National Culture Vs Corporate Culture
Part A – General
Why do people behave in a similar way? Do you have shared beliefs and values? Most likely, our minds shape our actions, and once people speak the same language and do things in similar ways, they form a culture. Different cultures can be seen in countries, companies and communities.
We grow up with values of our national culture such as certainty vs. uncertainty, risk taking vs. risk aversion and good vs. evil, and kept them deep and gradually changed over time. Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, has identified six dimensions of national culture: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, masculinity, long-term orientation, and indulgence vs. restriction. Dimension scores vary across countries. Power distance is high in Latin American, Asian and African countries and low in Germanic, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon nations. Latin and Germanic countries and Japan are high in uncertainty avoidance; Chinese, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries are more accepting of uncertainty.
On the other hand, corporate culture is understood as dress code, systems and ‘culture bearers’ such as its founder, CEO and managers. The practices of the companies are developed and learned on the job to achieve their mission and objectives. In addition, people can move from one company to another. Therefore, they are more superficial and adaptable than the fundamental values of the national culture. According to Hofstede, national cultures belong to anthropology; organizational cultures to sociology. Within a large company, various departments may even exhibit different cultures due to working with different people.
Can corporate culture weaken national culture? Conflicts will certainly arise especially in multinational corporations (MNCs) due to cultural differences between the local national culture and the imported corporate culture. Using an MNC in the Middle East as an example, the local worker will not stay up late to complete his work if he has a family duty and this does not mean that he is an irresponsible employee. However, a Western executive might take it as if he didn’t care about his job and disagreements might arise. An INSEAD professor, André Laurent, found that cultural differences were significantly greater between managers from different nations working within the same MNC than between managers working for companies in their own country of origin. In a typical MNC, Germans apparently became more German, Americans more American, Swedes more Swedish, and so on. The explanation is not very understandable, so it could suggest that employees are not adapting to a shared corporate culture if it is not aligned with their national cultures. There is also a general trend showing that workers who don’t fit into the corporate culture will either not be hired in the first place or will quit within a few years.
Corporate culture is not defined in a single day and evolves and becomes more visible as time goes by. Almost all successful companies had developed a strong and positive culture, not only based on management and administration, but also on leadership and empowerment. For example, Toyota introduced their “Toyota Way” and their clear devotion to teamwork and continuous improvement (“Kaizen”) has given them a competitive edge and attracted many companies to learn from them. With a strong and clear corporate culture, companies can enjoy many benefits, such as maintaining similar standards, increased loyalty, increased motivation and productivity, and greater management control.
How do leaders create corporate culture? At the beginning of the business, the founders play an important role in setting the standards based on their beliefs, values and assumptions. However, once they start bringing new members into the management team, more learning experiences will be shared and new beliefs, values, and assumptions will be passed on. As more and more people join the company, there is a greater need for the CEO to create a shared vision, code of practice, and the same level of risk taking. Unfortunately, the culture does not survive if the main ‘culture bearers’ leave or if the majority of the members leave. With a strong value of individualism in the US, companies take on a similar value. Thus, a corporate culture might reflect the characteristics of its founder(s), such as Jack Welsh at GE and Steve Jobs at Apple. Interestingly, there are also companies with a long history that can carry on their own unique culture, no matter who or who is in the top management. IBM is an example.
Part B – Specific (BreadTalk)
BreadTalk was established in 2000 and is a designer confectionery shop, most famous for its cream-filled buns covered with pork floss, called Flosss. For the third year, BreadTalk Group Limited was listed on the SGX. It is one of the leading food and beverage brands in Singapore, known for being creative, innovative, innovative and for its premium products. Currently, BreadTalk has reached 12 countries with more than 300 bakery establishments (including franchises), 33 food courts and 8 restaurants, supported by more than 4,000 employees. Its brands include BreadTalk, Toast Box, Food Republic, Din Tai Fung and The Station Kitchen.
BreadTalk’s vision is to be a trendsetting international lifestyle brand and its mission is to lead a new lifestyle culture with new and innovative changes and creative differentiation to craft products with passion and vibrancy. They believe in providing QSC (Quality, Service and Cleanliness) for their clients. They treat training as an important aspect for their company. All new apprentices must first be trained at your BreadTalk outlets to learn how to bag bread, serve customers, etc. Periodically, the training and development department also sends its headquarters staff to professional development courses. They also believe strongly in team bonding and before any new BreadTalk outlet opens, the entire outlet staff will be heading to the beach or a day of exciting team building activities. With a closer bond and understanding, your staff will be able to work well together.
Additionally, BreadTalk President Dr. George Quek encourages all of his staff to be creative and always think outside the box. For his business to expand successfully, a reliable team of employees and partners is vital. He empowers his managers to make decisions on their own. “You can’t just send someone overseas without empowering them. The market in China, for example, is much bigger than Singapore, so the manager we send there has to be trained to deal with that kind of scale.” His secret to the success of BreadTalk is to be diligent.
In my opinion, our Singaporean culture (eg, heavy emphasis on education, collectivism, and diligence) plays a role in shaping BreadTalk’s corporate culture, especially by local employees. BreadTalk is also clearly shaped by its founder, Dr. Quek. The main difficulty is making your foreign employees feel comfortable working in Singapore. I believe that the BreadTalk culture will not be greatly affected by other Asian countries, for example, China, India and Vietnam. However, in today’s competitive market, there are distinctive patterns and traits that companies must cultivate to be successful, such as creativity, innovation, differentiation, training, team building, and autonomy.
In 2008, BreadTalk specially created a bun, called “Peace Panda” and all profits from the sales of this bun went to help Sichuan earthquake recovery. Together with the Red Cross, they had raised S$40,000 in just 1 week. This corporate social responsibility (CSR) act demonstrated its innovative way of using its product as a fundraising tool by choosing China’s national animal and giving it a name, also starting with ‘P’. Although CSR is not really considered part of your corporate culture, it gives your brand free media coverage and can leave a deep impression on the hearts of your customers as it shows humanity and compassion. It is like a way of differentiation from other F&B companies. When people support the cause by buying your “Peace Panda”, they will also buy other breads. It also helped boost their sales.