Culture inspires people and companies to stand out, defend themselves and react differently around the world.
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What inspires people and companies to stand out, defend themselves, and respond effectively as the world has faced one of the worst crises recently? Culture.
Let me explain. You know how we rely on people to behave a certain way in some parts of the world? For example, imagine how locals in Germany will never try to cross at a traffic intersection until the traffic lights have turned green. Likewise Japan. There are seldom reports of civil unrest or looting during natural disasters. This also applies to Switzerland, where farmers high up in the Alps trust customers to leave payment for goods that they pick up in "honesty stores".
Culture is muscle memory
To me, these are great examples of how culture serves as muscle memory – the invisible force that guides people what to do when no one is watching. Driven by templates that have been created and passed on over generations, the “doing” culture is strengthened. Take, for example, the “love order” stereotype associated with Germans. The average German can be expected to stick to the rules, whatever they are. This may mean waiting for the lights to turn green before turning the engines on, or staying quiet in railroad cars with a “No Noise” sign
Humans are social beings
Add to this the truism that people are social beings who depend on mutual “consent” for self-validation, and it is easy to see how culture plays a crucial role in shaping behavior. If you've taken a “Norwegian approach” to life as the founder of a fascinating publishing company, Mondå Forlag, Julien S. Bourrelle, you find it strange when a high-ranking stranger takes up a casual conversation with you in a Belgian café. Having lived or worked in Norway for only a period of time may convey a strong cultural habit that requires more formality for conversation.
Related: 3 Steps to Building Your Desired Workplace Culture
Similarly, a Spanish tour guide would think that you are "disinterested" unless you are demonstrably conveying your answers and picking up your seemingly reserved Scandinavian non-verbal cues from her Spanish cultural lens of demonstrability and openness.
Bourrelle explains in his fascinating TEDx talk on cultural differences: “We all see the world through cultural glasses. The lens through which your brain sees the world shapes your reality. If you can change lenses, you can change not only the way your brain perceives behavior, but also the way people deal with cultural differences … "
Culture as the linchpin for timeless success
Because of this, it is important for all of us in leadership roles to truly understand the value of instilling, repetition, and celebration of the right culture in organizations. In the context of the current crisis or any other crisis related to this, I think companies need to overcome some difficult cultural habits in order to survive a difficult period. This includes the speed or ability to make and enable quick turns. This includes strengthening a company-wide sense of responsibility, which gives each individual in the workforce the feeling of being involved in the design and growth of the company. A demonstrable tolerance for mistakes by executives and therefore the ability to make decisions quickly without using too much evidence or data.
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Companies that prioritize these traits and make them part of their DNA are the ones that are literally driving through tough times. Let's take a closer look at some of these companies to see what they do differently.
The HP way:
HP was founded on a work culture shaped by a “contributory” spirit that sets it apart from its beginnings. If most entrepreneurs first asked themselves how they could be successful, HP's founders first asked a different question: how could they help? Many say that this one principle helped HP scale its heights. Why? Because aligning the corporate culture with contributions resulted in the company contributing to its own success.
And this didn't just stop with the management approach. It was also the value they gave to all employees who were allowed to work four days a week, were given stock options, had flexitime plans (before the sentence got down to business!), And, by and large, were treated like family members.
So it's no wonder that these values help to empathize the workforce through the current pandemic and to leverage the company-wide sense of personal responsibility that HP has always encouraged. Tracy Keogh, the current chief HR officer at HP, says that in times of crisis, the type of culture companies maintain defines how they get to the other side. HP does this by putting employees at the center of their response to the pandemic. It keeps the communication channels open; Executives need to model the linchpins expected of employees, including the new normal of working from home and providing managers with information to reassure employees with answers when they need them.
A strong, resilient culture underpins multiple organizations in different domains, including Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft. And such companies prove that just like some countries have strong cultural attributes that guide them through difficult times, so do companies.
Related: 5 Ways A Remote Manager Can Destroy Your Work Culture