Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Culture Map as an Organisational Enabler

Well, why should we even attempt to map something so contextual as the culture, especially, national culture? Is there anything such as international culture? What about the impact of culture within a nation's boundaries? How does this impact business operations within an organization and between organizations? How does one ensure not falling in stereotypical traps when leveraging cultural context? The topic is unavoidable in today's business environment where multi-level supply chain runs across several countries. For example, the Singapore office of an American company could be overseeing sourcing from China, Korea or Japan, maybe even Vietnam.  Maybe the software running on sourced products run Indian developed software. So, which should be the dominant organizational for maximum effectiveness and efficiency in such cases? 

The answer is simple. Today, every organisation has a basal culture, which is a product of their historical evolution, if the company is old. Then there is a local culture, wherever the company operates.  The only difference between two companies, headquartered in one city but operating in nearly identical markets is the extent to which these cultures-local or basal - dominates.

In some cultures, particularly cultures trust quotient is a function of task based or functional transactions and in others it is more on the relationship based. In my professional experience of working with people from different cultures, I realize(and advocate to my team) that one can achieve wonders if conscious of this aspect, and feel lost completely otherwise(Read this excellent Forbes article).  Typically, Asian cultures such as India and China tend to be relationship based and there is a tendency to 'unpeel' the individual's personal life, nature, roots etc quite early in the journey of acquaintance. In such cultures, spending social time together can have a positive impact on the business relationship. However, it is other way round in the Western Culture( USA, Germany and the UK), where the focus is on professional relationships. It would be dumb, to a US business acquaintance to go on a Tennis tournament in the very first meet. Most probably, such an offer would be declined. But going to a Camel or Horse race in the middle east can be considered a great gesture and act as a business enabler!

It is, therefore, very important to have an understanding of acceptable behaviour in the culture.  Even within a culture(such as India) it is important to be mindful of such landmines. Proposing to take a client in Chennai to a non-veg speciality restaurant without ascertaining her/his veg preferences is like shooting self on the foot. And proposing a Punjabi client to a veg restaurant without doing so is equally disastrous! In other words, one must know the 'default' settings of a culture, but validate them every time, lest one fall in the stereotype trap.


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