Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Exceptions and exception handling from the HR perspective 10: mergers and cross-cultural challenges 1

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on August 1, 2014

This is my tenth installment in a series on recognizing, understanding and thinking about exceptions, and about exception handing in a Human Resources context (see HR and Personnel, postings 197 and following for Parts 1-4 and HR and Personnel – 2, postings 201 and following for Part 5-9.) And when businesses and marketplaces and even entire economies are increasingly interconnected and when workforces can be globally dispersed and even within single organizations, the issues that I at least begin raising and discussing in this posting have become increasingly important, and for the managers and leaders of potentially any business to understand.

• Businesses enter into mergers and acquisitions, and across national and cultural boundaries. And that means the leadership and management of those organizations have to be prepared to manage equitably and fairly across differences in employee needs, expectations and perceptions that are based on long-standing organizational history, and established and implicitly understood corporate culture.
• And even when these managers and leaders do not have to deal with potential cross-cultural differences, misunderstandings and collisions as they arise when businesses and workforces join, they can face the potential for these same challenges within their own structurally stable organizational systems and even when they are not expanding out their overall headcount and are at most simply growing organically.

My goal for this series installment is to at least begin a discussion of the exception identification and resolution issues that should be expected to arise in these contexts. And I begin with a real world example that at least in principle should seem clear cut and easy to resolve: finding understanding and accommodation in work schedule availability and activity in the face of clear-cut and overtly obvious cultural differences. And to bring this example into clearer focus, consider:

• A tightly organized business that does not by its very nature readily accommodate employee divergence from usual and expected set shift-based work schedules, and
• Daily religiously mandated breaks from work or other secular activities for prayer, as holds for example for followers of Islam.

Anyone who does or has worked with religiously observant Muslims knows that according to the tenets of their faith they are required to step outside of their secular roles and activities at set times of the day to ritually cleanse, turn towards Mecca and pray. I cite this example because it is clear-cut and its resolution should at least be relatively easy – with a shift on the policy and business strategy side from emphasizing the precise When of achieving work performance to one that is at least more fully centered on results and on reaching work goals on schedule. And when there is a possibility of work timing conflict, as for example when scheduling meetings – if timing issues of this type are known in advance, schedules can be set up around them, much as they are for accommodating already-scheduled work that for whatever reason has to be done at some set time. This type of example is, at least in principle, easy as it is knowable in advance and even way in advance.

Differences arising from disparate corporate cultures are not always as easy to see, until a collision has occurred. In this, the most pressing differences are not always the ones that are immediately visible as would for example, be the case with workplace dress codes. The more pressing differences can be and usually are the less overtly visible ones, as for example where:

• Company A with its rigidly adhered to, table of organization oriented line of command merges with Company B with a much more relaxed approach as to who can talk with whom and who turns to whom for information, instruction or guidance.

I have worked in organizations where different departments can show corporate culture differences of this specific type, and particularly where some departments take a more relaxed approach, but some or even just one takes a more rigidly hierarchical approach as its C level leader comes from a background where that was the standard. Neither of these alternatives, I add is intrinsically better or worse. Some of the best and the most inspiring managers and leaders who I have had opportunity to work with follow a more relaxed approach here, but some of the best have also followed a more table of organization-driven approach too. The important point is that when you work in a business organization, that at a corporate culture level follows more than one approach, you need to know and understand what is and is not acceptable and expected where.

And this at least potentially leaves a single business with locally defined corporate culture norms and with potential chasms of differences. That can work and certainly when differences align with location, and for example when a business facility or operation located in one country or region follows one approach that is more amenable to overall cultural norms and expectations there, and another in a different setting follows a different pattern. Think the example of a foreign-based satellite office in one country, and a home office headquarters in another country with a different cultural setting that its rank and file in-house employees bring to work with them. But there are still, of course, circumstances where overall policy has to be the same, and even when employees come from very divergent cultural backgrounds and both from their home communities and from their workplace histories. I will discuss this complex of issues in my next series installment with that including a discussion of learning from collisions when they do occur.

Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at HR and Personnel – 2, and earlier installments to this series as well as other related material at HR and Personnel.

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