In my work with scaling cultures commercially, it has been interesting to observe how cultures act – both locally and in a global context.
I have seen how some more extroverted cultures promote themselves as having the ‘right’ kind of behaviour and say that the more introverted cultures must change. When seen objectively, however, the extroverted cultures can, in fact, learn a lot from the more introverted cultures, e.g. how to listen more and talk less, which results in appearing more considered in-depth and less superficial in substance.
The cultural bias is problematic – it can hinder successful relationships being formed across the organisation. It can also strengthen hierarchical structures between colleagues, which hinders efficient infrastructures as some more introverted cultures may accept the cultural dominance they are being subjected to because of their countries’ history and culture impacting things such as how they view authorities.
Consequently, it becomes difficult to avoid bureaucracy and succeed in creating a flat organisational structure that attracts talent – especially amongst those who have been born into the digital age.
Once an organization has hired culture-fit candidates, it needs to ensure that the day-to-day manager is able to scale people culturally – both locally and globally. This requires special skills and a certain mindset from managers, with second nature knowledge of transformational management, cross-cultural collaboration and best practice within business optimisation, as opposed to sub-optimisation.
Culture-fit recruitment doesn’t scale on its own. It is equally important that key persons or key influencers know how to navigate cultural equality and meet cultural differences with respect and inquisitiveness, rather than interpreting the differences based on their own cultural bias and assessing other cultures based on a ‘one size fits all’ mindset of “my cultural foundation can be used to judge others”.
In such cases, using your own cultural bias to benchmark the surrounding cultures, you will then be less prone to generalise and assess whether they are introverted, extroverted, more or less inhibited, timid, laid-back, etc. If those cultures then use their own cultural bias as a benchmark to assess yours, differences can create division and lead to polarisation. This does not build bridges but instead divides and creates resistance. Nobody likes to be pigeonholed – especially not the young talents of 2020, regardless of their cultural origin.
This calls for another important skill in managers who want to succeed: self-awareness. It is even more important in older managers, as they have been raised differently from their young colleagues, and this may have manifested itself into an unconscious bias that is less flexible and more prone to pigeonhole others. This doesn’t scale in encounters with other cultures.
Therefore, the next thing to focus on when hiring and creating career paths, development plans, and planning promotions is culture management – including awareness of your own cultural bias and in-depth knowledge of yourself as a leader.
Culture fit recruitment is imperative for ensuring a good match with the company DNA and values after all the competence requirements have been met, but it isn’t enough on its own. The lever is the manager’s ability, experience and attitude towards cross-cultural management.
There is unbelievable value in strengthening a flat organisational culture globally with respect for local cultural differences, so that cultural dominance, which occurs historically and politically, doesn’t gain a footing in the organisational arena where the company agenda is different, and where the company will only achieve its goals by being truly global.
It is very valuable, both commercially and ethically, to uncover cultural bias at an early stage, as it can be a hindrance when you want to flexibly scale the company. Once uncovered, you must then train, develop, guide and promote accordingly.
Founder of the Global Voices project. Belongingness officer and an experienced People Executive.