Hiru Bijlani discusses the business culture across the world

How corporations develop their own cultures and value systems based on a variety of factors. These most commonly spring from the cultural orientation of the nation a corporation may have been initially based in, and the business philosophy of the corporation's founders.

With the globalisation of business, however, such factors may be said to have declined to some extent in importance, with a new set o factors growing in significance. Among these emerging influences are considerations such as the cultural background and orientation of people employed across the corporation's sphere of operations, and the actual locations of these operations.

The relationship between the organisation and the individual in Japan, for instance, is seen as a bond of permanent nature. With this 'Womb to tomb' interface between the corporation and employee, otherwise larger considerations have little role to play. Even recession for example does not result in workers being laid off. On the contrary, workers voluntarily work long hours, take pay cuts and fewer holidays when times are bad. Pride is an important element of the Japanese psyche and deemed necessary for both quality production and national success.

In other parts of Asia, in countries such as ours, as well as in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the traditional relationship between employer and employee is a feudal, paternalistic one where the employer is seen as a father figure and the employee the child, with the employer expected to take an active part in every aspect of the employee's life, including participation in family events.

In contrast, moving westwards to Europe, relationships between the organisation and the individual are more formal in nature. Based more on individualism and related needs than on the needs of the organisation, these sometimes prove to be area of conflict.

American society is the ultimate in the promotion of individual value systems. Achievement through monetary success is appreciated and respected. Individuals change jobs frequently as they move up to the ladder. This is not viewed badly at all and, in fact, helps spur careers on.

In developing core corporate values, it is important to have a few key values that people can remember and implement, according to Dr John Fulkerson, head of HRD at Pepsi Co.

Fulkerson also believes in the importance of similarities as opposed to differences, and does not over-emphasise the importance of cultural adaptation. The technology of manufacturing, processing and bottling, for example, does not change with the location of manufacture, he opines, and while differences may be discussed, they must not be given undue weightage.

This issue is of course a debatable one, as managers have repeatedly found the key to success to success in varying environments is the ability to adapt locally, yet without resorting to cultural differences as an excuse for inefficiency.

The Japanese, for example, have been branded as never saying a direct 'no', and there as in China, one goes through the social niceties before getting down to business. Business relationships seldom, if ever, enter the personal realm.

Globalisation is changing the rules of business

In Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand business relationships often become warm and friendly, whereas those in Britain tend to remain on a formal plane until the people involved get to know each other better. In France, things go better, if French is spoken, whereas the Germans set great store by efficiency, punctuality and thoroughness.

When several national cultures operate within an organisation, an important part of the international manger's role is to ensure that different cultures understand and respect each other, while containing possible negative spinoffs.

As more and more companies enter the global competitive arena, large numbers of executives are crossing borders. Mastering the tricky mix and hiring managers who can think globally while understanding local nuances means, hiring what some companies call global managers - people skilled at dealing with a variety of cultures and at bringing a diverse team together.

To be successful, the global manager has to understand the differences between the cultures as global teams, and must in fact go beyond mere understanding to be able to manage these differences.

The effective global manager needs to deal with the issues of cross-cultural variances and develop policies and systems accordingly.

In the management of cross-cultural teams, varying levels of organisation loyalty and commitment need to be recognised. These then need to be further developed along the same lines with various individuals whose cultural backgrounds differ.

Global managers must also learn to manage in the context of continuous change and diversity. In times of stress, for example, individuals will naturally tend to revert to the kind of behaviour prescribed by their own culture. Sensitivity and awareness of the cultural differences in their teams is therefore vital to the success of global managers.

One of the keys to creating a truly global corporation is having a top management team comprising of personnel from different lifestyles / nationalities. In short, having only parent company people around in headquarters while local persons run local operations in a no-no.

Hiru Bijlani is a management consultant in international business.
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