colors of Worldview. After that basis for understanding has been established, then discussions about leadership, teaming, conflict, transparency, integrity, and so on become deeper, richer, less-emotional, and more structured.
From ethnic culture to self-culture to corporate culture
Discerning your corporate culture through understanding its ethnic-cultural roots alone cannot prepare your company culture for global competition. Again, your stakeholders are unlikely to have the necessary vocabularly to even explain their own preferences—much less the tools they require in order to hammer out and set effective policy.
Self-cultural analysis not only creates the vocabulary and framework to explore all the avenues that ethnic culture is supposed to address, but it also prepares your stakeholders (across all levels of the organization) for effective change management.
Organizational culture is inseparably linked to ethnic/national culture. But again—it can be tricky to navigate those links. So it is all the more compelling and fascinating to study self-culture and how self-culture analysis can progress fluidly into the development of an effective, diversely representative organizational culture.
Through analyzing your self-culture, you can determine just how much your corporate culture is based on the blueprint of the self-culture of your founding stakeholders. You can decide how you need to adapt that culture to the realities of your current, globalized organization. And then, because of that entire identification process, you will have laid the groundwork for affecting the behavior of your people at all levels of the organization.
Adapted from article first published Jan 1, 2010.
Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.