Here’s How to Build a Global Company Culture

Follow our expert’s four steps to combine the many facets of corporate culture into one efficient and satisfying whole.

Written by Richard Lyons
Published on Jan. 10, 2024
Here’s How to Build a Global Company Culture
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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There are nine specific categories of cultural differences, according to the GLOBE Project, which has been studying management and cultural differences since 2004. These differences range from assertiveness and gender equality to avoiding uncertainty.

9 Categories of Cultural Differences

  1. Assertiveness
  2. Future orientation
  3. Gender egalitarianism
  4. Humane orientation
  5. In-group collectivism
  6. Institutional collectivism
  7. Performance orientation
  8. Power distance
  9. Uncertainty avoidance

Source: GLOBE Project

These categories are quite broad and cover a lot of nuances. How is any leader meant to understand the ins and outs of every single culture represented at their company and accommodate them? 

To put it plainly, company culture is always a work in progress. But leaders can take four key steps to build a more globally inclusive and globally oriented company that has the flexibility to incorporate many different cultures into one more efficient whole. 

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Manage Across Differences

This one should be familiar to even leaders in single-country companies. Different subcultures easily pop up across different departments and offices. Add in different cultures being represented by employee groups and you have a lot of different expectations and processes to manage. Managing across cultures — that is, being able to respect similarities and differences — sounds simple, but it’s complex enough that there are whole textbooks dedicated to the concept. 

It may seem easy to simply default to your cultural expectations and force people into the same standards, completely ignoring the differences at play. However, that leads to people feeling unheard, unappreciated and unvalued, which is what you’re trying to avoid by building a company culture in the first place. 

Culture leadership always involves managing across differences. If you are not prepared to come with an open mind at this most basic level, then building a successful global company culture is nearly impossible. 
 

Align Culture with Enterprise Success

What does your success state look like? What goals have you set for your company in 2024? You almost certainly have an answer to those questions. 

Here’s the next question: Do your employees know the answer to these questions, too? Have these goals been clearly communicated so that everyone knows what they’re working toward? Gallup suggests that for the majority of employees around the world, the answer is no. Only 22 percent of employees reported feeling engaged at work. Meanwhile, actively disengaged and low-engagement employees cost the world $8.8 trillion in 2022, or 9 percent of global GDP.

If a shared understanding of what success looks like and how you are planning to achieve it is not clear to your employees, then you have a deep-rooted problem both in terms of strategy and in terms of culture. Metrics can effectively cut across cultures and languages. Looking back to the nine categories, for example, having metrics in place gives someone with high performance orientation something to improve towards or excellence to strive for, but having a company metric also appeals to those with a high sense of in-group collectivism. They can know they’re taking action for the good of the organization. 

 

Use USP Logic 

Having a unique selling proposition (USP) is critical to your sales. After all, if potential customers don’t understand why your product stands out from the rest, what reason do they have to buy in? 

Now apply this to your company culture. If potential or current employees don’t understand why your company stands out from the rest, what reason do they have to buy in? 

Plenty of companies spout similarly unobjectionable phrases about their company culture. When you’re building yours, look at what your competitors are saying about their workplaces and their values. If they all sound the same to you, then you have a clear path to share something different with your team. 

This isn’t to say that your company culture shouldn’t be rooted in truth and valued. Much like your USP, these are both critical factors. What it does mean is that the better you are able to clearly communicate what makes your company culture better than another potential employer’s, the more likely you are to lure in talent already aligned with your values; for current employees, having something to take pride in and something that is distinctive can significantly boost engagement. 

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Use Every Tool You Have

As a leader, you have a number of different levers to affect your company’s culture. In one of my favorite articles on organizational culture, Leading by Leveraging Culture, Jennifer Chatman (a colleague here at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business) and Sandra Eunyoung Cha identify three key tools: recruiting and selecting people for culture fit, managing culture through socialization and training and managing culture through the rewards system.

We’ve already addressed the first one above, but let’s look at the other two briefly. Chatman and Cha write that socialization has two goals: “clarifying the cultural values and creating strong bonds among employees so that they are accountable to one another for upholding those values.” Sometimes that’s best achieved by an employee trip; sometimes it’s as simple as adopting a new practice to put people more at ease. Or consider opening a meeting with a question for each attendee to speak to, like “If you really knew me, you would know that …”.

As for rewards, the categories of cultural differences informally reward adhering to expectations. Chatman and Cha point out that formal rewards need to do the same thing so that all are in alignment and constantly reinforce the culture you’re looking for. If you want to underscore continuous improvement, encourage that formally. We always look for the MVP. What if you looked for and celebrated the MIP (Most Improved Player) instead? This would make it clear that you value committing to improvement, not just those who are already at the top. 

While these levers are some of the most obvious ones you can use, there are plenty more. Culture, after all, should permeate every part of an organization. Sit down and consider every business process you have. There may be hundreds; there may be thousands. But if you take the time to look closely at each one, you’ll find many more cultural levers you may be able to pull. If even 20 percent of them look and feel right, you’ll be off to the races with something that could add as much to enterprise value as, for example, a new factory or a new successful business line.

Even though company culture is more nebulous than many other key aspects of a company, it can be influenced and built and it has a massive impact on your enterprise value. Taking steps to build a global company culture now, no matter how long it takes, may even end up saving you more time in the long run.

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