National Culture Vs Corporate Culture

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Part A – General

Why people behave in a similar way? Do they have shared beliefs and values? Most likely, our minds shape our actions and once people talk the same language and do things similarly, they formed a culture. Different cultures can be seen in countries, companies and communities.

We grow up with our national culture values such as certainty vs. uncertainty, risk-taking vs. risk-averse and good vs. evil, and held them deeply and change gradually 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. restraint. The dimension scores vary across countries. Power distance is high in Latin, 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 uncertainty accepting.

On the other hand, corporate culture is comprised of dress code, systems and ‘culture carriers’ like its founder, CEO and managers. Companies’ practices are developed and learned from the job to achieve their mission and targets. Besides, individuals can move from company to company. Thus they are more superficial and adaptable than those national culture core values. According to Hofstede, national cultures belong to anthropology; organizational cultures to sociology. Within a large company, various departments can even exhibit different cultures due to working with the different individuals.

Can corporate culture weaken national culture? Conflicts will certainly arise especially in multi-national corporations (MNC) due to the cultural differences between local national culture and imported corporate culture. Using a MNC in Middle East as example, the local worker will not stay up late to complete his work if he has a family duty and this does not mean he is an irresponsible employee. However, a Western executive might take it as though he does not care for his job and disagreements might occur. An INSEAD professor, André Laurent, has discovered that cultural differences were significantly greater among managers from different nations working within the same MNC than among managers working for companies in their own native country. In a typical MNC, Germans seemingly became more German, Americans more American, Swedes more Swedish, and so on. The explanation is not very understandable, then it might suggest that employees are not adapting into a shared corporate culture if it is not align to their national cultures. There is also a general trend that shows workers who are not fit into the corporate culture will be either not get employed in the first place or resign within a few years.

Corporate culture is not defined in a single day and it evolves and becomes more visible as time goes by. Almost all successful businesses had developed a strong and positive culture, not just based on management and administration, but 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 advantage and attracted many companies to learn from them. With strong and clear corporate culture, companies can enjoy many benefits such as similar standards can be maintained, increased loyalty, higher motivation & productivity and increased management control.

How leaders create corporate culture? At the beginning of business, the founder(s) play an important role to set the standards from their beliefs, values and assumptions. However, once they start to bring in new members into the management team, more learning experiences are shared and new beliefs, values and assumptions will be passed on. As more and more people joined the company, there is a greater need for the CEO to create a shared vision, a code of practice and the same level of risk taking. Unfortunately, culture does not survive if the main ‘culture carriers’ depart or the main bulk of members leave. With a strong value on individualism in U.S., the companies take on similar value. Thus a corporate culture might reflect the characteristics of its founder(s) like Jack Welsh in GE and Steve Jobs in Apple. Interestingly, there are also companies with long history that are able to continue its own unique culture, no matter who is/are in the top management. IBM is an example.

Part B – Specific (BreadTalk)

BreadTalk was established in 2000 and is a designer confectionery store, most famous for its cream-filled buns topped with pork floss, named Flosss. By the 3rd year, BreadTalk Group Limited was listed on the SGX. It is one of the Singapore’s leading F&B brand well known for being creative, innovative, trendsetting and for its premium quality products. Presently, BreadTalk has reached out to 12 countries with more than 300 bakery outlets (including franchises), 33 food courts and 8 restaurants, supported by over 4,000 staff. Its brands include BreadTalk, Toast Box, Food Republic, Din Tai Fung and The Station Kitchen.

BreadTalk’s vision is to be an international, trend-setting, lifestyle brand and its mission is lead a new lifestyle culture with new, innovative changes and creative differentiation to craft products with passion and vibrancy. They believe in providing QSC (Quality, Service, and Cleanliness) for their customers. They treat training as an important aspect for their company. All new trainees are required to undergo training first at their BreadTalk outlets learning how to pack bread, serve customers, etc. Periodically, the training and development department also sends their HQ staff for professional development courses. They also believe strongly in team bonding and before any new BreadTalk outlet opens, all the outlet staff will go to the beach or a day of exciting and team-building activities. With a closer bonding and understanding, their staff will be able to work well together.

In addition, BreadTalk’s Chairman, Dr George Quek, encourages all his staff to be creative and always think out-of-the-box. In order for his company to expand successfully, getting 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 so much bigger than Singapore’s, so the manager that we send there has to be empowered to deal with that kind of scale.” His secret to BreadTalk’s success is to be diligent.

In my opinion, our Singapore culture (e.g. high emphasis on education, collectivism and diligent) does play a part in shaping the corporate culture of BreadTalk, especially by the local employees. BreadTalk is also clearly shaped by its founder, Dr. Quek. The main difficulty is to make its foreign employees comfortable working in Singapore. I believe BreadTalk culture will not be affected greatly by other Asian countries e.g. China, India, and Vietnam. However, in today’s competitive market, there are distinct patterns and traits that companies have to cultivate in order to be successful such as creativity, innovation, differentiation, training, team building and autonomy.

In 2008, BreadTalk had specially created a bun, named as “Peace Panda” and all the proceeds from the sales of this bun had gone to aid the recovery of Sichuan earthquake. Together with the Red Cross, they had raised S$40,000 in just 1 week. This corporate social responsibility (CSR) act demonstrated their innovative way to use their product as a tool to raise funds by choosing the national animal of China and giving a name, starting ‘P’ as well. Although CSR does not really considered to be part of its corporate culture, it gives its brand free media coverage and might leave a deep impression into the heart of its customers as it shows humanity and compassion. It is like a form of differentiation from other F&B companies. When people are supporting the cause by buying its “Peace Panda”, they will purchase other breads as well. It helped to boost its sales too.

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