Every once in a while when I give a lecture or an introductory training on National Culture, there is someone in the audience that argues that “culture” is not something specific to a country, but rather something specific to an organization. The truth is that it is both.
Only the first one is referred to as the National Culture that takes into account the Values that people hold and act upon (aware or most of the times unaware of) and the second one is referred to as the Organizational Culture that deals with the practices that are promoted and reinforced in the organization.
Are these two concepts - The National Culture and the Organizational Culture - competing with each other? Or are they rather complementing each other? Well, it depends. It depends on the wisdom of the people that lead the organization. As a good rule, the Organizational Culture of a successful company in its home country is complementing the National Culture. This Organizational Culture was developed in decades most of the time and it adjusted its practices in such a way so that it gets the best response from their people in terms of motivation, retention, enthusiasm, level of energy, etc.
The biggest mistake that these companies make is when they try to export this particular Organizational Culture in countries where it is unnatural for people to follow its practices. This is the case in which the Organizational Culture competes against the National Culture. The Values educated in people (that constitute the core of the National Culture) cannot be changed, so if you don’t adjust the Organizational Culture to use the National (unseen) Values to energize the people, to get their engagement and to let them excel for your organization in their socio-politico-economic environment of their own country, you lose. You lose either because you waste energy and time in trying to change the unchangeable or waste the energy of your people, by not capitalizing on their strengths and their natural tendencies of behaving.
Read: In an Interconnected World: will the Cultures converge?
Practically, how can a top executive use the combination of National Culture with Organizational Culture for their advantage? For start you need to have a Goal and ideally a Strategy for your organization. If you start fresh in a new country, then it is advisable to start by training your implementers and your Strategy drivers, on the National Culture of the new country so that they can understand how to adjust the different processes to match the new culture: how to do recruitment and recognize what is a good candidate in that culture, what motivates people so that you can create a good retention policy. Will you design the targets so that people compete with each other or help each other? Will you focus on the individual or on the team? Will you focus on the tasks or on the environment? All these help you start strong, and if you got it right, you will collect all the talents from the market, mostly from the companies that didn’t take National Culture into account, and are constantly psychologically abusing their people. If you are already established and you are running your organization for some time in that new culture, it is recommended to run an Organizational Culture Scan and get the current state of the global Organizational Culture and of its subcultures. The difference between this Organizational Culture Scan and the Employee satisfaction survey is that this Scan will give feedbacks to the leaders on how to adjust their processes to get their people more motivated, to enable them to be more creative, to make the organization more open or more customer focused, or on the contrary more process and discipline oriented.
Knowing your Strategy and the results of the Organizational Culture Scan you’ll be able to understand where you need to focus to align your practices to deliver the Strategy. Sometimes you’ll need to use the National Culture’s insights to completely redesign the recruitment process, the engagement process, or the way you hold meetings, how you solve problems, how you delegate, etc.
The Education and training part is most of the time one of the underrated components of delivering the Strategy, as companies chose to deploy trainings on delegation or leadership that are copied from other cultures, most of the time from the USA, thinking that “just” a training on Leadership ticks the box and solves the problem. Thinking that some trainings will transform the people from one culture to another one is wishful thinking, inefficient and wasteful. This is where National Culture helps. It allows you to identify which type of Leadership training you need for example, which practices from other cultures should be adjusted and how you can capitalize on the tendencies of your people.
Read: The Motivation’s Butchers
Let’s go even more practical. How to use Hofstede’s 6D model for Cultural differences together with Hofstede’s Multi-Focus Model on Organizational culture?
There are two options depending on the criticality of the current state of your particular business. If the situation is critical, you start by understanding the National Culture. With all the insights received from Hofstede’s 6D model, you’ll understand what processes you need to adjust drastically in order to get to a surviving plateau. If the situation is stable but you still think that you’re not capitalizing on all your human potential, you do an Organizational Culture Scan. This will tell you on which processes you need to focus in order to adjust the practices to the Strategy. If you don’t know what to adjust on that particular process, you use Hofstede’s 6D model for Cultural Differences. When dealing with National Culture, it is very unnatural to understand that sometimes people will value things that are opposite from your own preferences.
Looking at Hofstede’s Multi-Focus model on Organizational Culture and taking D7 for example, which is the Degree of Acceptance of the Leadership Style, one can easily connect it with the first Cultural Dimension of the National Culture, which is the Power Distance and understand according to the culture in which you operate how to adjust the Leadership style in order to minimize the gap in the acceptance of the leadership style.
The clearer the leadership understands the two models and uses them combined, the faster they will drive the Change in a way that it makes the organization both long term stable and in the same time flexible to react to the market’s changes. There are companies that decide to Scan their Cultures every three years so that they know that the Changes that they are implementing are in line with their Strategy. This is the simplest way to “keep the finger on the pulse” of your Organization from an executive point of view.