Cultural awareness underpins effective search
Traditional cultural values have become enmeshed with the management clichés and corporate platitudes that are now as much a mystery to their targets as to those that deliver them.
For a topic that matters so much to all involved, how do we so frequently miscommunicate, misinterpret and misjudge cultural capabilities, aspirations and desires?
Why, where corporate culture is concerned, does simple courtesy, respect, charm, attentiveness and being mindful of one’s personal responsibilities no longer cut the mustard?
Simple, because culture is complex, idiosyncratic and, ultimately, human.
Consciously or not, people, societies and businesses have long been defined by their ideas, customs, beliefs and social behaviours – the very definition of ‘culture’.
Yet, where culture was once considered a natural by-product of shared appreciation and understanding, it is now a cornerstone of corporate strategy – as observed by Drucker “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
Because of this, the focus on cultural schemas has become a preoccupation of businesses and those that advise them. Accordingly, Executive Search businesses must seek to better understand the cultural profiles of their clients and candidates to execute an effective search.
Indeed, the beneficial impact of a positive culture stretches beyond traditional ‘peopleorientated’ niceties; with compelling cases made for financial benefits and brand awareness, not to mention employee performance and wellbeing.
Despite the widespread acceptance of the value of a positive corporate culture, its complexities continue to befuddle employers, employees and candidates alike. Such disorientation is made evident by Deloitte’s recent findings: only 28 percent of employees understand their culture well and fewer (19 percent) believe it is the “right culture”.
So, why has such an intrinsically important component of the corporate makeup become so misconceived and, consequently, elusive? Well, primarily because culture is complex. Cultural details are deeply subjective; what is deemed “right” by an employer may not necessarily rank among an employee’s principal cultural priorities or, indeed, the corporate hallmarks sought by a prospective client. Effectively, it means something different to everyone.
Herein lies the principal challenge for those involved: the most valuable cultures are those which are distinct. Yet, our ability to interact effectively is most challenged by social and cultural dynamics with which we are not familiar.
Executive search businesses play an increasingly crucial role in assisting their clients to build a distinct corporate culture, underpinned by the unique brand values that are so cherished, while truthfully reflecting the people, products and services that define their organisations.
Search business must intrinsically understand the cultural hallmarks of both clients and candidates to accurately determine those that are culturally aligned. The ability to facilitate a shared way of thinking, feeling and acting is fundamental to increasing the consistency and predictability of future candidates. Indeed, the nirvana is to achieve shared cultural schemas that promote natural and productive interactions. Effectively, search business must seek to identify a form of ‘cultural intelligence’ among candidates.
The likes of emotional intelligence, practical intelligence and social intelligence are intrinsically bound to culture. Accordingly, they make far more pragmatic indicators of cultural compatibility and potential performance within a different culture than more readily assessed academic abilities and personality traits.
These non-academic intelligences underpin cultural intelligence. Traits of which most people and businesses are aware, but seldom truly understand. It is this misunderstanding that breeds such discomfort in businesses and candidates, causing them to steer away from these more informative measures of prospective cultural compatibility. Herein lies the problem: unlike traditional academic intelligences, these are less tangible and often subjective. Indeed, such intelligences tend to be most evident where there is a natural cultural bond, driven by comfort and tacit understanding.
Fundamentally, understanding culture is hard work. It takes time, effort and intelligences that are not readily explainable or defined. So, it is increasingly important that search businesses demonstrate and exercise nonacademic intelligences to better identify candidates with the same cultural awareness for their clients.
Corporate culture is not defined by a vision statement, a set of guiding principles or a platitude-ridden ‘personal profile’; it is tacit. It is about saying nothing. Being understood without being openly expressed. This is not to say that culture cannot be nurtured. Quite the contrary; it requires a depth of understanding beyond any other component of business, which is why nonacademic intelligences are critical attributes of a search consultancy to provide their clients and candidates with an edge over their competitors.
The human and social dynamics of cultural schemas are precisely the traits that make it such a valuable and beguiling commodity. Lest we forget the simplest, yet most telling of cultural indicators: courtesy, respect, charm, attentiveness and mindfulness. These qualities are not add-ons to corporate culture, they are the mortar that holds it together.
Culture is about interacting, learning and understanding. Failing together and succeeding together.
Culture is the very essence of being human.