Integration of cultural diversity into an organization’s corporate culture

In this blog, I would like to share my perspective and thoughts on how to integrate cultural diversity into a company’s corporate culture as I found the discussion about the incident at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel intellectually stimulating.

 

Many people, when considering a job, are primarily concerned with their role and responsibilities, the company’s track record, compensation, and the industry. Further down on that list, probably between length of commute and quality of coffee in the kitchen, comes culture. Smart creatives, though, place culture at the top of the list. To be effective, they need to care about the place they work. This is why, when starting a new company or organization, corporate culture is the most important thing to consider.

 

Most companies’ culture just happens; no one plans it. That can work, but it means leaving a critical component of your success to chance. Once established, company culture is very difficult to change, because early on in a company’s life a self-selection tendency sets in.

 

When it comes to implementing a certain corporate culture, there are many aspects to be considered. One of them is cultural diversity, which is the aspect I am going to focus on in this blog.

 

Thinking about corporate culture and cultural background one question directly pops into my mind: Which culture is superior? To illustrate what I mean, I want to share one experience that I made in my internship at BMW in Mexico last summer. The sales department, which I worked for, had weekly scheduled meetings on Mondays at 2:00 p.m. For my first meeting I arrived five minutes early to ensure not running late. To my surprise, my colleagues started arriving at around 2:10 p.m. Clearly, in this case the Mexican culture had overruled the (German-centered) corporate culture. However, after finishing my internship I concluded that, actually, the corporate culture was stronger and all employees followed the same “rules” and “guidelines” and communicated with each other in the same way, no matter if speaking with a Mexican, German, or American. It seems like in the majority of successful companies corporate culture overrules cultural background and vice versa. For example, Eric Schmidt described in the “Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Speaker Series” at Stanford University in 2002 how important it is for employees at Google “to be able to work within the {organization’s} culture” (video link: http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=1090).

 

However, why is corporate culture superior in most successful companies? My explanation to this phenomenon sounds like this: People who believe in the same things the company does, will be drawn to work there, while people who do not, will not and as smart (intellectually and culturally), passionate, and soft-skilled employees are the most valuable assets to a company, corporate culture should be superior in my point of view. The answer to this question leads to the next question. How can organizations ensure that cultural background/diversity is “correctly” fitted into the corporate culture? I am going to present three possible solutions to this question.

 

  1. Companies should establish principles to embody elements that employees from all cultural backgrounds can recognize, understand, and to which they may legitimately aspire. The result is, usually, a set of corporate sayings that are full of “delighted” customers, “maximized” shareholder value, “innovative” employees, and “great” teamwork. The difference, though, between successful companies and unsuccessful ones is weather employees believe the words or not.

 

  1. International companies should teach employees about cultural intelligence. The ability to adapt effectively across cultures is something that can be taught. Companies could offer weekly or monthly crash courses to develop an understanding of emotions and moods, with which one will be better able to make sense of colleagues’ behavior. They should be taught about emotional labor/dissonance, surface acting, displayed vs. felt emotions, and local habits.

 

  1. Companies should make it a priority to invest the time and energy to ensure they get the best possible people who possess a certain minimum level of cultural intelligence. One indicator for cultural intelligence, for example, might be international experience. This not only prevents culturally rooted arguments but will also enhance teamwork. Additionally, a workforce of great people not only does great work, it attracts more great people (The herd effect). Especially very successful companies follow the third piece of advice. For instance, McKinsey claims to recruit smart, passionate, and dedicated people with international experience. Hence, even consultants coming from a culture where speaking up is seldom have no problem abiding to the mission “uphold the obligation to dissent”, as it is stated in McKinsey’s value statement.

 

What this blog post tries to highlight is the importance of “correctly” fitting cultural backgrounds/diversity into an organization’s culture in order for (multinational) companies to be successful. I have proposed three guidelines that companies could follow to successfully integrate cultural background into their corporate culture.

 

Word count: 798 (excluding video link, links, and references)

 

 

Links and References:

 

Schmidt, E.; Rosenberg, J. (2014). How Google Works.

 

http://www.jstor.org/stable/4165021?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

 

http://hnlr.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/271-278.pdf

 

http://www.mckinsey.com/about_us/what_we_do/our_values

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