The impact of culture in business 

By  Debbie Nicol

The impact of culture in business

So much is taken for granted in the business world. A general assumption is that developing nations will simply run with ‘best practice methodology’ provided by developed nations. Yet so much is wrong with that supposition – many solutions that serve well in one society will simply not do so in another. Moreover, the main culprit that fuels this situation is cultural beliefs and practices.

To appreciate any cultural practices, one must look at the past which holds the key to the present. Some behaviors stem from deep historical legacies and remain firmly entrenched in the culture. They aligned perfectly to a previous way of life, and as the environment around them changed, these behaviors maintained their foothold. For example, Japan continues its commitment to consensus gained from meetings before meetings, regardless of the time constraints this practice ensures in today’s fast-paced business world. Another example could be that of Middle Eastern societies that emerged from tribal roots in which chiefs’ decisions were synonymous with survival; a chief would never be questioned.

Let’s contextualize for a moment with a well-respected business methodology applied in many developed nations – Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard Performance Management System. Behind its fundamental concepts lies a color- coded performance system, with a red highlighting a negative deviation in results, as well as a need for corrective action or opportunity for a manager to change. Culturally however, that red can also facilitate a manager’s fear of a leader’s negative judgment due to the Middle Eastern leadership-centric modus operandi. Should a member of the tribe move outside territorial parameters without permission, he would be considered irresponsible and likely to be punished, shunned or left behind. When translated into today’s business world behavior, the judgment produced from a ‘red’ on a scorecard may directly affect reputation, promotion opportunities and even self-esteem, indicating one’s own future is at the mercy of others.

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Just how can one get around this?

  • Can culture be changed due to education? Should it be changed?
  • Should a filter system be introduced, to add weight to the level of response to any deviation?
  • Or is this a matter of evolution, one that organizational maturity will sort out in time?

Facts are facts – Middle Eastern culture is leadership-centric, so perhaps anyone who finds themselves in this situation should feel the pain, recognize room for improvement, revisit the vision and just make it happen by leading their way through the red! After all, that would appeal to leadership-centricity; we should never deny the power of cultural roots.

Debbie Nicol

Debbie is tenacious, resilient, can break complexity and ambiguity into concrete simplicity, eats the stage, loves to challenge, Author.
Debbie is a Change Practitioner, Facilitator, Conceptualizer, Design Capability, Asks the right questions, Builds Customized Solutions, Life's Mirror

Debbie Nicol

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