Understanding cultural differences (43083)

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Plan


I. What Is Culture?

a. Basic Assumptions, Values And Norms Drive Practices And Behaviors

b. Culture Operates At Various Levels - The Visible Artifacts To The Deeply Rooted And Unconscious

c. The Role of the Leader in Transmitting Culture

II. Why Assess Culture?

a. Closing The Gap Between The Real And Ideal Culture

b. Value and Goal Alignment across Subcultures, Divisions and Geographic Regions

c. Individual-Organization Fit

d. Organizational Change

III. What is Corporate Culture?

IV. AMERICAN CULTURE

V. Corporate Culture and Local Culture

VI. American Business Executives Abroad

VII. Key Points for Foreigners to Keep in Mind

a. When Working with American Business

b. When Working with Individual Americans

VIII. Public Relations, Corporate Image, and Advertising

IX. Characteristics of Successful American Business Executives


Culture is a technical term used by anthropologists to refer to a system for creating, sending, storing, and processing information developed by human beings, which differentiates them from other life forms. The terms mores, tradition, custom, and habit are subsumed under the cultural umbrella. Sometimes culture is used in reference to the fine arts. While art and literature do indeed form an important part of a culture, in this book the term is used in its wider context.



I. What Is Culture?


Your organization's culture is not (he espoused list of values developed at an offsite by the executive team and framed on the wall in your lobby. These are ideals. What you strive to be as an organization and what values you hope to endorse, may be different from the values, beliefs, and norms expressed in your actual practices and behavior. Don't fool yourself. It is critical that you find out who you really are as well as striving for who you want to be. Awakening the emperor to the fact that he/she has no clothes is often a risky and delicate first step in closing the gap between the real and the ideal. Cultural assessment can provide measurable data about the real organizational values and norms that can be used to get management's attention. It can dispel some of management's illusions about what really matters in the organization and will tell them how far off the mark things really are. Management may find that it is not practicing what it preaches. However, telling the CEO the truth about the organization he/she has built, can often be dangerous to your career progress. Delivering such a message takes skill as a coach and a willingness to take risks and confront conflict.


a. Basic Assumptions, Values And Norms Drive Practices And Behaviors


The culture of an organization operates at both a conscious and unconscious level. Often the people who see your culture more clearly are those from the outside—the new hires, the consultants or vendors. When coaching or I advising senior management, remember that culture comprises the deeply rooted but often unconscious beliefs. values and norms shared by the members of the organization. Those not living inside the culture can often see it more objectively. Better to ask a New Yorker to tell you what Californians are like than ask a Californian.

Culture drives the organization and its actions. It is somewhat like "The operating system" of the organization. It guides how employees think, act and feel. It is dynamic and fluid, and it is never static. A culture may be effective at one time, under a given set of circumstances and effective at another time. There is no generically good culture. There are however, generic patterns of health and pathology.


b. Culture Operates At Various Levels - The Visible Artifacts To The Deeply Rooted And Unconscious


Culture can be viewed at several levels. Some aspects of culture arc visible and tangible and others are intangible und unconscious. Basic assumptions that guide the organization are deeply rooted and often taken for granted Avoidance of conflict is a value that is an excellent example of an unconscious norm that may have a major influence on the organization but is frequently unconscious. For an insider, this is difficult or impossible to sec. particularly if the individual has "grown up" in the organizational culture. Recently hired employees, the external consultant and the executive coach is frequently in the best position to identify these unconscious assumptions or values. Espoused or secondary values are at a more conscious level; these are me values that people in the organization discuss, promote and try to live by. All employees of Hewlett Packard, for example, are required to become familiar with the values embodied in the "HP Way. " Some of the most visible expressions of the culture arc called artifacts. These include the architecture and decor, the clothing people wear. the organizational processes and structures, and the rituals, symbols and celebrations Other concrete manifestation of culture are found in commonly used language and jargon, logos, brochures, company slogans, as well as status symbols such as cars, window offices, titles, and of course value statements and priorities. An outsider can often spot these artifacts easily upon entering an organization. For insiders, however, these artifacts have often become part of the background.


c. The Role of the Leader in Transmitting Culture


One of the critical factors in understanding a corporate culture is the degree to which it is leader-centric. Ask yourself, how central is our leader to the style of this organization? If you are the leader yourself, the culture of your company is likely to reflect your personality, including your neurosis. So if the CEO avoids conflict and tends to sweep it under the carpet, don't be surprised if you see avoidance of conflict played out in the organization. The behavior that is modeled by the leader and the management team profoundly shapes the culture and practices of the organization. What management emphasizes, rewards and punishes can tell you what is really important. The behavior of members of the senior team, their reactions in a crises and what they talk routinely talk about, all sets the tone of the culture. If the culture is already firmly established when the CEO assumed leadership and he/she simply inherited a strong set of traditions, then he/she may play the role of the guardian of the old culture. On the other hand, CEOs such as Lou Gerstner at IBM, or Lee Iococca at Chrysler were brought in to be a change agent charged with dramatically transforming the organizational culture.


II. Why Assess Culture?


a. Closing The Gap Between The Real And Ideal Culture


Why would a company be interested in assessing its culture? If the organization wants to maximize its ability to attain its strategic objectives, it must understand if the prevailing culture supports and drives the actions necessary to achieve its strategic goals. Cultural assessment can enable a company to analyze the gap between the current and desired culture. Developing a picture of the ideal and then taking a realistic look at the gaps is vital information that can be used to design interventions to close the gaps and bring specific elements of culture into line. If your competitive environment is changing fast, your organizational culture may also need to change. However, you may only need to change some of its practices and secondary values while keeping a few precious and non-negotiable core values intact. Often an objective assessment tool can be zero in on a limited number of elements of culture that need to change, rather than embarking on the futile attempt to change the entire culture.


b. Value and Goal Alignment across Subcultures, Divisions and Geographic Regions


In many companies there is a strong dominant culture that is pervasive throughout the organization and across business units or even regions. This kind of organization is said to possess a high level of cultural integration. However, often the culture in large organizations is not singular or uniform. Organizations can vary widely in terms of the degree of cultural integration and the strength of the subcultures that coexist. Subcultures may share certain characteristics, norms, values and beliefs or be totally different. These subcultures can function cooperatively or be in conflict with each other. In general, subcultures can differ by function, (engineering vs. marketing), by their place in the hierarchy, (management vs. administrators, assistants) by division, by site, or by geographic region and country.

It may be both undesirable and unrealistic to try to homogenize the organization across all of its parts. Still, a thoughtful assessment of the culture can facilitate the alignment of values and strategic goals across subcultures and geographic areas. It is very important for global companies to tolerate and support a certain amount of cultural differentiation. Yet there may be a core of values, a subset of four or five deeply held principles that management thinks should cut across subcultures, divisions, and international settings.


c. Individual-Organization Fit


Corporations that are growing fast must hire a large number of new employees. It is critical that these new hires are a good fit with the current culture. If an individual is out of synch with the culture, the organization's cultural antibodies will often attack. However, there must also be a good fit with the culture that you are trying to create. It is now possible to make hiring decisions based on quantitative assessment of the compatibility between the candidate's personality, values and behaviors and both the current and desired culture.


d. Organizational Change


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