Company Culture and the Universal Workforce

I was reading this great HBR article on how praise and how it is delivered is very important. The article highlights the importance of this via an example of a manager from Germany working with a universal work force. As widely perceived, German culture is heavily result and detail oriented and quantitative. Praise, is often offered as an acknowledgement of the quantitative work delivered. The article described the manager as not being very comfortable with the american way of praise – such as saying “Good job” etc. And this lack of praise got folks to leave.

I do agree with this a 100%. And I would like to extend this to general cultural sensitivity. I work from India in a company spread across at least two geographies. And the folks on the US side are from even more diverse geographic backgrounds (such as the middle east). It is super important to understand the cultural context of the specific team you work with. In the current environment, there is no way, this can be generalized across the company.

Company culture cannot be decentralized either. Local managers (like me) are expected to handle the cultural implications of the local geography. While this is a noble idea, assuming that the local managers know best, it is necessary but not sufficient. This is because, given the increasing amounts of participation from remote geographies on larger projects, it is not just the local manager that the individual contributors work with. More often than not, on a day to day basis, engineers work with other engineers (or their engineering managers on the other side of the ocean). While the local managers tries his or her best to accommodate these cultural conundrums, if the relationship with the others are suffering, there could be bad side effects. This could work against the effort put in my the local manager, and hence making the local manager unhappy as well. Classic examples of cultural differences in the Indian context would be religious festivals (or pujas or functions) where the entire family congregates. In the American context, other than Christmas and Thanksgiving, there are probably no other similarities. Another example is the case of a close family member recuperating from surgery, where the employee would take some time off, or work from home. Again, in the American context, the love and affection is reflected in the quality of health care and care givers that the family member provides.

In closing, my firm belief is that, management in the 21st century is not just project management or technical management. If you are working in what we, in India, call an MNC (or a multi-national-company), management includes educating your peer managers in other geographies on your local cultural context. It also includes you learning from your peer managers about their cultural context and propagating to your team. The more the engineers in your team understand this, the more comfortable the work distribution and interactions become.

(reblogged from filterkaapi.in)

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