Does culture still matter in today’s global world?

by Hanna Kalla

“Cultures are storehouses of cultural tools to which people have different levels of access and usage. A truly versatile person can make use of tools from quite a variety of storehouses, others would be somewhat more limited.” (Scollon, 1997)

hanna.jpg I would like to think that I am a global citizen of the world having spent most of my life hopping across the continents. When I am asked where I am from though, I find it a little difficult. I was born in Finland but left when I was nine. I was brought up in Africa, and then continued my schooling in Switzerland followed by the US. Wanting to see more of the world, I moved to Asia to discover the secrets of tea ceremony. I have now found my way back to Europe and call England home. But where am I from? The short answer is that I am Finnish but not from Finland. My outlook on life is culturally mixed but if you ask my friends and colleagues, they can still see some Finnish cultural traits in me. So, although my cultural heritage does not define me, it is a part of me. Just because many of us work for global businesses, travel extensively, and have access to the same international news sites, does not erase our cultural backgrounds which impact on our behaviour. If we are lucky though, we are better at accessing those cultural storehouses and using the tools we find within them.

Culture can be a really powerful tool that enables you to form connections. And here it is worth clarifying that culture can be based on your nationality, professional identity, organisational values or another common association. Culture goes much beyond the easily observable dress, ethnicity and language to penetrate all the way to our basic assumptions and beliefs. However, cultural differences can also cause obstacles when people hold different expectations of normal behaviour without allowing for alternate styles of communication. Even simple words can have many interpretations based on different cultural contexts. For example, in Europe we use ‘yes’ to mean “I agree”, whereas in Japan it means “I am listening”. You can just imagine the kind of miscommunication that can lead to.

Looking at tools such as Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions is a great starting point to discovering some of those cultural differences that can be found between different nationalities. I have also carried out research in this field and discovered some very interesting things about micro-cultures and diversity in the workplace. So, is diversity good or bad? That really depends on what you are trying to accomplish… But, I think we can say that despite equalisers such as McDonalds, Starbucks and Nike, culture is still a very important ingredient of today’s global world.

Hanna Kalla (U.K.) is Senior Consultant, Change and Internal Communications at Hill & Knowlton. She joined Hill & Knowlton from Nokia, where she managed internal communications globally for a leading business programme. Prior to that she worked for Nokia Japan where she advised senior managers on intercultural issues affecting multi-site operations. During her time at Nokia, Hanna also studied the strategic role of internal communications in relation to social networks, knowledge sharing, and diversity. Hanna’s background also includes working in account management for Young & Rubicam in New York, and several short projects at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva.

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Hanna will be speaking at the EuroComm conference with her colleague Sam Berrisford.

Sam Berrisford (U.K.) is Senior Consultant, Change and Internal Communications at Hill & Knowlton. Before joining Hill & Knowlton, he
worked at Royal Mail Group and more recently at the BBC. Here he helped develop and implement a range of strategic, culture change and internal marketing initiatives. As well as the media sector Sam has worked in the logistics, financial services, petrochemical, utility and public sectors. Sam has a background in broadcast journalism. He is a performance coach and creative facilitator and has published articles on many aspects of business and stakeholder communications.

Hanna and Sam will be presenting on:

Differences, Similarities and the Cultural Question

This session explores various issues related to cross-cultural communication and their relevance for both internal and external ommunications. With the help of academic research and case studies, the presenters will discuss the roots of culture and its influence on the way people work together joined by a common purpose, both within and across organisations. They will look
at the process of ‘acculturation’ and examine the willingness to accept change as well as organisational flexibility and adaptability.
Against the background of brand globalisation and the internet, the presenters will examine the influence of culture on mergers and acquisitions. They will also discuss the techniques used by major global corporations that have to manage across diverse geographies.

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