Understanding cultural differences

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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

Today the pace of change is so rapid particularly in the high tech industries. Only organizations that can adapt to j this fast changing environment can survive. However as Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porris has demonstrated enduring great companies are usually built on both a solid foundation of timeless core values but also on the adaptability of their behavioral practices secondary values structures and other cultural artifacts. The secret to a company that will last is its ability to manage both continuity and change. Such companies are capable of responding with nimbleness to the environmental drivers that necessitate change in strategy and practices. These drivers include: rapid technological change changes in industries and markets deregulation aggressive competition the global economy increased organizational complexity new business models Getting a profile of the current culture can enable organizations to thoughtfully bring the elements of the culture into alignment and move forward towards an ideal.

Organizations develop cultures whether they try to or not. If your intention is to appraise individual-organization fit align culture with its strategic goals understand subcultures assess mergers and acquisitions partners or to make organizational changes in practices or values understanding your culture in an objective manner can give you a business advantage and spare you enormous time and money. Not understanding your culture in today's business world can be fatal. Sometimes the emperor or empress needs to be told that his/her baby is ugly. Having objective measurement tools such as Hagberg Consulting Group's "Cultural Assessment Tool" can provide a consultant or coach with valuable objective measurement of existing culture. Executives are frequently analytical and quantitative in their orientation. Having data and an assessment tool to deliver a painful message may be the key to getting management to pay attention and face the reality of what kind of culture really exists. It is also useful in preventing the demise of me messenger.


III. What is Corporate Culture?

As your text points out every company (or institution organization etc.) has a culture of its own and employees are usually smart to try to fit in with that culture. The culture of a company deals with its atmosphere and social preferences and includes aspects such as how employees dress whether they are free to talk among themselves about non-business topics whether breaks arc limited and strictly timed whether entry-level employees are free to visit upper-echelon offices whether superiors are addressed by first name or by Mr. /Ms. whatever and a host of other considerations. Now no one is going to give you a list of the cultural aspects of the company you work for; those aspects are often intangible and difficult to define. But as an employee you'll pick them up over time. There are a number of factors that tend to influence corporate culture and your book does a good Job of explaining them. However remember that your text is talking about tendencies; don't make assumptions about the culture of any particular company until you've been with it long enough to leam it firsthand A company's history will influence its culture particularly in terms of how stable the culture is. If you are hired by a company (hat has been around for 100 years and done things pretty much the same way for the whole lime you probably aren't going to be able to change the culture much. If. on the other hand me company is relatively new. the culture might not be firmly established and you may have some influence on it. The type of business has more to do with culture than the company's history. Let me give you an example by comparing the cultures of two long-standing U. S. companies. When I was heavily involved in corporate life in the late '80s ЮМ was considered me bastion of conservative business. Now I've never been in an IBM office and what 1 heard might be an exaggeration. But the scuttlebutt was that you could wear any color suit as long as it was dark blue or dark gray. I read that the employee restrooms and lounges were painted orange because studies have indicated that that is the least restful color and die company wanted to discourage employees from spending time in the Johns. Men were more or less expected to wear wing-tips and women were expected to wear 1/2-inch heels in dark colors and neutral-colored hose.

Now just as IBM is the father of all business machine companies. Disney is the father of animation in the U. S. I have been inside the Disney corporate offices. The employees wear shorts and tennis shoes. They wander between each other's offices at will. Some play music in their offices. Some sit at their desks and others lounge on sofas. The difference? IBM is a conservative company that produces a product used largely by business professionals Ii wants to exude professionalism and confidence. Disney produces films; it wants to encourage its employees to be creative in any way it can. It hires artists and writers.

Another thing I wanted to mention is that the corporate culture may vary from department to department.

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