Tag Archives: Organizational culture

Culture Is Like A Mayonnaise

Culture Is Like A Mayonnaise

The popular ‘Iceberg model’ of culture developed by Selfridge and Sokolik, 1975,  identifies a visible area consisting of behavior or clothing or symbols and artifacts of some form and a level of values or an invisible level.

Recently Milton J. Bennett, Director of Intercultural Development Research institute, suggested to remove this metaphor from the vocabulary of intercultural professionals in his blog Culture is not like an iceberg. Personally I like the iceberg metaphor but the Interculturalist Christian Höferle thinks too that it is a bit too simplistic and offers some interesting suggestions in his blog :Wanted: A 21st century metaphor to explain culture

Mayonnaise I came up with the idea of “mayonnaise”, a water in oil emulsion, to represent culture. What you first see in a good mayonnaise is a homogeneous yellowish cream. But in fact if you look at it under a microscope, it is made of small drops of water with different sizes and shapes dispersed in a homogeneous oil phase. If you include oil too fast then the 2 liquids separate. If you pour and whisk oil slowly, the water drops get smaller and the preparation becomes thick and stable.


 Most people know that water and oil don’t mix together and that you need other ingredients such as emulsifiers to have a stable mixture looking homogeneous from the outside.

 I like to compare droplets of water (coming from egg yolks with some vinegar or mustard) with different shapes and sizes as individuals who share same culture. They are defined as a specific cultural group because they have in common a set of rules, thinking process, behaviors or other cultural norms, that are invisible but highly powerful. In the Mayonnaise metaphor those “invisible” bonds are the emulsifiers, like the lecithin. The oil can represent the most obvious and visible component of the culture: Geography, language for example.

So in short,  culture is not only what you see but you need deep immersion to understand what makes people unique and yet what holds them together by explicit and not so explicit  cultural rules or norms.

How about you ? Do you have a better metaphor to explain culture ?

Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach

This blog has been inspired by an article published  by Rana Sinha How to understand cross-cultural analysis?. I have summarized Rana’s key ideas and added my own sources of information

Origins and Evolution of Cross-cultural Communication.

 Typically anthropologists and social scientists tend to study people and human behavior among exotic tribes and cultures living in far off places rather than do field work among white-collared literate adults in modern cities. Advances in communication and technology and socio-political changes started transforming the modern workplace yet there were no guidelines based on research to help people interact with other people from other cultures. To address this gap arose the discipline of cross-cultural analysis or cross-cultural communication. The main theories of cross-cultural communication draw from the fields of anthropology, sociology, communication and psychology and are based on value differences among cultures. Edward T. Hall, Geert Hofstede,Fons Trompenaars, Shalom Schwartz

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Lousy Leaders Coddle

See on Scoop.itGlobal Leaders

Coddling leaders are safe; compassionate leaders dangerous. Coddling, like all leadership behaviors, reflects attitudes about yourself and others. Coddling isn’t compassionate it’s needy, misguided..(read more on leadershipfreak.wordpress.com )

Anne Egros‘s insight:

It is true that knowledge and experience are often on the way of creativity and therefore prevent other people to experiment and grow. We learn from our failures more than from successes.

Compassion unlike coddling encourages people to try new things and to step out of their comfort zone with confidence even if it hurts or if they get some bruises on the way.

You don’t learn to bike by seeing others doing it, falling is part of the learning process and compassion is like the helmet and the protection gear to make sure you don’t get permanent damages.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger-Nietzsche

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PRESENTATION: See on www.slideshare.net


In this presentation I have summarized what is needed to implement a  good strategy globally:

1-People and Resources:  

  • Aligned corporate culture with strategy
  • Strategic leadership
  • Concentrate resources on target
  • Match resources and capabilities requirements

2- Fit:  Redesign the work and activities that serve the strategy. Leverage strengths, lock out imitators

3-Flexibility: All advantages are temporary:  Gather and use intelligence

Having the right people in the strategic leadership team is the very first step and the most important factor for successful strategy implementation.

Global leaders are asked more and more to be able to lead virtual and multicultural teams all around the world dealing not only with cultural differences but also with misunderstanding of work expectations, performance definition or differences in time zones.

In a previous post, I have introduced the concept of “Third Culture Teams” to describe how to create congruence of three cultures:

1-The Corporate culture: Company explicit and implicit rules and guidelines, leadership style, ethnocentric or diversity-centered, cultural traits of the country where the Headquarters are based

2-The local country culture: Language (verbal and non-verbal), religion, cultural values and norms, communication style

3-Each individual team member’s own culture, values, beliefs, set of norms

Choose your global team leaders for their ability to federate people under one concept of a third culture team with well-developed active listening skills,emotional intelligence and mentoring capabilities as well as cultural fluency.

The idea of third culture teams is based on the human need for belonging: People like to feel that they can relate to someone and those who share similar interests.

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Are “Transnationals” The New Global Executives ?

English: transnational global interconnectedness

English: transnational global interconnectedness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just read this interesting article about the impact of globalization on education and job market and the rise of the ‘transnationals”. 

With globalization, doing business across multiple countries simultaneously is the new normal for global executives who must have international experience gained through performing work with global responsibilities and cross-cultural exposure. Companies need managers and leaders who understand various markets and cultures and able to develop local talent by sharing corporate values and best practices across all levels of the organization. Living in one or more different countries is now  considered mandatory for executives working for transnational corporations.

In the past, emerging economies like China or India had massive exodus to Western countries but in the current economic climate, many of these expatriates are returning home.

The “transnational ” executives face different career and personal challenges than the traditional expatriates or those who remain in their home countries. The  new “global careerists” need new tools to manage their international careers and life abroad

Some definitions:

Expatriates lived in one or more country but they identify with their native nation. The word “expat” is often used to caricature people who have a certain social and economic status sent abroad by big global companies. They typically stays 3 to 5 years in the same country and have much more benefits and salaries than “locals”. I wrote in another article that this type of expats have a tendency to disappear for  the “new expat executive”, a kind of hybrid combining the low-cost local manager with advanced knowledge of cross-cultural issues and global leadership including technical expertise usually brought by a traditional expatriate executive.

The “Third Culture Adult” or TCA: David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken describe in their book “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds”, children who grow up in a land that’s not their parents’ homeland. They become a part of a third culture that sets them apart from others without this experience. A global executive should be able to build a third culture among multiple cultures including corporate and local ones and develop competencies that bridge different social groups in terms of management style, cultural sensitivities and social networks.

Transnationals lived in two or more countries but  don’t consider being part of one nation in particular, borders don’t exist in their minds. Those cross-border migrants consider more than one place ‘home’. Transnational corporations operate in more than one country or nation at a time, so does a “transnational” executive. Transnationalism refers also to cross-border social networks, diaspora, political or religious groups and organisations. Transnationals may be able to plan their career abroad without the help of a company based “home”. Transnationals typically speak at least two or more different languages and are aware of cultural differences from various social groups.

The term “transnationals” is very seldom used compared to the term “expatriates” but I think the definition is becoming closer to the “new global executive” that multinational companies need today.

What do you think ?

Why White Men Can’t Lead ?

I have read an article “White Men Can’t Lead (everyone) from the  American Management Association  and I basically agree with the ideas:

  • Today’s leadership models, although they may differ from person to person and method to method, generally have a common bias toward Western or European-influenced ways of thinking.
  • We’re leading as if our companies are filled only with white men and, quite clearly, that’s no longer the case.
  • Contemporary leadership theories exclude the enormous contributions, potential learning, and valuable insights that come from leaders in diverse communities.
  • Multicultural leadership encourages an inclusive and adaptable style that cultivates the ability to bring out the best in our diverse workforce and to fashion a sense of community with people from many parts of the globe. (reference: www.techrepublic.com)

Although this article was written in 2007, nothing really changed. This “white men” leadership style is still highly prevalent in multinational western companies and how they manage their local affiliates.

In most headquarters in America and European countries, the “non-invented’ here syndrome makes management ignoring local consumer tastes and cultural values thinking that what works home works everywhere (ethnocentric management style).

Recently an article published in Forbes “ Sayonara Sony: How Industrial, MBA-Style Leadership Killed a Once Great Company. demonstrated that Sony, a market leader for 40 years with its strategy of innovating new markets, has now lost money for 4 year because they adopted the western industrial strategy based on volume and cost obsession.

After two years of study the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (in America) released its report in 2011 on efforts to create more diversity among the top military brass, in the article,  Are There Too Many White Guys Leading Our Military? , The report notes that 77 percent of active duty senior officers are white, 8 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic and 16 percent are women. Those numbers have to change in order for the military to reach its goals concluded the report.

In  previous post I introduced the concept of “Third Culture Teams” that has been used to describe  how to create  congruence of three cultures:

1-The Corporate culture: Company explicit and implicit rules and guidelines, leadership style, ethnocentric or diversity-centered, cultural traits of the country where the Headquarters are based

2-The local country culture: Language (verbal and non-verbal), religion, cultural values and  norms, communication style

3-Each individual team member’s own culture, values, beliefs, set of norms

The idea of third culture teams is based on the human need for belonging: People like to feel that they can relate to someone and those who share similar interests.

You can be a white man and a great global leader but you need to be a chameleon who is able to change its  color to reflect its environment. Effective multicultural team leader must create trust regardless of ethnicity or country of origin by actively listening to everybody’s ideas before making a decision concerning the introduction of a new product or service in a foreign market.

What skills Do You Think Are Most Important for Global Leaders ?

What Skills To Look For Hiring Global Executives ?

The most difficult challenge for an expat executive like a country general manager is to be able to find congruence between various opposite interests in a highly complex environment (see picture above).

The expat executive must be able to deal with local issues such  as specific regulations and laws then explain clearly the specificity of local markets and “sell” his decisions vertically and horizontally. Be able to dismantle silos in a matrix-type organization, managing up with board members, making internal alliances with peers and encouraging bottom up initiatives from multicultural cross-functional teams.

As an expat and multicultural team leader who lived and worked for 20 years in more than 10 countries for various industries and different management functions, I have seen many successful expat executives sharing same characteristics that for me are key skills to look for when considering sending people to international assignments or hiring locals at senior management level :

1- Attitude: Look for people who are leading by influence, able to federate people across cultures, able to lead trans-functional and virtual teams worldwide. Suitable personalities have high EQ and are pragmatic, open, curious, learners, risk-takers, negotiators, diplomats.

2-Cultural Intelligence: Knowledge about local customs,cultural traits,norms,social and business etiquette. Basic “survival” language skill is enough in most cases as business is often conducted in English. Don’t make the mistake to hire a local manager because he can speak English, check his leadership and technical skills.

3-Mentoring and Coaching Skills Usually an expat is sent from the HQs to share some technical knowledge or implement global processes such as performance evaluation. In each case make sure the person is  able to “glocalize”  or adapt locally  the company’s global vision, mission, values and principles, One very good example of “glocalization” of corporate culture is Starbucks

The challenge for global companies is to be able to have the right process to assess people globally both for internal succession planning, talent management or hiring new managers. Three components should be considered:

  1. Technical skills: operations, finance, markets, regulations, innovation, HR etc.
  2.  Leadership style: Top-down, bottom-up, influence, networking, lobbying, foster creativity
  3. Cultural intelligence: Group or individualistic cultures, knowledge of cultural dimensions, able to create a third culture team

7 Secrets Executives Use To Build High Performance Organizations

Because the business and its environment are continually evolving, best practice also has to be adapted to the  times. What matters is the right managerial practice, exploiting the right business drivers to adapt to and shape the conditions facing a business over timeAndré de Waal, 2010

Top 7  Characteristics Shared by High Performance Organizations (HPO)

1. Fast response to new conditions: I am not only talking about financial crisis, politics or shift in consumer taste. I think that the biggest change that is affecting global companies of the twenty-first century is communication. With a 24/7 highly connected world and new mobile technologies, organizations are facing unique new challenges. Global smart companies understand that social media are providing more opportunities than threats. Those who are leading the pack, such as DELL with its blog “Direct2Dell” have already their corporate brand values shared in real-time by empowered employees and customers who have millions of friends around the world  to share opinions about products, services and how organizations treat their employees, the environment or citizens.

2. Risk-taking, experimentation, and innovation: Under strict budgets, companies are forced to innovate or die. The high performance organizations however make innovation a habit. They are not egocentric, they are always watching what is new in their industry but also allow “pet projects” for employees to explore totally new fields. For example companies like Google or 3M give the employees 20% of their time to work on something they are really passionate about.

3. Entrepreneurship, proactive approaches to find solutions are encouraged and rewarded. Building a strong entrepreneurial culture in big multinational companies is not easy as it is highly cultural in my opinion. For example Japanese teams are looking for consensus and the “kaizen” system which means continuing learning and improvement is a group discipline rather than having champions pushing for new ideas. On the contrary leaders in emerging markets are usually selected for their capability to take risks and decide quickly with few rules. The corporate strategy in an entrepreneurial organization is often generated by a bottom  up approach with front-line employees such as  customer services and sales people together with customers sharing feedbacks on blogs or social media like Facebook or Twitter. However entrepreneurship drives value only when corporate strategy  is clearly defined and very well executed at all levels of the organization including performance evaluation, feedback loops and corrective measures.

4. Top managers exhibit genuine concern for customers, employees, shareholders and suppliers. High performance companies are continuously building trust with people they deal with even competitors.  The top management  “walk their talk” to keep the company’s reputation and credibility at its highest level. After the Enron scandal and most recently the banks’ risky behaviors leading to the major financial crisis, the topic of  corporate governance is highly sensitive . When company such as BP lost trust in the recent Gulf disaster,  stocks went down dramatically. It is very difficult for a global company to manage ethical behaviors and accountability as every country has its own definition of corporate governance and social responsibility but top performers know there is a link between trust and profits. Companies who lose trust such as Toyota during its recent recall lose capital and may never be able to regain their brand value again in a global market.

You can’t judge yourself to be sustainable or responsible. You can only be judged by others”. Jeffrey Hollender

5. Clear, deeply rooted, widely understood philosophy and  values. Corporate vision and mission statements determine what is the purpose of an organization, where is it going and what are the values shared by the employees,  the stakeholders, shareholders, suppliers and the community at large. Values and principles define actions and help create a strategy and defining goals and action plans. Starbucks is a good example of a company who has global values  and mission statements clearly defined and shared by  local cultures.

6. Careful selection of new employees to be sure they will “fit in. Referrals are the best method to identify high quality hires and help  find passive candidates with the specific experience hiring companies need.  If you like it or not, again social media are making a big difference and more than 70% of companies find new hires that way.  Online social networking is not new, same rules apply as in person networking  but  powered by platforms like Linkedin or Twitter,  it  increases the efficiency, retention rates and fit of referral hires and  help reducing hiring costs.

7. Family friendly culture and employees at the center of the corporate core values:

We also know that talented, engaged employees drive customer value and business performanceMike Davis, senior vice president of Global Human Resources for General Mills.


Top 7  key attitudes of strategic global leaders and managers:

1.Create a compelling vision shared by all stakeholders

2.Create farsighted strategies to achieve the vision

3.Tolerate mavericks with creative ideas and be willing to accept failures

4.Focus on  inspiring and empowering people while providing  honest feedback with cultural sensitivity

5.Make work stimulating, challenging and rewarding. Say “thank you” often.

6.Create sense of teamwork across cultures and business units to avoid the silo effect

7.Embrace diversity and leverage cultural differences for excellence

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