In this conversation, Cogs APAC CEO Chris Frost discusses with Renee Kida, global head of HR at GoTo Financial, how companies that work on a global scale can create vision and values that resonate with their local workforces, and the role of business leaders to create a workspace that allows individuals to explore their own purposes and meanings within the company.
How can global companies communicate their values to employees at different locations?
How can global companies connect their visions and values to their local workforce, and what can they do better?
The topic of culture is an interesting one. On a very fundamental level, I think many values are human values, but it’s more cultural in how they define it, how they weigh it in importance, and which values they will leverage in the choices they are faced with, which might not be the value that another culture might pivot to in the same circumstance.
Take meritocracy as an example. It is a concept to say people who do well should get rewarded. I don’t know any culture that’s against that. But how each market articulates what “doing well” means could be different. And along with it below the idea of meritocracy is the concept of parity – how do different cultures define parity? It could be “I have lasted here for 10 years,” or “I’ve gotten these kinds of performance ratings”, or “I’ve done this or that” or “as XYZ, I deserve a certain amount of stability or certainty.” I think this is where things start to diverge quite a lot.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to completely change for these differences, but it does mean you need to figure out how you embed your company values throughout your processes. How do you hire people with those values in mind? How do you embed them into performance? How do you have leaders articulate them? How do you bring existing employees along with those values, so it’s less of an “all or nothing” paradigm but rather a learning journey.
It’s about engagement and being respectful of the cultures. It’s about articulating your values precisely, rather than assuming your definition is universal or the standard.
That said, there are times when the practices of a company tend to be headquarters-centric, and not inclusive unintentionally. There needs to be an active dialogue between any HQ and Regional Office approach, so that identified issues can be addressed, and healthy open communication continues. Otherwise, you have a risk of fragmentation or isolation that is not intended.
How can companies support their people moving from one culture to another?
When it comes to working practices, what are the challenges you have seen and how can companies support those challenges? For example, when a manager who has only worked in one country moved to another market, they might have to adapt and work with people differently in order to be culturally appropriate. How much of that is just cultural understanding versus an intrinsic difference in values?
People are used to seeing something articulated in a particular way. Let’s say you come from your home country and you think “one plus one equals two.” When someone comes up to you and goes, “one plus one is four.” You will say that’s wrong. Well, you may not realize the one here refers to a collective of things, not a single number.
And so, you do need some orientation when you come into a new culture. How do you take a step back and ask more questions? Staying curious and keeping a learning mindset is vital so that you don’t cut yourself off from important information or feedback. Feedback is critical to know how your messages will land or not. Knowing how your messages will land is often easier in our own country because we have the context that’s relatively shared, but even within your own country, not everyone is exactly the same. You might be joining a new company, which changes the context. You might be crossing over functions that have cultural differences. It’s our shortcuts (or biases) that can get us in trouble. We all have biases as human beings so there is no judgement there, but we need to be aware of these in a new context and be curious.
People tend to make these jumps in assumptions, and they have to figure out how to take a step back and to do just that. Some of it is just experience, but it is helpful when you have a coach, a mentor, or someone your cultural guide.
Is that something that companies could provide when leaders relocate to another location to help them orientate?
Most companies think about it when they bring in a senior leader from the headquarters to a new country, they go like: who’s the vendor? Who’s the contract? Here is a course. Here we got this one person and these eight sessions. My experience is that stuff is not bad, but it’s relatively superficial.
When I support the hiring of new senior or middle-level leaders to an organization, I always discuss with their leaders and their buddies. How does the company help them connect to networks or guides that can help them navigate the possible confusion they may feel when they enter a new context like a new culture or country. I usually give leaders at least a few contacts. It’s powerful to find a few connections or “buddy” for lack of a better word from what sort of lens or areas the leader may need guidance. For example, there might be a functional lens, an in-country lens, a headquarters perspective lens, an external market/partnerships lens. If they only have one or the other, there is a higher risk or skewing and/or isolation, which hinders the leader’s opportunity to be more effective, which can be quite painful.
I totally agree. Oftentimes people are relocated just for their hard skills, but we should also look for the curiosity and empathy within the person. They may know a ton of stuff about the company or a domain, but they may not be empathetic or curious.
When we hire people and we relocate them internationally, we ask ourselves: are they well-traveled? Are they multicultural? Have they experienced and worked around the world? We’re looking at those traits as much as their work experience.
What is a company’s role in helping its employees find meanings and purposes?
I am interested in how people find their own sense of purpose, things that drive them as an individual. How much of that definition for an individual should be the responsibility of HR or the company? Should HR departments or companies partner with external coaches to help define the career journey for their team? Or should it be something that’s done externally or individually where people that work for companies should try to kind of find their own coaches and identify their own goals and purposes?
I would say it’s neither, or it’s both.
I don’t think it’s the company or the manager’s job to find the purpose for someone. But I do think it is a good leader’s job to support her employees walking through their thought process, articulating their needs and seeing if those match up with possible resources or opportunities within the company, and what the company offers.
It’s rare that an employee overlaps 100% with the company’s goals or offerings, and there is a body of thinking to say a 100% overlap isn’t ideal either. But there’s also a problem if there’s zero overlap, right? So it’s really about seeking a mutual or beneficial overlap, so that the leader can be part of their team members’ growth. And so you’ll need leaders who know how to translate the company’s goals and offerings, as well as be able to have coaching conversations to help people explore their own goals and development. Employees often don’t know how to articulate these things, and so managers who can be their coaches can be quite powerful.
Therefore the simple act of creating space and asking questions can go a long way with people and make them feel like, “oh wow, my leader cares about me and helps me explore this space.” And if a leader then takes the next step to help the employee identify a few agreed actions to support their career, all the more powerful. ”
At the same time, who owns this process? Absolutely the employee, not the company or the leader. If people want greater meaning or feel unfulfilled, then they might need to look out for mentors or coaching or training or other things outside in addition to what their company offers. A company or manager shouldn’t be all things to employees, as it creates an over-reliance or dependency. And this is all the more if the employees realize they want to go in a totally different direction from the company itself. The key is to find the positive overlap, where a manager can give space and the employee is willing to engage towards broader personal goals in addition to the role or company goals.
Totally agree. One of the challenges is how open and honest people are during those coaching exercises. And there’s also the consideration of working within a regional or global team, there might be different approaches towards transparency and honesty. So you might be in one market and there’ll be a fully open conversation, but there are other countries where people are incredibly guarded and they’ll say what they want the other person to kind of hear.
I think there is appropriate behavior and expectations you should have of your manager. There are people who’re guarded, and that’s fine, but that’s up to them how much they’re going to get out of the conversation. Again, I am a big believer that the employee owns the conversation and their own development, but it’s the company’s responsibility to support for positive overlap opportunities, as it definitely creates both a better employee experience, as well as better company performance.
It’s more about creating the space and engaging with them, but how much people take in or not is up to them. If they say, “look, this person is more senior than me. They have power over me. I feel a little uncomfortable. How much can I trust?” Some of that is cultural, that you don’t necessarily give trust automatically, leaders need to earn a certain amount of trust from their colleagues, and that’s okay. Trust can not be mandated or demanded. And managers themselves will need to learn how to run such conversations, as this is a skillset in and of itself.
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