The True Multiculturalism of Organizations

Culture, and its impact on the success of organizations, is a hot topic these days. There seems to an awakening going on to the reality that buying more software and making more rules will not fix most problems. Discussions are now centering on people and corporate cultures. It is refreshing for those of us who have been championing this message to see it come to the forefront.

In my class this week we were discussing firms measuring themselves and culture came up multiple times. It was interesting to me to see that different definitions and mindsets around what culture is. It made me realize that to truly address the topic new terminology may be needed, that culture has become too big a term with multiple meanings.

Most firms have at least three cultures:

External – What is the impression that is presented to clients, customers and competitors. Is the firm seen as ethical, reliable, trustworthy? Are they known for being on time and producing quality work? Are their products innovative and do their provide good customer service?

Internal Societal – What is the atmosphere internally? Do people like and respect each other? Is the firm like a family and everyone tries to take care of each other? Is it a fun or serious place to work?

Internal Citizenship – What is allowed behaviorally? Are people held accountable? When people aren’t accountable is it addressed? What happens when a team member isn’t following policies or is ignoring their responsibilities? How long does it take for change when issues occur?

For a large or geographically diverse firm, they may have multiple occurrences of all three.

All three co-exist as one in most people’s minds and as a result cultural change can be difficult. Often when change is needed in one area there is great angst that the other areas will be compromised and as a result efforts are limited or halted. One of the primary concerns firms have as they grow and need to formalize their internal citizenship is that it will come at the cost of their societal culture. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Successfully making internal citizenship change while preserving societal culture requires:

1 – Recognizing that the three components are separate and can change independently but also keeping an eye on their independent impacts

2 – Depersonalizing accountability and repercussions. A clear line has to be created between how individuals feel about each other as people and how business issues are addressed.

3 – Always presenting the business case (the ‘why’) for any changes, policies or rules.

4 – Having clearly defined goals and priorities that are shared across the organization

5 – Communication!!!

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