“Corporate culture is an organization’s values, ethics, vision, behaviors and work environment. It is what makes each company unique, and it impacts everything from public image to employee engagement and retention.”
Implicitly or explicitly, corporations create a unique culture as they are formed and grow. The goal is to develop an environment that maximizes its many assets; however, companies often fall short of reaching that objective. Why? The corporate culture does not embrace today’s workforce diversity.
Employees walk into the office carrying their personal and professional experiences. Each one is unique. individuals have unique backgrounds, come from different nations, and were raised with various ethnicities. A diverse culture recognizes the variety and works to bridge any gaps. However historically, companies have not done well in providing voices to all employees. According to a survey from Fierce, Inc., 86% of workers said that workplace failures happen due to ineffective communication and a lack of collaboration. Why?
Individuals’ personal experiences and way of communicating are shaped by many factors, such as where they are raised, what gender they are, their belief system, a person’s race, age, and their ethnicity. Those experiences color how they view work opportunities and challenges. Implicitly, they expect others to interact in a similar way to themselves and can become confused or frustrated when that does not occur.
A lack of diversity affects a host of different issues, from decision–making to how best to resolve conflict. Miscommunication arises on many fronts:
- Some individuals favor a casual approach to collaboration while others prefer more formality.
- Misinterpretation of non-verbal cues, such as eye contact
- Judging individuals based on how they dress or look
- Embracing media stereotypes of different groups
- Giving more credence to a person’s input because of their gender
- Assuming people of the same ethnicity have similar belief systems
- Misunderstandings due to language differences
- Providing lunch for employees but not recognizing that some individuals have dietary restrictions or food preferences, such as vegans.
The Rise of Globalization
Such challenges become even more pronounced for international companies, which just about all organizations are nowadays because of the Internet’s power. Globalization has become critically important to small and medium businesses as well as large conglomerates. Technology has been advancing at a rapid pace and broken down many of the barriers that traditionally prevented organizations from selling their services beyond their immediate regions.
Corporations gain a competitive advantage on multiple fronts through globalization. They reduce operating costs by manufacturing abroad, buy raw materials more cheaply because of the reduction or removal of tariffs, and most of all, they gain access to millions of potential new customers.
However, businesspeople working abroad need to learn subtle differences in style and substance in order to be effective. For example, when employees of an international company transfer to another country, they need to master the local culture. They must not only learn the language but adapt to its social norms.
Today, cross culture education is considered imperative for employees acting in managerial capacities. Failure to effectively communicate with subordinates or understand their actions can lead to unintended negative consequences:
- Accepting a business card from a Japanese businessperson is not a casual action. The person presenting the card will bow and present it with both hands. The recipient takes it with both hands, indicating respect.
- In China, giving a direct “yes” or “no” answer, or demanding one of anyone else, is considered very rude. Meetings are for talking things over, not announcing decisions.
- In Mexico, business is done primarily among friends and family. Visiting businesspeople often seek an introduction through an intermediary with local connections.
Cross-cultural communication involves understanding the similarities and the differences of people from different backgrounds. Companies often need help breaking down such barriers because they typically learn one way to accomplish their goals and follow it rigidly. They need to be more flexible, but it is difficult for many people to accept changes and embrace flexible business processes. This mindset comes from a fear of failure or worries that the changes will not lead to better results. In effect, they become close-minded. Employees, partners, and customers become frustrated because they feel their voices are not heard, and the business becomes stale.
Create a Diverse Culture
So, how can business create a diverse culture? The first step to correcting the problem is recognizing you have one, so the process begins with a corporate self-awareness check. This task often involves a level of self-awareness that most businesses lack. Though well intentioned, an enterprise may not even be aware of its own shortcomings. As a result, they usually need an outsider’s perspective to point out how myopic their processes and thinking are.
Once the outsider has pointed out the shortcomings, the enterprise typically conducts training workshops designed to help individuals understand the flaws and adopt new outlooks and behaviors.
Embracing a cross cultural environment improves the company in many ways. Acknowledging multiple outlooks enables organizations to communicate better and engage more. Internally, cross-cultural communication in the workplace allows businesses to work more effectively with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures. Overall, communication improves, and bonds among coworkers grow.
Furthermore, Workplace diversity increases and problem solving improves. Companies with strong corporate cultures often have high workplace morale, and highly engaged, productive staff. When employees share a company’s ethics, vision and other cultural elements, revenue grows.
Each corporation shapes its own culture. In the past, select individuals rather than every person had input in shaping it. Consequently, businesses did not maximize their potential. By understanding its limitations and embracing diversity, enterprises strengthen themselves and become more viable in today’s highly competitive market landscape.
Have a corporate culture change challenge? Let us help you transform your organization into a more thriving, collaborative, inclusive and collaborative work environment.