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Creating Culture and Sense of Belonging in Global Companies

Friday, February 27, 2015
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What gives some companies more engaged and committed people than others? There are several factors, but one of the most important is developing a positive corporate culture perceived and admired by everyone, employees and customers alike. 

Creating a positive corporate culture is not easy, but it is essential for companies that want to excel in business. We could say that culture is the soul of the company, often explained with personal attributes, like cool (Apple) and great (Honda), among others. 

According to Geert Hofstede, “Culture consists of the unwritten rules of the social game. It is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others.” It plays an important role in how people think, feel, and act on a daily basis. The figure below shows how culture is integrated into people’s actions. The group—in our case, a company—has its own unwritten rules, which are learned through social interactions over time. 

Every company has a corporate culture, but it is not always clearly perceived by people outside of the company, who only feel the effects of this culture (the client, for example). This culture is not always positive for the company. 

In a paternal corporate culture,  employees may not seek excellence and continuous improvement in a systematic way. If a company has traces of arrogance in their culture that is prominent among the leaders, their employees’ ideas tend to be ignored. The employees then only take action after a leader has determined what should be done, in order to avoid the risk associated with voicing their ideas and having them repressed. In both instances, the company's competitiveness is impaired, and the company runs the risk of being perceived negatively by customers and clients. 

Since corporate culture is such a strong determining factor in how employees behave and how customers perceive the company, executives must learn to develop a positive corporate culture. An important step of this journey is to create a sense of belonging among your employees by defining and communicating clearly the company’s purpose. By clearly defining the company’s purpose, stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and the like) can develop an emotional connection with the company. Inside the company, employees who value its purpose will possess a sense of duty about the company's mission. For example, Apple’s employees know that their mission is to make the customer’s life easier through technology, which comes through in their mission statement “think different.”

Another concrete example is Chilli Beans, a Brazilian eyewear retail chain with 600 stores in several countries. The Chilli Beans culture has a direct relationship with the eclectic lifestyles of the different groups living in Venice Beach, California. Rockers, clubbers, punks, rappers, skateboarders, sportsmen— every group is so different, and yet they all behave with profound respect regarding the other groups. This culture of respecting differences is imbedded within the Chilli Beans’ brand. The products and the stores’ atmosphere communicate this culture, and customers can sense the employees’ engagement and  commitment to the brand. 

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Honda, an Asian automotive company, has three joys in its mission statement—the joy of producing, the joy of selling, and the joy of buying. Combined with the company’s respect for individuals, this principle (to work with joy) forms the basis of the company’s philosophy. 

Along with purpose, executives can also use the framework of the onion to manage the manifestation of culture within an organization. The framework of the onion uses symbols, heroes, and rituals to reinforce corporate values with employees and relate those values to employee performance. 

These elements used together can drive human resource initiatives to implement a powerful approach that achieves employee engagement through a positive corporate culture that the framework of the onion reinforces in every interaction what is important to the company, what is expected of its employees, who are the role models (and why), and which symbols refer to these expected behaviors. Below are examples of how these elements apply to the companies we referred to previously. 


Company Purpose Values Rituals Heroes Symbols
Apple Think Different. Challenge
the status quo!
Freedom
Design
Product launching Steve Jobs (founder) Apple
Chilli Beans

Be proud of who you are!

Democratic
Respect
Provocative
Employee's conventions Caito Maia (founder) Pepper
Honda

Give joy to the people!

Quality
Excellence
Continuous improvement approach Soishiro Honda (founder) Wings

 

Now I invite you to think about these questions:

  • What is the corporate culture of your company?
  • Does it have the power to drive employee behavior with a true sense of belonging?
  • Does everyone align with the company's purpose?
About the Author
Leonardo Marchi is a managing partner in corporate education at Praxis Business Consulting. He has trained more than 3,000 people working for organizations around the globe, including Lacoste, Honda, Microsoft, and Mercedes Benz. He is the co-author of two books: Franchising Strategic Management: How to Build Successful Franchise Networks and Store Management in Retail Business. Leonardo is also a professor at FIA Business School, which has one of the top three MBA programs in Brazil. He holds a degree in business administration from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo and a degree in human capital management from the University of Michigan.
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