Every human being is a product of his or her environment. Culture is accepted generally as the people’s way of life; the totality of values, traditions, practices, etc. that make a people unique from others. Employees coming from their own backgrounds exhibit attributes of their own cultures. The diversity of cultures, which employees bring to the organization, poses a challenge which organizations must handle well by creating and maintaining an organizational culture which supersedes those of the individuals that make up the organization.
Not doing so will leave the organization chaotic as the incongruence of cultures could work against the achievement of the objectives of the organization. It follows that organizations need not only understand the diverse cultures of the employees and the rewards which motivate them the most, but language barriers, training, cultural awareness, and career development programmes, should be aligned with the aspirations/values of the employees. (McLaurin, 2008).
Luthans (1998), while writing about organizational culture quoted Edgar Schein, who defined organizational culture as “ a pattern of basic assumptions-invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration-that has worked well enough to be considered valuable and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”
In the views of Schein while explaining his unity-view of organizational culture, there are three levels of organizational culture. They are artefacts, which refer to the visible and tangible aspects of culture such as logo, buildings, etc.; values and behavioural norms which at the core of the organizational culture are those things that members accept as real and true. These serve as guidance and tools for dealing with uncertainties and daily challenges. The last level is the underlying assumptions, which are the unconscious beliefs and feelings. They are taken for granted in the organization and allow the organization/group to build its own integrity, identity and autonomy and ultimately differentiate it from others.(McLaurin, 2008).
Socialization as a way of managing national and organizational cultures
Organizations have to integrate national cultures into the organizational culture in order to achieve corporate objectives. The loyalty of employees should be to the organization and not to their respective national cultures, nor individual objectives/values, even as the company’s goal is not to completely wean employees of their national cultures. To be able to eliminate or bring to the barest minimum, the confusing effect of divergent cultures, organizations must create and maintain their own unique, unified, culture. Socialization is the most effective means of achieving this. According to Luthans (1998), the socialization steps are as follows:
(a) Selection of entry-level personnel: At this point, the organization uses structured questions that target specific traits to identify candidates that will be able to fit into the organizational culture and values.
(b) Through job placement, new staff are instigated via a series of experiences to question the norms and values of the organization and to decide whether or not such are acceptable to them.
(c) Job mastery: This is another way of entrenching organizational culture as employees who not only demonstrate mastery of their jobs but have imbibed organizational core values and culture and are seen to be making positive contribution to bottom-line, are rewarded with positions where they have to make important decisions for the company.
(d) Measuring and rewarding performance: the next step in the socialization process is measuring operational results in a meticulous, systematic way and rewarding deserving individuals who excel in areas very critical to competitive success and corporate values.
(e) Adherence to important values: this involves strict adherence to the organization’s core values. Such adherence eliminates ambiguity and helps employees reconcile their own personal values with those of the organization. It builds trust on the part of the employee that the company would not do anything that would hurt them.
(f) Reinforcing organizational stories and folklore: thereis need to continue to spread the stories which underline organizational values. Such stories not only validate the organizational culture, they also help to explain why the organization does things the way it does.
(g) Recognition and promotion: this is the final stage in the socialization process. It involves the identification, recognition and promotion of employees who having done their jobs excellently, can serve as mentors and role models to new employees.
All organizations face the challenge of achieving a healthy balance between the national or ethnic cultures of their employees and the culture of the organization. Organisations have skillfully used socialization as a tool for this equilibrium. However, in multinational/multicultural organizations, intercultural conflicts cannot be eliminated, and continue to pose a challenge to managers. In the next episode, we shall examine how intercultural conflicts, where not well managed, can crystalise to a crisis, using a case study.
Dr Ebereonwu is Country Communication Manager for Total companies in Nigeria (both Upstream and Downstream). He holds a PhD in International Business Management. To contact via SMS only -09064987192