Cultural Layers & Global HR

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I have a personal view on culture, and how this manifests itself. I have a French father and a Dutch mother, I have lived in Romania, France, the Netherlands and  I am currently living in Spain. These personal experiences have shaped my personal understanding when it comes to culture and are the reason for my deep interest in everything that has to do with this subject. Dealing with culture has always been part of my life.

So what defines an individual? I believe that the different cultural layers combined with a person´s life experience define the essence of a person.

In this article I would like to give an overview of the different layers that make up an individual’s culture and how these may have an impact on HR. Without trying to give a general definition of culture, I made up a progressive ranking (from the local to the global) according to the different geographical-sociological scopes a human being lives in, and that will shape his multicultural experience, understood as the coexistence of people with different cultures in one place:

  1. Personality
  2. Family Culture
  3. Neighborhood Culture
  4. School / University Culture
  5. City Culture
  6. Province / Regional Culture
  7. Country specific Culture
  8. Company Culture
  9. Continental culture
  10. World Culture

Even though personality might not exactly be part of how culture is generally understood, I believe that personality is a type of ‘culture’ an individual creates for him/herself. If you take a look at how all these different types of cultures relate to you personally, and then compare them to anyone else, you are bound to find out that both are completely different people. All people in this world are unique; no two people have the exact same cultural background. It is obvious that relatives have more cultural aspects in common. Even siblings need to be treated differently as also they have different personalities.

Aside from these cultural differences we all have our own experiences. The cultural differences and the experiences we all have make us all incredibly unique. For this reason it is very important for HR professionals to treat individuals as individuals. It would of course be much easier if we could apply a specific set of rules or common policies to an entire organization/ department; however, some people have larger families, other people have personal matters to attend, and some are just very sensitive, ultimately everyone wants to be treated in a personal and individual way.

An organization needs to clearly identify and disseminate its culture among its employees; there surely are some aspects which can be applied at a general level, common rules an employee will simply need to accept. Part of the business culture, is its hierarchical structure, the working hours, its flexibility regarding their policies, etc. Nevertheless, multinational companies might want to apply a different business culture by country. E.g. a corporation with presence in the Netherlands and Spain will need to define completely different working patterns. On the other hand, the flexibility of teleworking may be applied to all countries.

Companies need to provide guidelines on how an employee from one country should communicate with a department located in a different country.  Multinationals will need to apply different layers per country. If we compare the Netherlands with France, we´ll discover how different their hierarchical structures are. France has a very strong sense of hierarchy and employees in the Netherlands often can easily speak out against their manager’s opinion.

HR needs to clearly identify these local cultural differences. Being able to balance individual, regional, and corporate cultural aspects will surely set the base for a unique and effective workforce and will definitely be responsible for a company’s success in the global market.

Finally for today I would like to recommend two books that have inspired me when starting to write about culture: “Mind your manners: Managing Business Cultures in the New Global Europe” by John Mole and  “Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind” by Geert & Gert Jan Hofstede.

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