By J. Yo-Jud Cheng & Boris Groysberg
When we launched an online assessment to allow Harvard Business Review (HBR) readers to explore their own organizations’ cultural profiles, we received over 12,800 responses from across the globe. The assessment gave us a window into the shared, pervasive, enduring, and implicit behaviors and norms that permeate an organization (rather than individual employees’ own culture styles).
Differences across regions
In this global sample, some patterns were remarkably consistent across regions. On average, caring ranked highly across all regions, while authority ranked among the least salient culture attributes. However, when we examined whether certain culture styles were more heavily represented in specific regions, some interesting differences came to light.
Responding to change
We found that organizations in Africa exhibited substantial flexibility. Many organizations in this region were characterized by learning and purpose, indicating an openness toward change through innovation, agility and an appreciation for diversity. In contrast, many firms in Eastern Europe and the Middle East were characterized by a strong degree of stability. An emphasis on safety was prevalent in these regions, revealing the prioritization of preparedness and business continuity. Particularly in the Middle East, we found many firms in which authority ranked highly.
How people interact
Firms in Western Europe and in North and South America leaned toward a high level of independence. This tendency manifested itself in different ways. Western European and North American firms exhibited an especially strong emphasis on results, goal-orientation and achievement. Relative to other regions, enjoyment ranked highly in South America. Firms in Asia, Australia and New Zealand were more likely to be characterized by interdependence and coordination. In these regions, we found workplaces that embodied caring, and a sense of safety and planning. Particularly in Asia, we found many firms that emphasized order through a cooperative, respectful and rule-abiding culture.
What does this mean for employees?
It can be informative to take stock of how our own work styles mirror or differ from regional culture patterns, especially when considering how our behaviors and actions will be perceived by others.
What does this mean for managers?
Particularly when managing global teams, employees’ implicit values and beliefs can lead to misunderstandings and tension. Cultural considerations also come into play when motivating employees, designing incentive schemes, training new employees and implementing decision-making processes.
J. Yo-Jud Cheng is an assistant professor at the Darden School of Business. Boris Groysberg is a professor at Harvard Business School.
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