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National Culture Vs Corporate Culture
Part A – General
Why do people behave in similar ways? Do they have common beliefs and values? Most likely, our mind shapes our actions and once people speak the same language and do similar things, they form a culture. Different cultures can be seen in countries, companies and communities.
We grow up with our national culture values such as certainty versus uncertainty, risk taking versus risk aversion and good versus evil, and have held deep and gradually change over time. Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, identified six dimensions of national culture: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, masculinity, long-term orientation and indulgence versus restriction. Dimension scores vary between 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 accept more uncertainty.
On the other hand, corporate culture is composed of dress code, systems and “culture bearers” such as its founder, CEO and managers. Business practices are developed and learned from work to achieve their mission and goals. Also, individuals can move from company to company. So they are more superficial and adaptable than those core values of the national culture. According to Hofstede, national cultures belong to anthropology; organizational cultures to sociology. In a large company, different departments may also exhibit different cultures through working with different individuals.
Can corporate culture weaken national culture? Conflicts will certainly occur especially in multinational corporations (MNCs) because of the 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 does not stay late to finish 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 doesn’t care about his work and disagreements can occur. An INSEAD professor, André Laurent, discovered that cultural differences were significantly greater between managers from different nations working in the same MNC than between managers working for companies in their native country. In a typical MNC, Germans seem to become more German, Americans more American, Swedes more Swedish, and so on. The explanation is not very understandable, then it could suggest that employees do not adapt to a common corporate culture if it is not aligned with their national cultures. There is also a general trend that shows that workers who do not fit into the corporate culture will either not be employed in the first place or resign within a few years.
Corporate culture is not defined in a day and evolves and becomes more visible over time. Almost all successful companies had developed a strong and positive culture, not only 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”) gave them a competitive advantage and attracted many companies to learn from them. With a strong and clear corporate culture, companies can enjoy many benefits, such as similar standards can be maintained, increased loyalty, higher motivation and productivity and increased management control.
How do leaders create corporate culture? At the start of the business, the founder(s) play an important role in establishing the norms from their beliefs, values and assumptions. However, once they start bringing 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 join the company, there is more need for the CEO to create a common vision, a code of practice and the same level of risks. Unfortunately, the culture does not survive if the main “carriers of culture” leave or most of the members leave. With a strong value on individualism in the United States, companies take on a similar value. Thus a corporate culture could 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 are able to continue their 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 bakery, most famous for its cream-filled buns covered with pork floss, called Flosss. By the 3rd year, BreadTalk Group Limited was listed on the SGX. It is one of Singapore’s leading F&B brands well known for being creative, innovative, trendy and for its premium quality products. Currently, BreadTalk has reached 12 countries with more than 300 bakery outlets (including franchises), 33 food courts and 8 restaurants, supported by more than 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, trendy, lifestyle brand and its mission is to lead a new lifestyle culture with new, innovative changes and creative differentiation for handcrafted products with passion and vitality. 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 to learn how to pack bread, serve customers, etc. Periodically, the training and development department also sends its HQ staff for professional development courses. They also strongly believe in team bonding and before each new BreadTalk outlet opens, all the outlet staff will go to the beach or a day of exciting and team activities. With a closer bond and understanding, their staff will be able to work well together.
Also, BreadTalk’s president, Dr. George Quek, encourages all of his staff to be creative and always think outside the box. For your company to expand successfully, getting a reliable team of employees and partners is vital. He allows his managers to make decisions for themselves. “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 has to be empowered to deal with this kind of scale.” His secret to BreadTalk’s success is being diligent.
In my opinion, our Singaporean culture (for example, a great emphasis on education, collectivism and diligent) plays a role in shaping BreadTalk’s corporate culture, especially from local employees. BreadTalk is also clearly shaped by its founder, Dr. Quek. The main difficulty is to make their foreign employees comfortable to work in Singapore. I believe that the BreadTalk culture will not be affected much by other Asian countries, for example China, India and Vietnam. However, in today’s competitive market, there are distinct models and characteristics that companies must cultivate in order to be successful such as creativity, innovation, differentiation, training, team building and autonomy.
In 2008, BreadTalk had created a special bun, called “Panda Panda” and all the proceeds from the sale of this bun had gone to help the recovery of the Sichuan earthquake. Together with the Red Cross, they had collected S$40,000 in just 1 week. This act of corporate social responsibility (CSR) showed its innovative way to use its product as a tool to raise funds by choosing China’s national animal and giving it a name, also starting with “P”. Although CSR is not really considered as part of its corporate culture, it gives its brand free media coverage and could leave a deep impression in the hearts of its customers as it shows humanity and compassion. It is as a form of differentiation from other F&B companies. When people support the cause by buying their “Panda of Peace”, they also buy other breads. It also helped boost their sales.
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