Enterprise 2.0 and culture : change or do with it ?

Summary : Behind culture there are one thousand things, more or less objective or real to explain with more or less sincerity what prevent organizations and people from changing. Enterprise 2.0 faces the same kind of problems even if it’s not specific to it.  Acknowledgement : it’s an real concern that can be counterbalanced by corporate culture in some cases. There are many and varied solutions to override this issue but all are imperfect and none is universal. However, a difference as to me made between the impact of culture on behaviors than can be offset overtime with the right incentives and what has to deal with cultural identity that people will over try to protect against any change.

During the last Enterprise 2.0 summit I gave a talk about cultural boundaries and their impact on enterprise 2.0 and the transformation processus. This post is the occasion to sum up some of the discussions that followed my presentations as well as some thoughts I gathered from insightful posts that have been published since then.

To begin, we have to admit that this problem is as old as the world and did not wait for the raise of enterprise 2.0 to impact organizations. It’s a kind of usual suspects that’s pointed at every time something new is being implemented within a defined human, geographic, linguistic scope.

• A double importation issue seen from Europe

The question, in Europe, is that even before thinking of implementing enterprise 2.0 within european boundaries, it’s a north american concept that has to be imported. That’s easier in some countries for two reasons. The first is that the concept and many implementation strategies rely on positive thinking, what’s far from being a common attitude here. Then comes a systematic reaction towards what comes from overseas. The famous “it comes from overseas so it won’t work here”. What means many things. The first is rather a protectionist reflex, the second is a lack of self-confidence (“we won’t be able to make it work”). Note that the same arguments may be used wherever the change comes from. To be more specific on the second point, as I mentioned here, I see things changing and, as time flies, european organizations realize that they can make it, what has an interesting chain effect.

So that’s a concept that has to be “Europeanized” in terms of wording and levers before thinking to spreading it.

• A question that’s not only European.

Europe is not the only part of the world where the values that come with enterprise 2.0 may be problematic. In fact, problems will rise every time something has to be adopted and shared within people who have another identity (culture, language etc..). Maybe that’s a real concern in europe but the same kind of thing can be experienced inside one unique country. And let me tell you things may be much more complicated when we’ll have to deal with some asian countries.

• A false problem

In the previous paragraphs I used the word ‘protectionism’. It’s often said that culture is what remains once we have forgotten everything. Here, I’d rather say that it’s whay remains once everything has been tried. It’s the intangible, non manageable, inexplicable cause that can be called upon to refuse any change and avoid any factual argument. Let’s admit that it’s often an easy excuse. But isn’t fearing any kind of novelty a cultural attribute ?

• language : a real concern

One of the most tangible aspect of the cultural question may be language. There are many reasons why 10 people speaking 10 different languages will never agree on a common one. Uneven skills, fear not to be understood, protectionist reflex to protect local identity in a globalized organization (I’ve seen that many times when a large international company bought a smaller foreign on..). One things is sure : we have to be aware that there’s a huge gap between the very internationalized world of the E20 experts and the real situation that can be found within organizations. Thinking that all people are comfortable in a multilingual environment (or at least are ready to try) would be a big mistake.

• Local or cultural culture ?

Another good question. Which has the more weight ? Here again, opinions diverge. In my opinion it depends on organizations : some are more global, some others, despite of operating under one brand, are radically different in each country they operate in and want to keep this local rooting.

The discussion also reflect the diversity of situations. If I’m french in a french company that’s ok. French, working in France for a US company ? It may be different. And if my employer sends me abroad, maybe the corporate culture will be my life jacket in an unknown foreign context.

Everyone is a mix between his personal culture and the corporate culture (some organizations having stronger cultures than others…).

• Cultural or organizational boundaries ?

Many organizational silos were built on cultural and geographic ones. Seen from the inside, it’s often legitimate to wonder if what prevents people from collaborating is their culture or that, despite the fact they have the same employer, everything is done to make collaboration irrelevant. Note that it can also happen within an open space..

• Change the enterprise or change the culture ?

If enterprise 2.0 needs a specific culture so let’s change the corporate culture before starting ! On this point, I agree with Lee Bryant : we can’t mandate culture. To be more precise, I we try to, it will take such a long time that it will be useless. Instead of that, I believe in sliding : a little enterprise 2.0 will bring a little cultural sliding that will allow to go further in enterprise 2.0, what will allow the culture to slide a little bit more etc.. We need approaches that co-build cultures and work models.

• What’s key : behaviors

That also help to close the debate on the relative importance of local and corporate culture. The place we were born, the may we were educated and brought up, the places we lived and worked in…impacts our cultural DNA. For many people it’s mainly tied to the country were they were born and studied. We don’t  have the same relationship to autonomy, hierarchy, obedience, respect for authority, conflict management, enterprise, colleagues etc… Yet enterprise 2.0 relies on community management, team management and interactions. Moreover, knowledge, that is the matter that fuels all these approaches is owned by people and does not exist in stock what makes that managing knowledge is managing people.

Finally, driving an enterprise 2.0 dynamic is is driving interactions, with all the impact of our cultural DNA on the way we interact with others and behavine within groups and in the workplace.

The paradox of the cultural question is that no one has the answer, and that there are many chances no answer exist. The only certainty is that we can’t discuss the existence of such concerns and that even a strong corporate culture won’t be enough to override it. Then, dealing with the issue will be nothing but dosage and feeling.

Some say “let things go”, after all it’s up to people to determine their behaviors according to their own criteria. Just hope there’s a lowest common denominator that will help to overcome cultural boundaries?

Some admit that they are not a global organization, rather a brand that has different cultures, structures, life, management in each country they operates. So, since the 2.0 approach has to respect what the organization is, it will happen silo by silo.

Some decide, to make people discover tools and usages, what is the required condition to hope to go further, to start from the lowest common denominator that has nothing to do with culture : business processes. According to them it’s the only way to get everybody in the wagon.

Some start a long and deep cultural change project…before they realize that they need an enterprise 2.0 approach to support it. Egg and chicken story…

But, above all, too many forget that a difference has to be made between what’s related to behaviors and can be changed overtime with the right incentives and what’s related to identity that people will protect in any situation.

And you ? How are you doing in your own company ?

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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