Many culture scholars would argue that you always have to deal with layers of cultures. There is the gender layer, the religious layer, the ethnic layer, the regional or nationality layer, the work layer, etc. And if you have ever worked with multinational companies you will hear these differences, and especially the nationality one, pop up every now and then — oh, but that was an American idea, we Brits don’t do it that way.
But does it really have to be that way? Or are they just excuses?
After all, some companies claim that they don’t have to deal with national cultural differences. Francoise Legoues, VP of Innovation at IBM, said that they do not see much corporate culture differences within the various geographical cultural areas. Some other folks I had the pleasure to speak with in the context of our book said the same — they do not have to account for differences in regional or national cultures.
So how does this work?
Culture is an externalization of shared beliefs and values. The way we externalize it is in the form of rituals, language, habits, techniques and behaviors. What companies claiming to not have to account for local cultures have is a set of corporate values and beliefs that trumps the local cultural belief system. When people are at work they are IBMers first, and not Danish, Spanish or Thai.
So what happens in those companies where people constantly bring up the differences?
It too is part of the corporate culture and not an externalization of the local regional culture. In most cases it’s an excuse to disagree and form factions. It’s a corporate habit – and a bad one. It’s an externalization of a set of shared beliefs held by subgroups of people within the company. It happens when there is no strong corporate set of shared beliefs.
Now of course, nothing dealing with humans will ever be so black and white. There are, for example, some differences in how Asians, who have a more collective culture, fill out their profiles in social environments than Westeners, who have a more individualistic culture. But those differences are subtle and secondary or tertiary in companies with strong corporate cultures and true shared values.
What do you think? Do you buy that?