Building cultural values

How do you approach the building of cultural values, and do they differ per country?

Posted by Eddo on August 6, 2017

Recently I came across the topic of culture within the relatively young experience working in an international company, which has only been an international company for the last two years. The head-office is in the Netherlands, and we do now have offices around the world, one of which in Madrid, Spain 🇪🇸.

Every now and then a round table session is organized where employees can drop in and discuss about various topics, and the most recent one was about cultural differences and whether they could be a problem for you as employee, or not. Thankfully within the company we do have quite a few people that actually have done studies in that direction, and we came up with a good discussion and insights. At the end of the session the question was posed whether we should actually define our company culture explicitly, and whom should then take the lead in that.

A company like Buffer has indeed explicitly set their cultural values that they wish to instil within the company, which they’ve highlighted in one of their blogposts.

Joel [Gascoine] and Leo [Wydrich] already knew they wanted to build a different type of company that focused not only on the progress of the product, but also the happiness of its users and team and personal growth during the journey.

In the video below Leo Wydrich explains the need for building a company culture further.

Leo Wydrich at TNW Conference “Building Company Culture”

After reading more up on this topic - through articles provided by more experienced people - apparently it is not only defining the cultural values, but also making it explicit how the decision making process works. According to Erin Meyer this a keypoint in working internationally. Some regions of the world have a different way of handling authority and a different process of decision making then others, which she illustrates with examples between the USA and China. In her article she projects leadership culture within a country, on two axes; top-down to consensual, and egalitarian to hierarchical. I found it interesting to see that on the egalitarian to hierarchical scale that there is already quite a difference between Netherlands and Belgium, two countries that in my point of view function pretty much in the same way. The Netherlands is apparently more closely related to the Scandinavian countries with regard to style of leadership, according to this model.

Although you may have been a very successful leader in your own culture, if you hope to motivate and engage people around the globe, you will need a multifaceted approach. […] You must be informed enough and flexible enough to choose which style will work best in which cultural context and then deliberately decide how to adapt (or not) to get the results you need.

Source: Erin Meyer

Coming back to the questions that I posed at the start of this article, whether we should explicitly define the company or office culture? Yes, I do think so, at least as a starting point for a further discussion with more people. I’m not saying that the culture should be imposed on people, it should serve as an understanding of one another, and what you can expect from someone else. Maybe one day these values will have the same impact as leadership principles have at Amazon, as mentioned by Stephen Orban.

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