Insight article

Making the global local

I’ve just finished reading an interesting article about Dutch social psychologist, Geert Hofstede’s research into cultural differences in the workplace.

For Hofstede, a country’s ‘way of doing things’ will have a powerful impact on company culture. Hofstede classifies these ‘ways of doing things’ as Cultural Dimensions, which include factors such as the distribution of power, an alignment with either masculine or feminine tendencies and a country’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.

To use an example, Hofstede looks at the way in which the distribution of power is perceived. While some employees will expect to be given the opportunity to ask questions, share their opinions and shape the business, others will be used to receiving clear direction, which is rarely questioned. For these employees ‘engagement’ will mean something very different.

Hofstede’s research led me to start thinking about the way in which communication styles differ across the globe and the challenge this presents when communicating a single, aligned vision throughout a global organisation.

How can we speak to every employee in a style and language which will resonate with their ‘way of doing things’, without diluting the central culture of the organisation?

This is where storytelling, I believe, comes into its own. Once the narrative of the business journey has been set, the story can be brought to life in a number of ways. Managers can work with their teams to personalise the story in a way which will resonate at local level – both in terms of the way they present the story and in identifying the information and actions most relevant to their team.

Once they have a personal connection and understanding of the story, employees can begin to tell their own stories, which will inevitably be ‘local’ and vary hugely in content and delivery, yet still contribute to the overall business journey.

Of course, some will argue that Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions are over-simplified generalisations. Can we be sure that national culture will impact upon employee behaviour more than organisational culture? This is open to debate and probably varies for each organisation, but we only have to travel oversees to be reminded that communication styles can be worlds apart.

For me, the effectiveness of storytelling as a medium for global communication lies in the infinite ways in which a story can be told, without losing its meaning. This, combined with the story’s familiar and nostalgic quality – as one of the original ways of sharing information, firmly embedded in communities and cultures all over the world – means that its ability to touch hearts and minds, spark the imagination and re-shape beliefs can transcend many cultural borders.

Nailia Tasseel