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Yearly Archives: 2015

How to Inquire About Corporate Culture

A client shared a great article about the importance of organizational culture awareness for job seekers as well as organizations wanting to attract top talent. Rather than asking hiring companies about the uniqueness of their organizations, the author Adam Grant suggests asking and listening for stories will reveal the organizational culture and the hidden shared beliefs that drive behaviors at a work place.

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Recently, I have been playing with 5 of Gerd Hofstede’s 6 cultural dimension indicators to see whether they may be useful to assess and compare organizational culture.

  1. Low or High Power Distance
    How accessible are the leaders in the organization and how do they relate to the frontline staff? How complex is the organizational structure? How short or long are reporting and project approval paths?
  2. Individualism vs. Collectivism
    How does your organization celebrate success, for the individual, the team and the organization? Are employees essentially competing against each other or is team effort valued over lone wolf mentalities?
  3. Uncertainty Avoidance
    How quickly are decisions made? How much information is required and how complex is the approval process for new initiatives? How risk averse is the organization?
  4. Masculinity vs. Femininity
    In a cultural context, Hofstede defines masculinity as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.” Femininity is defined as “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.” (Weak in this context may mean a less experienced team member or a person requiring or simply benefiting from special accommodations.) While the labels may sound dated and may have to be modified to reflect the current climate for work place discourses, the concept of conquering versus integration is nevertheless an important marker for corporate culture and behavior.
  5. Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation
    Are traditions valued and implemented in long-range plans? Are quarterly results the main decision drivers? Is institutional knowledge valued or does the organization put innovation front and center?

Additional dimensions came to mind when inquiring about an organization’s culture that are not captured by Hofstede’s traditional culture model, which was original developed for national cultural assessments:

Learning Propensity
What does the on-boarding process look like? What does the organization do to encourage continuous learning at the organizational level as well as at the individual level? How are mistakes handled?

Generative vs. Critical Feedback
How do employees know that they are successful? How is feedback given and received in the organization? Is up-chain feedback encouraged? Is feedback used as a constructive personnel development tool or is it usually used to reprimand staff? An easy gauge is to ask whether employees are usually looking forward to receiving feedback and performance evaluations or if they dread it.

Level of Internal Cohesiveness
How would the front line staff answer these questions? The manager? The leader of the organization? Vastly differing responses indicate internal disconnects.

Why are these important considerations for job seekers? While salary and benefits are important to meet your needs for your life outside of your workplace, the company culture will be the driving factor for long-term job satisfaction and professional growth and most importantly, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Peter Drucker) – every day and all the time.

 

We See (and Understand) What We Know (Part 2)

blue 2Dianne Hofner Saphiere (Cultural Detectives) pointed me to a recently published article about how linguistic dexterity is connected with cognitive development and vice versa: No one could see the color blue until modern times by Kevin Loria. The premise of the article directly ties into my own observation that people tend to focus on the familiar and often stop short of taking a closer look and exploring other possible meanings or interpretations. Selective seeing and (subconscious) selective processing of information can thereby easily lead to incomplete or even incorrect conclusions.

What other things, connections, concepts may we be unaware of because we lack the words to describe them or because we have not learned how to decode them? When clients first enter a coaching relationship their bodies are often exhibiting symptoms that are rooted in interpersonal experiences. Tight muscles, clenched jaws, headaches, sweating. The person may even have a “gut feeling” that something is wrong but is lacking the words to describe it. An experienced coach will ask questions, invite explorations and may offer a range of vocabulary to become more and more specific in the descriptions of symptoms, experiences, and stories. With an expanded range of words to explore emotions comes progress and the ability to “see” dynamic relationships and dependencies.

Here are some questions to think about as we encounter unfamiliar people in new settings. How do we recognize invitations to enter  into relationships? How do we discern what type of relationship is desired? How can you predict behavior across cultures if the behavior is grounded in concepts that you may be utterly unfamiliar with? How does that relate to global leadership? All these questions ultimately point to the importance of learning the proper tools and expressions to engage in effective intercultural communication.

Why the memory of the Holocaust is a gift for German culture

holocaust-rememberWhy the memory of the Holocaust is a gift for German culture. (Please click on the link to a very pointed article written by Christian Höfele)

I wholeheartedly share Christian Höfele’s sentiments.

The first time I walked through the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., I cried and I would refuse to speak to my companion inside the museum, fearing that my German accent would be detected and I felt so deeply ashamed at that moment. Years later, I have the gained confidence to “own” that part of my heritage and to talk to my children about what it must have been like for their great-grandparents to live in and through that dark part of history.

Today, I feel the need to draw comparisons between different forms of persecution and scapegoating of visually and ideologically identifiable groups of people and to speak up against generalizations, against oversimplifications and the vilifying of cultural groups and beliefs. If history is bound to repeat itself due to certain limitations of the human nature, then we are all called to remember and be aware of those dark human forces that are rooted in fear and greed, and to do everything we can to prevent similar future atrocities.