Keeping Company Culture Alive Across a Global Workforce
Today’s business leaders are grappling with a critical new challenge: that of elevating workforce engagement at a time when many employees look set to be working from home on a permanent or part time basis for the foreseeable future.
Nicole Sahin, CEO and Founder of Globalization Partners, offers CEO Today her thoughts on maintaining a global company culture during uncertain times.
Effectively communicating and maintaining the ideology, practices and culture of the enterprise has been an issue that multinational organisations have long been aware of. When it comes to getting ahead and staying ahead, global brands like Google, Apple and Netflix have demonstrated the power of initiating corporate cultures that explicitly foster a vision of creativity and collective problem solving, taking an employee-centric approach that consistently earns them high rankings in Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.
With organisations becoming more global, business success increasingly depends on the ability of business leaders to bridge cultural differences to build a productive and cohesive workforce in multiple countries and regions. As global workforces age and become more ethnically diverse, organisations will need to adapt at speed to ensure they can capture the right talent and can harness key knowledge workers in a way that keeps people engaged and productive.
With organisations becoming more global, business success increasingly depends on the ability of business leaders to bridge cultural differences to build a productive and cohesive workforce in multiple countries and regions.
Why corporate culture matters
The increased international interactions that characterise today’s business environment has seen the importance of company-wide value systems rise up the boardroom agenda. According to a recent report by PWC’s Katzenback Center, 71% of C-suite and board members now view culture as a top issue, with 65% saying culture is more important to performance than an organisation’s strategy or operating model.
Enabling a cohesive and productive corporate culture that fosters great teamwork now depends on going beyond regional or sectoral knowledge to enabling teams and groups of people to collaborate and perform – no matter where they are based. So, in addition to defining the values, practices and beliefs that are core to the corporate culture, organisations also need to find ways to manage the risks that are implied in cultural distance. That means implementing the appropriate incentives, management strategies, and communication styles that resonate with employees in every territory.
As organisations grapple with the management challenges thrown up by the realities of the new remote working norms that now characterise the workforce, it will be critical to not lose sight of some basic key practices that can help overcome cultural, geographic and separation barriers that keep the employee experience moving in the right direction.
Building resilience begins with nurturing a culture of communication
The way companies have communicated with customers, suppliers and employees during the COVID-19 crisis highlights how some were able to seize the moment to work in new and more agile ways. Winners quickly enabled flatter organisational structures that allowed decisions to be taken faster, with staff developing new skills – leveraging technologies like video conferencing and other digital channels – to manage people remotely, disperse information updates, and inspire personnel to perform in difficult circumstances.
The way companies have communicated with customers, suppliers and employees during the COVID-19 crisis highlights how some were able to seize the moment to work in new and more agile ways.
For international companies, providing employees with slogans and images that communicate values like adaptability, respect, team-building and personal accountability will help articulate the corporate culture in a way that’s accessible to all. To achieve desired outcomes, senior executives will also need to demonstrate these values on a daily basis, using video presentations, virtual meetings, blog posts and internal company communication channels to disseminate team building messages that set out current targets and provide transparency on company performance.
Constantly defining and redefining what success and reputational values look like will be critical for remote or distributed teams who will need to feel a clear connection to purpose. That includes keeping them updated on how business models are being evolved to address specific local market demands.
Practical ways to enshrine an employee-centric approach
Building a culture that supports retention and recruitment will be key to preparing for future uncertainty, and according to a recent survey from HSBC, treating employees well is a top characteristic of agile and resilient businesses that have successfully navigated the global business environment.
For HR teams, that means initiating recognition and reward programmes that are appropriate for the geographies in which employees work and finding ways to ensure that individuals who go beyond the call of duty are publicly acknowledged across the business.
Now more than ever, recruitment and onboarding represent the most critical points for improving employee engagement and retention for the long term. So, enabling standardised processes that ensure new hires can deliver fast will be critical. That includes being aware of local practices that will set employees up for success.
Curating a strong initial employee-employer connection will require a robust international employee onboarding program that incorporates clear performance goals, feedback loops check-ins, and formal and informal organisational maps that help employees understand decision-making protocols and identify who their local and international peers are. The programme should also incorporate a tightly defined orientation procedure that is sensitive to country-specific labour rights and the working preferences of the individual.
Facing the future with confidence
The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a wake-up call for leaders everywhere on the importance of establishing the systems and processes that enable their people to flourish and perform consistently, no matter what the challenge. For many, the importance of connecting and communicating the purpose, values and culture of the organisation to all stakeholders – customers, employees, shareholders and partners – has become a mission critical imperative.
Creating a culture where workers feel included and valued, and where leaders can engage in meaningful conversations on how employees can contribute will be essential going forward. In times of massive change, employees will need clarity and goals with leaders who can show the way forward. This will give them the freedom to use their initiative and be successful as the nature of work as we know it continues to evolve.