What can you expect here?

I am passionate about making a difference to people and organisations- and I guess there are many who would like to do the same. I hope this could be a platform to share views and experiences so that we can all grow together and make a difference.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The case of the clannish countrymen

Last week, over a cup of coffee with a dear old friend, we tussled over one of the most debated issues on the culture of organisations- the impact of national cultures. As we know, every large organisation tends to engender 'sub-cultures' - sometimes based on function, product division, geography and so on. However, is the difference created by the specific culture of a nation really significant for organisations? For a large multinational, how different would the organisation culture be in India, from China, from France? Obviously, local cultures would have a big impact- but is there a way to understand the why and how of that impact? More importantly, successful organisations still manage to have one 'unifying culture' across countries- and how do they manage that?
To understand the broad cultural orientations of a nation, there is no better resource that Geert Hofstede. The Hofstede research on India is quite an interesting piece of work. He identifies 5 key variables that determine differences in the cultures of nationalities. Compared to the world average, India is higher on Power Distance- we are accepting of the inequality of the distribution of power in the society. We are also more 'Masculine', with the men's values of assertiveness and caring being different from women's- perhaps leading to more competitive people. Moreover, we are  accepting of Uncertainty, having less rules to deal with normal issues that come up. Lastly, we are more persevering and parsimonious, which Hofstede labels as Long Term Orientation. The one area, surprisingly, where India is not different from the world average is our focus on Individualism vs Collectivism (I would have thought that we are more familial with large support networks, but apparently at heart, we are still as individualistic as the average person in the world!)
So what does this tell us? Yes, on some basic orientations and values, Indians may be different from the rest of the world - and this impacts the culture. While I am loathe to generalise, but putting the Power Distance and Uncertainty Avoidance together, we can surmise that we would tend to be more hierarchical, and maybe less respectful of time, especially of junior people. Within a homogeneous culture group this may be fine, but may create issues if people from other cultures are part of this environment.
So how do some companies manage such seemingly different cultures? My guess is that most have realised that cultures are different, and that others have to make allowances for these differences- a sort of  'empathise and live with it' approach. To do so, a lot of awareness and cross cultural sensitivity training is needed. At the same time, organisations also work on the 'Practices' end- the framework of routine activities and practices that drive certain behaviours. By introducing non-negotiable practices, you could slowly change the behaviour, even if the cultures are different. That's why Practices are so critical in driving culture. The 6Sigma and Session C practices in GE are great examples- of driving a specific culture even in places that would not naturally take those up. These practices need time and sustained leadership focus- and soon they can change the culture! Voila! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The leader's long shadow

Am back after a longish hiatus!
Continuing our explorations of creating the right culture in organisations......

Over the last few months, I have been reading and exploring the impact of the leader, and it is fairly obvious that the leader casts a really long shadow on the culture of an organisation. There are two questions that come to my mind as we delve deeper into this phenomena:
First, lets look at the 'great bad men' syndrome. Many of the great leaders usually have a couple of traits that works for them, but taken to an extreme, the same strengths can have extreme debilitating effects on culture. How do we balance 'greatness' and 'meanness'? Most organisations with a very unique culture have a 'this is the way we do it here' kind of a leader. What drives them, and how can we get the best out of them, and yet keep their certain whims from coming in the way of the culture of the organisation.
I read about Rupert Murdoch in the Economist recently (from where I borrowed the 'great bad men' epithet). A great man, undoubtedly, for having changed the television and media industry, but could the organisation have done something to keep check on the 'scoop-at-all-cost' culture. Similarly, I wonder about Steve Jobs- sheer brilliance in building a customer and product centric culture, but is there is a faint streak of authoritarianism that runs through in Apple? This is where my dilemma is- if we meddle in the culture of such organisations, you tend to dilute the unique edge that these leaders have brought to it. On balance, I think it may be better to live with these rough edges ..... what do you think? Or is there a way to temper those edges appropriately?
Which then leads me to my second, and a much larger question. What drives leaders to focus on building a strong sustainable culture? While the intellectual part of the 'case for culture' is easier, as it is linked to the culture elements needed to drive strategy, there is a subconscious, emotional part of this need that is far more powerful and critical. In my experience, it is the personal desire that certain leaders have, part stemming from ego, and part from a strong belief in a particular way of working, that is much more potent in driving culture. I guess it is for organisations to understand this and build on it- not always easy, as we need to ensure that this personal drive is aligned to what the organisation needs at that point in time. Any experiences you would like to share that will help us understand this better? 
Your responses to the poll will help us understand the motivation of leaders in driving culture.... Cheers