Appreciating Our Cultural and Personal Differences in the Workplace — Damla Zeybel

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While working on my current assignment, I had the pleasure of witnessing some truly talented colleagues rise to managerial positions, overseeing teams across regions.

In my previous jobs, I too have had the privilege of managing hundreds of staff across the globe. However, this pandemic certainly adds a layer of complexity to what already is a challenging undertaking. That’s why I wanted to share some insights as to how employee cultures differ around the world, and how we can ensure to create or maintain an effective work environment, especially during this time of unprecedented challenges.

An HBR article by J. Yo-Jud Cheng and Boris Groysberg starts at the corporate level, where targeted survey results reveal culture styles by region. While caring consistently ranked as the highest common value overall, there are quite regional differences in scoring on other values such as enjoyment, order, and authority.

The study provides an interesting insight into how employees would react to change, and what kind of general interaction differences exist across cultures. What it ultimately suggests for both managers and employees, is “to take stock of how our own work styles mirror or differ from regional culture patterns, especially when considering how our behaviors and actions will be perceived by others.”

A good example from the article: “Taking the initiative to update standard procedures to implement a new software package. This might be applauded in a region where learning and agility are valued, but might be met with frustration in a region that emphasizes order and consistency.”

Managers, and leaders in general, should take time to understand not just an individual employee’s working style, but also seek to understand how much of that is influenced by cultural norms. Especially now, when we are trying to maintain strong team momentum while most of us are working from our homes, i.e. our ‘cultural sanctuary’, it is imperative to correctly interpret how staff is engaging.

Over the years, working across cultures has been the best part of my professional experience. I cherish every culture I came to understand and what I learned from it.

Speaking of learning, my secret tool has always been to approach effective leadership through lots of inquiry. The more questions I can pose to ensure I understand where a staff member is coming from, the more I have been able to create a safe environment where staff feel they can be themselves and engage openly without fear of being mislabeled or misunderstood. Sometimes it takes several iterations to get there, but there is something to be said for the strong relationships you build with a dream team of diversity and different points of view. This usually leads to fun challenges and strong corporate outcomes.

Here’s to celebrating every form of diversity, appreciating each individual and their unique contribution.

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