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Issue #34 Unpeeling the Misunderstood Onion of Culture


Transforming Talent Insights

May 31 · Issue #34 · View online

Feeding the Passion for Transformation: Be it Talent, Culture, Work or HR

Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the engineers are German and the lovers are Italian – and everything is organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the cooks are British, the engineers are French, the police are Germans and the lovers are Swiss – and everything is organized by the Italians.
This excerpt was from the prologue of my Master’s thesis for work and cultural psychology. And it still works, I say!
You may groan and still ask: Why?
Because the joke plays on our cultural associations - both on a national and job-type level.*
Cultural associations are built around what is generally familiar and/or propagated as norms for a group of people (or in thesis speak “a universal and for a society typical system of orientation”). (Obviously we are not talking about bacteria or interpretive paint blob definitions).
The most common thing that we talk about when discussing culture associations are national cultures, with a lot of publications from psychologists, Hofstede, Trompenaars, anthropologists, Bennardo, de Munck) or corporate cultures, like from Deal, Kennedy.
Culture is never a homogeneous and stable entity nor will a person always react in accordance the particular social norms of their “parent group”. It simply means that shared culture arises out of how a group of people handle the why they are together as a group and as such face the conundrums, challenges, influences from the outside world and environment. Examples of these conundrums are understanding of time, cycle of life, power/status, an individual’s role vs. collective, space and environment. The creation of shared a mental and social orientation does not happen overnight but rather is established over time to become social norms.
The social and mental norms effect what one sees, experiences, assumes to be normal and just. The thought-models and ways of being become ingrained and seem perceivably self-explanatory. It isn’t until confronted by the option that there are different choices available for interpretation of a situation or nuance, that these fundamental beliefs are brought to the surface and - perhaps - put to a litmus test.
Yet often times, when discussing the topic of culture - be it national, corporate or a sub-group, the insight is left to be a a surface or more superficial view around what you can see (e.g. wearing a headdress, using a microwave to make dinner, asking direct questions) aka. the “otherness” is offered up. It is fun, we all laugh at the quirky jokes and then move on with a feeling of ‘huh, that was interesting but how does this help me’ in being able to competently work together?
Sometimes there is a little more help, when the discussions dive into a bit deeper around the values (both the aspirational/espoused ( Liberté, égalité, fraternité) actually lived/enacted (École Polytechnique?) and the more solid social and cultural norms (aka culture standards). Though most discussions, assessments and recommendations remain at a more surface level.
If you really want to tap into the potential of diversity, inclusion and beauty of cross-(functional, national, industry, generational (or whatever hyphen you want) collaboration, bring the basic fundamental assumptions, underlying principles and paradigms to light and leverage them to uncover new solutions. How? Well, by using dilemma or challenges to broaden thinking and approaches. For example, take the current questions surrounding AI and the effects on the workforce with the statement: “Unqualified jobs perhaps are boring and repetitive, but can we deem them as unnecessary?” This can help drive a cultural renovation or perhaps even revolution.
How we resolve these dilemmas moving forward needs a deeper dive into assumptions and implications based on our cultures, experience, industries, and visions for the future. Which in my opinion, is the beauty of the world of work today - and the challenge ahead of us.
How shall I talk of the sea to the frog,
If it has never left his pond?
How shall I talk of the frost to the bird of the summer land,
If it has never left the land of its birth?
How shall I talk of life with the sage,
If he is prisoner of his doctrine? 
–     Chung Tsu, 4th Century BC (Zhou)
So let us unpeel this onion of culture together!

Peeling through the layers of culture
Peeling through the layers of culture
Culture Cross-Overs: Increase Awareness
Riding the waves of culture: Fons Trompenaars at TEDxAmsterdam
How Culture Drives Behaviours | Julien S. Bourrelle | TEDxTrondheim
Cross cultural communication | Pellegrino Riccardi | TEDxBergen
Jacques Demorgon and Markus Molz Oscillation between Accommodation and Adaptation Model
Recommendations on Culture Build
Culture Renovation: A Blueprint for Action - i4cp
Integrating cultures after a merger: Addressing the unseen forces | McKinsey
Council Post: Building A High-Performance Culture: Why Emotional Maturity Is Key
Keep Your Company’s Toxic Culture from Infecting Your Team
Question: What are the current culture questions facing you in your organization?
Enabling can-do attitude and collaborative approaches to solve broader needs is my calling card. On May 17th, together with Anne-Cécile Graber and Mandy Chooi, we brought our calling-cards to play in the pilot #future of work Co-Creator Night Live. It was a smashing success and we are moving forward. If you are curious and wish to know more, DM me and we will get something cooking!
Apropos cooking good things up, I am excited to be attending next week’s #SOSUEE sourcing summit in Estonia. The hosts will be the incredible Piret Luts and Hung Lee. There will be lots of great exchanges around the future of talent. I hope to see you there!
Wishing you all the best and looking forward to talking soon!
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Elizabeth Lembke, Transforming Talent Consulting: and