In his researches, Levi-Strauss3 defined culture as “the articulation of differences”, which brings us back to a characterization of the essential ways of being from individuals, groups and organizations. In any case it appears that “Culture” is closely linked to “Identity” including the culture and identity of individuals, the culture and identity of the family, the workplace, the town, the region, the country or the geographical localization (i. e. Orient, Occident… ). By now we should have realized that Culture is a broad notion and that, probably, there isn’t just ONE correct definition.
For the purposes of simplification, let’s postulate that, as for any other “broad concept”, except a common base, there may be as much definition as there are people trying to define it. When an organization faces this task it may be useful to take an anthropologic view. Unfortunately, once again, it will not be easy to access this definition. Indeed Eduard T. Hall wrote: “Paradoxically, few anthropologist agree on what should be included in the concept of Culture. Whether something will be included or not will depends on the anthropologist’s own culture”.
In his book “Beyond the Culture”4 Hall offers us a vision that applies particularly well to organization trying to understand and work toward a better integration of its multicultural environment. Indeed, many organizations are not only confronted with Cultural Clash within their walls but also with their direct outside environment. Additionally, sometimes the worker himself is confronted to that multiculturalism in his every day life outside the organization. Hall gives us an approach of culture divided in two models interacting with each other.
The internal model regroups the patterns such as language, arts, social values, philosophy, physical characteristic… peculiar to a social group. The external model characterizes the groups in their relation to time (monochronic, polychronic) and in their context (High and low). Each of these models can explain the behavior of people inside or outside his/her “natural” environment. Therefore the notion of multiculturalism would represent the interactive confrontation of a plurality of culture and their models within a same environment. In fact, Hall defines culture as ” What designates what we will pay attention to.
” Once the concept has been understood by the organization, the challenges of an inter-cultural environment should probably loose a great deal of their mystification. Indeed, if an organization can agree on the definition of culture and its impact on the very functioning, the results; and then act in consequences, it is safe to believe that this organization will progress, gain a competitive advantage and save itself from a lot of possibilities of failures and dysfunction. Organizational culture is similar to, say, regional culture. The same person in different organizations (or parts of the same organization!
) would act in different ways. Culture is very powerful. One example is the cultural change effort at British Airways, which transformed an unprofitable airline with a poor reputation into a paragon of politeness and profit. To illustrate this last point, let’s take a practical example. The A Company is growing fast, is a one of the leader in its industry and is widely represent in the world. Because eof the intense competition and because of the necessity of renewing its image and its services, the headquarter decides to invest in a training program.
This investment represents millions of dollars partly because of its conceptual process, but also because of its implementation in every subsidiaries and franchises through the world. After the program’s launch in the organization’s home country, the CEO must acknowledge the problems encountered and the urgent need to make the necessary adjustments in order to succeed or else just suffer the lost of the millions invested in the creation of the training. What happened? For one thing, the A company had sub-contracted an HR consultant firm specialized in training programs. Although this firm was located abroad, it enjoyed a good reputation.
Unfortunately, when tailoring the program, this firm underestimated the global factor and created a so call “Standardized” training. The idea was that it could be applied anywhere in the world. Completely insensitive to cultural differences, it was soon to be found that team members in the home country did not accept the program because it hardly applied to cultural implication of the work’s reality. As a matter of fact, if the program was rather well accepted in the country it had been conceived in, the reluctance and grievances were numerous in other countries. One of the reasons for this failure lied in the context.
In the early fifties, the American government spent millions of dollars in developing the ultimate translation system. It was suppose to translate Russian along with any other language in perfect English. After years and years of researches and efforts from the most talented linguists of the country, it was concluded that the most effective and efficient translation system was human beings because not only they knew the language but they knew the context as well. The computer could indeed translate miles and miles of text, but it would mean nothing because there would be not link to the context.
In this matter Hall tells us: ” without the context, the code is incomplete as it does take under consideration only a part of the message. “5 Indeed, different approaches may exist within a country, a society, an organization, a social group, for all that several cultures coexist within the boundaries of that particular environment. Each will have a different perspective, not specifically negative or positive but just different due to the context and its adjuvant and opponent, due to a culture more or less highly implemented in the person or the group targeted.
Finally, we can make this same observation within a group apparently united by a common culture, because one’s own culture (personality, education, expectations, history… ) may sometimes go against the group’s one. Going back to the example, it would therefore be very difficult to answer the CEO asking whether it is possible to standardize a training program when this program should be applied worldwide in a diversity of culture. As it would be very challenging to unearth all the cultural specificity of every country.
It would be very hard to address those questions because it would probably be biased by whoever has to answer; since his vision and answer would reflect that person’s culture. Yet, no one can deny the impact of cultural adaptive behavior on the success of an organization, including its capabilities to change a training program to meet the expectation and the culture of others. The underlying question is “How far should I go? How adaptive should I be? What degree of flexibility should I apply? ”
It is needless to say that limitations exist and that if one compromises too much, he may as well miss the point and as much disturbances as if he had done nothing at all. In other words, any inter-cultural organization should pinpoint the most important cultural patterns from its inside and outside customers in order to know the do’s and don’ts when it comes to organizational development, restructuration, communication… In our example, one way of dealing with the problem could be the implementation of a strong frame of references (inflexible) for the training program but allowing some flexibility in the implementation of its content.
Conclusions In conclusion, an organization willing to succeed and perform above the average should be conscious of its cultural environment. This conscience passes by the acknowledgement that the company is composed by a diversity of people. Those people act and interact differently because of their culture and a type of sensitivity following from those differences. In doing so, it should create a better and more productive working environment, a better group dynamics and, globally, by creating a new synergy, should gain a real competitive advantage. Recommendations Cultural change is neither easy nor foolproof.
It can take time – at least one year, more likely between three and six years – and it takes effort and vigilance. A great deal of patience and long-term support is needed. Communication may be key, as small successes are used to support larger efforts. Sometimes, it is necessary to start changing small parts of an organization first, later expanding effort. The proponents of change must carefully model the behavior they want to see in others. If they do not send a consistent message and keep that message clear and dominant over time, cultural change may be seen as just another fad.
Top management’s commitment to diversity is another prerequisite for effective diversity management. If the person in charge of the organization is not thoroughly committed to diversity in the workplace, the employees will sense that it is not more than a lip service and they will not embrace all the diversity goals. To ensure commitment and respect of employees in an organization, a top-level manager should discourage behaviours and attitudes which do not embrace diversity. Otherwise, a leader will never succeed in managing it.
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1992, Beyond Race and Gender, Ama Membership Edition, USA 8. Lewis C. Forrest Jr. 1992, Taining in the Hospitality Industry, Educational Institute AH&MA, USA 9. Council1996, Internship USA, Participant Handbook, Council on International Educational Exchange, USA. 10. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionnary1990, Merriam Webster inc. Publishing, USA. 11. Baker G. Roger. 1990, Ecological Psychology, 3rd ed. , Stanford University Press, USA. 12. Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn. 1997, Organizational Behavior, 6th ed. , Wiley, USA. 13. ‘The Challenges of Globalization’ June1998, Global Finance, no.
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