For better or worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked. Yet it’s always a challenge to mandate and enforce a ‘one-world’ set of values across businesses that span disparate cultures and countries. The local nuances in each region or territory, even the built environment, define the on-the-ground personality of corporate hubs.
It’s part and parcel of leadership to drive cultural consistency, but all too often consistency is mistaken for an etched-in-stone approach, when actually global culture demands adaptability and an acceptance that diversity and inclusion are opportunities rather than threats to the leadership vision.
If culture is an expression of goals through values and beliefs, and unites through shared assumptions and group norms, then one culture doesn’t equate to a mono-culture. The best leaders understand the benefits of multiple cultures within their organisations; they know when to let the local culture thrive in the parameters of the corporate culture – and to step in when change is required.
So how best to achieve this fine balance?
1. Recruit wisely
All businesses have a definable ‘personality’ and we get a sense of this as soon as we walk through the door. An organisation’s culture stems from how people behave and interact, and, as we know, this invariably comes from the top down. We can’t be everywhere at once (thankfully!) so the secret is to recruit regional senior management teams that share your vision and values. If all goes to plan, you should be able to visit any one of your offices and it will still feel like ‘home’.
2. Make the world smaller
Maintaining lines of communication is key to ensuring everyone feels engaged as part of the broader business. Shared infrastructure such as intranets and collaboration tools like Skype or Google Docs have been invaluable in in bringing teams closer. These technologies mean colleagues in far-flung offices are more than just an email address or an accent on the end of a phone line. This tech also means we no longer need to work in silos and can combine the right talent from multiple regions and departments for specific projects.
3. Look them in the eye
Not everything can be done via WebEx or Skype. Old-fashioned face-to-face communication will always be the best way to build and maintain relationships. Where feasible, bring people from different offices together. Short- to mid-term secondments for disciplinary specialists can be really helpful in terms of extending skills across offices, but the social interaction is also important.
4. Make them proud
We need to invest in staff if they are to feel valued and remain loyal – particularly millennials (but that’s perhaps a piece for another day). As well as providing training opportunities, also make every effort to celebrate collective success. You want your people to be proud of being part of a larger organisation and events such as internal conferences have an important role to play here.
Every business is different and there are certain benefits to both centralised and decentralised models, but as senior leaders our role is to set the vision and strategy, and to offer guidance where necessary.
However, a business is made up of multiple experts and no single one of us has all the answers, so being open to new ideas and trusting in the knowledge of our local teams plays a key part in success.
Diktats such as ‘this is how we must work’ have no place in modern business; rather we need to adopt a ‘this is what works for you’ mindset where it’s appropriate. After all, in an age where organisations need to be agile enough to respond quickly to changes in the market, we also need to show that same agility and accommodate the evolving needs of our people. The fact is grand narratives have little place in the twenty-first century; it’s evolving cultural storylines that will drive success.
Caroline Foster Kenny is CEO EMEA at IPG Mediabrands
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