Culture Curated: Organization & Career Readiness

Somnath Baishya, Head HR – Global Development Centers, Intuit“We don’t ask for permission, we would rather ask for forgiveness.’ A very interesting facet of the Israeli culture that was stated with a smile by a business leader in a passionate conversation during one of my visits a couple of years ago. Israel is an epitome of speed and innovation – super fascinating for a country that is relatively small. Not asking for permission is in no way a sign of being brash or arrogant but is laced with passion to make things It is catalyzed by a deep confidence that is baked in a culture where failure is seen as a learning and a stepping stone for the next success.

Hofstede in his works on cross-cultures, beautifully and rationally describes the effects of a society’s culture and values on it’s people. These values relate to the demonstrated behaviours. A good understanding of the cultural nuances and variations propels an organization to unleash the best of diversity. However, being limited on cultural awareness degenerates simple ‘disagreements’ to‘being disagreeable’. The same business leader stated how the above dimension of the Israeli culture was misconstrued often in other global locations as ‘being difficult and disrespectful’ to work with, ‘lacking trust’ and not wanting to integrate to the ‘way of doing things’ in the organization. The frustration in his local team was even higher and strongly voiced through multiple channels including the employee engagement surveys. They felt the ‘organization was too slow and complex’, ‘was low on global mindset’ and ‘was not set to win in a super dynamic ecosystem’.

A lot has been talked about in recent times on the virtues of emotional quotient (EQ) beyond the once revered IQ. With technology and travel becoming more and more ubiquitous, organizations are moving fast with their presence across a wider pool of markets and countries. One of the biggest demands on leadership today is to lead across different cultural contexts. Culture Quotient (CQ) or cultural intelligence has never been more important to organizations. Organizations mostly have looked at the culture dimension through the lens of cross-cultural skills. However, cultural intelligence spans much wider and involves cultural knowledge and cultural mindfulness. Cultural Knowledge has to be built both at organizational and individual levels.
This is possible not just by passive means like reading but actually actively immersing into the culture. A lot of the immersion happens outside of the work setting. Nothing could be more appropriate than the saying ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ The accountability to build Cultural Knowledge has to be a two-way street where the ones from the said culture also teach the rest of the organization and help build greater appreciation. With the knowledge of different cultures, one is more aware of simple but important things like when and how disagreements are expressed and how feedback is given. A higher level of cultural intelligence is embraced through Cultural Mindfulness. Being culturally mindful means observing how the other person acts and reacts in different situations and then continuously analyzing the different behaviors that we observe in a cultural context. This helps us decide on our behavior and our action orientation to achieve the desired goal. These interactions could be successful or unsuccessful but reflecting on them, if we missed or misread any cues would provide us the learnings for the next opportunity.

For organizations to be truly global there are no short cuts on the cultural dimension

The impact of cultural diversity is amplified when the multi-generational dimension of the workforce is thrown into the mix. A ‘decade’ seems to be a good span that defines a generation on a workforce timeline map considering the pace of change. The transition to the ‘new way’ is that much more difficult, the more tenured the generation. The ‘my way’ or ‘our way’ trap is a reality based on the experiences one has grown with and how deep it is coded in our DNA. A tenured manager confided recently how flustered she was with a next-gen member of her team who never seemed to understand and respect the way things were done. She attributed multiple times her dissonance to ‘gosh this generation…..’ For the many managers who are challenged likewise, we need to fast forward ourselves a couple of decades ahead into the future. The generational chasm would have widened even so much more. If we are to stay relevant in the tomorrow, we need to adapt and adopt and build higher cultural and generational intelligence. A very interesting practice I had seen years ago was an organization inviting some of its brightest young minds to it’s Annual Leadership Strategy Meet so that the next generation could keep the leaders honest as they built the organization for the future. A Country Leader at one of the most respected Fortune 500 companies in a conversation expressed how thoughtful they were to seed young talent from multiple cultures at their corporate headquarters. They would build their careers and would grow into leaders of tomorrow and then relocate to lead the organization in their own countries. At the same time while they were at the HQ they would help build deeper cultural inclusivity in the mindsets of the employees there.

For organizations to be truly global there are no short cuts on the cultural dimension. Every culture is different though there would be commonalities. Building cultural capabilities is not a one stop training experience or content in a pre-travel kit. These are long term investments and there is a science to the art. The faster we embrace, the more we future proof our organization and our own individual careers.