I was talking to the senior executive team of a client about their global client base. They were working in just over 50 countries and I asked them: “Where would you like to serve clients?” They were quick to answer: “Everywhere! Wherever there is business to be had, we want to be there!” But when I asked the next question the room fell silent: “If you want to pursue business everywhere, is the DNA of your company global enough?”
After the weight of the question started to sink in, the room started to volunteer examples of issues they were facing in the countries they were already working in. Examples spoke of miscommunication, negotiations that misfired, sourcing global and local talent, local partnerships that were not what they expected, local supply issues and complex client challenges they had never dealt with before.
Although their business had gone global their DNA was still very local, resulting in stagnant global growth! The old phrase: “Corporate Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” had become a reality for them. As we discussed the subject further they started to realize that ‘conquering the world’ must include ‘globalizing your company DNA’!
How Global is Your Company DNA?
These days anybody can sell internationally! The internet, social media and companies like Alibaba and Amazon give you access to global customers and the ability to deliver to their doorstep. It becomes a different ballgame if you have to be on the ground in multiple geographies, operate across borders, engage local customers and suppliers, local authorities, localize your products and coordinate offices in multiple countries.
There is growing interest in what it takes to become truly global: able to adapt flexibly and operate with multicultural teams in locations around the world. To do this involves more than changing up product offerings and marketing strategy -- it means incorporating inter-cultural agility into the core of your business.
Changing Your Corporate DNA
In medical practice there is a phrase that is easily applicable to the question of changing your corporate DNA: “Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice”. If you don’t know where you are today, you don’t know what needs to be changed to globalize your DNA!
This immediately brings up a tension: A company needs to stay true to their core values and (brand)identity while at the same time globalize their DNA to engage talent, customers, suppliers, client in all geographies! The challenge is: what do we want to zealously protect and what can we tweak locally or let go of altogether? Designing HR policies, employee handbooks and operational policies at HQ and then “shipping them out’ to all corners of the world will not work if you are serious about globalizing your company DNA.
At KnowledgeWorkx we believe that, ‘Corporate Culture is the sum-total of the expression of the thinking, speaking and acting of its contributors.’ In some cases this is reflective of policy & procedure but we have often seen that the day-to-day ‘thinking, speaking and acting’ is very different from company values, policies and procedures. This is specially true of companies that operate globally but have not intentionally globalized their DNA.
To guide an organization through globalizing their DNA - we use an expanded version of a model that was originally developed by Mr. Khoo from Singapore. The model has 6 C’s:
- Core – Vision, Mission, Values and Goals
- Capabilities – Products & Services, Strategic Planning & Action
- Capacities – Structures, Processes and Systems
- Competencies – Mindset, Skillset, Heart, and Habits
- Customer Focus – Value Proposition, Internal & External Services
- Culture – Environment formed by behaviors in the first 5 areas
When people think of the Core of a company they think of things like corporate values; and these are often used as a starting point. But employee behaviors in the areas of Capabilities, Capacities, Competencies, and Customer Focus are what flesh these out, and reveal if they have become our actual values.
Company Culture cannot be changed by focusing on changing the corporate culture. This might sound like an oxymoron but let me use an illustration from the world of sports. You cannot become an Olympic swimmer by focusing on that. You have to break it down into a comprehensive strategy that is holistic and long-term oriented. You will need to submit yourself to a disciplined journey that is well designed and broken down into incremental small steps. If you submit yourself to the journey you will become a better and better swimmer, maybe making it to Olympic level.
The same is true if you want to transform the culture of an organization; transformation it is shaped by what we do in the other five areas. Every change we intend to make needs to be vetted by the following question, “What impact will this have on the culture of our organization?” Aligning, changing and nurturing the behavior of the organization is at the core of globalizing the DNA of your organization.
This is why we use the ‘6C-model combined with our ICI framework to design corporate culture change initiatives. To globalize the DNA of an organization we also need to ensure that the changes include the on the ground realities of the current and future diversities of our talent, clients, suppliers and local markets.
Making Corporate DNA Global
In a multinational or multicultural company, people’s conceptions of corporate values and how these play out can vary widely. To lead in having this culturally-shaded discussion, we use elements from our Inter-Cultural Intelligence© Toolbox - particularly The Three Colors of Worldview© and 12 Dimension of Culture© .
As we work through the 6 C’s we are looking for behavior modifications that stay true to our values and brand, but also allow employees around the world to resonate and thrive in their local (cultural) environment.
A company’s vision, mission and values, captured in targeted goals, are a key force for alignment across the organization.
From an intercultural perspective, the crucial considerations are: “Have we developed our Mission, Vision and Values with representatives of the workforce’s different cultural groups at the table?” (A challenging question that lurks in the background is: “How DO we give everybody a voice in culturally appropriate ways?”). As we gather input from across the organization, we connect interculturally vetted behaviors to the values of the organization so that they can be owned and committed to by people of all cultures?”
The end of this process may give us a core set of behaviors that are transferable between cultures. These core behaviors need to be passionate nurtured and zealously protected across all geographies. It is crucial to make these behaviors part of the recruiting, induction and people development initiatives. Leaders need to be coached to add local expression to these core behaviors, while staying true to the core essence of the company.
How do we talk about our products and services, both commercial products as well as community services offered free of charge? What are we as an organization capable of, and how do we talk about that with customers?
It is crucial that every person in the organization is able to understand and articulate this, but it is something that can easily be lost in large organizations or when people are focused mainly on internal support functions.
Part of this step is a clear ‘go-to-market’ strategy – our action plan to make products available to the world. The values and motivations you tap into will vary by culture and geography. Make sure employees are set up to communicate your value proposition well in their context.
An organization might be capable of many things, but without healthy systems, policies and procedures they will not be able to scale for growth. Success without scalable capacity development causes companies to implode! Capacities refer to our systems, policies and procedures for bringing products and services to market. This includes structures and processes from every discipline in the organization – from communication, brand-equity, and HR to financial, IT, client engagement, and performance systems.
Once again, in different settings the ways we have to do things may vary. How can we tweak our systems and processes to cater to the local market? This affects both our clientele and local staff and may need to include things like how we respond to the global realities of expanding and contracting markets.
Our potential for bringing the company’s value preposition to market is fueled not only by our capacities, but the competencies of our human talent.
In particular, competencies refer to 3 aspects:
- Heart Set (passion)
- Mindset (attitude) and
- Skillset (technical and people skills).
- We can add a fourth component – Habits – meaning a person’s ability to apply competencies under a variety of circumstances.
We need to consider which competencies and expertise will enable our employees to thrive in the different locations in which we operate. There will probably be some differences between Rotterdam and Riyadh.
Research is showing that the combination of globalization, intercultural complexity and the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution has resulted in a growing skill gap in the area of people skills (we don’t like calling them soft skills…).
All of these things must be directed toward serving the customers of the organization – internal and external. A clear understanding of the customer’s needs, wants and desires ensures the organization can deliver products and services that are relevant, timely, and value added.
Long-term sustainability is achieved through a continuous dialogue with customers. Very often customers have great ideas that can become the basis for your next cycle of innovation.
Customers want to be part of the conversation in a culturally appropriate way. In our global and intercultural world it is crucial to establish mechanisms through which customers of all kinds feel safe to add their color to the mix – as a group or as individuals. This means in many places we have think creatively, beyond regular surveys and focus groups.
As you start to calibrate and align the above five areas with an intercultural ear, the culture of the organization will start to resonate not just in your home market, but globally. People of every culture where you serve can begin to feel more invested in what you are doing.
In order to start this journey it is crucial to identify where you are today. We advocate using both Inter-Cultural Intelligence© and Whole Systems Analysis to create an accurate picture of where you are today. The next step is to use the 6C model to design a holistic development journey for your organization and goals.
Contact us to learn more about how KnowledgeWorkx can help you develop a truly global corporate culture
Quickly becoming the global preferred choice for Inter-Cultural Intelligence development, KnowledgeWorkx promotes mutual understanding of other cultures and perspectives in the workplace, and helps teams to develop the intercultural capacity necessary to thrive in a globalized world.