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The Challenges and Benefits of Balancing Global Corporate Values with Local Culture

Maintaining a business culture globally is certainly a challenge, with regional values and norms, differing laws and policies, communication issues, and more to consider. To say it’s a balancing act to blend corporate values with local culture is an understatement, but it gets even trickier when you’re expanding and need talent on the ground. 

At DoiT, we recently launched entities in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, requiring the hiring of sales and cloud architecture personnel. At the same time, we were doubling our team in Ireland and adding staff to support North American expansion. Helping us maintain our focus on corporate values has been a philosophy of global consistency and regional nuance—a tact that must be fluid, adaptive, and unique to each market.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for how communications and the cultural delivery of work should be managed on a daily basis. Furthermore, as a completely global and remote business, micromanagement is just not part of our DNA, nor would it be possible. This raises a key question: How can companies with organization-wide values still allow local cultures and values to flourish within a workplace?

Seeing Is Believing

People join our company with a wealth of experience, expertise, and desire to impact a business we’re all building together. To facilitate this, it’s important to provide transparency and access to as much information as possible. It’s equally important to offer a nearly unfettered opportunity for people to share opinions, ask questions, get context, collaborate, and engage in healthy debate. This environment is what produces the most innovative ideas and practices, so it should be an ingrained corporate value.

Even so, the way people interact with leadership and collaborate with each other differs from country to country. For instance, countries like Israel and Japan tend to have a more hierarchical culture where it’s less common for employees to ask questions that challenge leadership, even hypothetically. There are also plenty of companies, regardless of borders, that wouldn’t welcome such questions either.

Not only is questioning appropriate, but it should also be encouraged and cultivated as a corporate value across all regions. Particularly in a remote-first world, employees have to be deliberate about being visible and getting answers. Seeing people demonstrate such intellectual curiosity is a gift, and the more your operation can reflect what many would like to see, the more a team will believe in and follow the direction you provide.

It’s just one of the many nuances that can increase buy-in from employees.

Roles and Regions

Even within set functions, roles can be different in significant ways across the world. When it comes to success in sales, for instance, it’s usually about deals signed, bookings made, and services provided, regardless of location. How you reach sales numbers on a region-by-region basis can be quite different. Some regions could be trade show-centric and require face-to-face contact, while others may be more remote and rely on phone, e-mail, and prospecting. Geographic markets can vary and play a big part in how you develop teams, too. Cloud infrastructure in the United States is further ahead than it is in Mexico, which requires very different business and hiring strategies. 

All of this can impact team growth, the talent types and personalities needed, and more, which, in turn, can impact the balance of corporate values. Understanding a region is what really drives success and employee satisfaction.

Every region needs a unique strategic approach and for a variety of reasons. From a legal perspective, there are significant hurdles to setting up shop in a new place. Yet, what may seem like an impediment can actually be an advantage, affording a company the proper time to understand the local culture, the market, and its values. 

Our leadership has a wealth of global expansion and scale experience—enough to usually know the nuances, patterns, and typical hurdles you’d likely experience when venturing into a new market. We also do a ton of research to fully understand the opportunity before we commit to investing in any market. 

Once established in that market, not listening to the people you’ve hired to be your local subject matter experts would be a critical mistake. These are the people who hear firsthand what’s resonating with customers. A simple ask for additional resources can directly shape what future investments a company should make. And, sharing their opinions and being heard are important, as these employees are making a personal investment in a company that isn’t homegrown. 

No one better understands how things operate in a given area than local folks. As a company grows, corporate functions must actively seek feedback and guidance from their boots-on-the-ground teams. And that’s especially important in cultivating business values. 

Policy Matters

Companies have some policies that are central to their core. For instance, we have a uniform philosophy of providing unlimited paid time off (PTO). While that sounds great, it doesn’t mean employees are constantly on vacation; we’ve found the average is 4 to 5 weeks per person annually. Employees’ goals are their goals. They meet each quarter with their manager. They understand what their impact should be. That’s their commitment to the business and, at the same time, an important part of our corporate values. 

Still, there are many policy differences to be aware of, the following areas being just a few of many.

In Europe, companies are required to provide a minimum number of days off. We adapt this norm to their culture by offering that set amount in their contract but communicate it’s a jumping-off point and ultimately, there’s no set limit for PTO as long as they are able to excel in their roles and consistently deliver great work on time. If employees have a chance to take the trip of a lifetime, are meeting their goals, and have coverage, it’s a win for everyone and a great asset to corporate culture.

Likewise, insurance requirements vary between regions, including coverage by private providers and the many countries with universal health care. To even this out companywide, we’ll provide stipends to handle insurance costs or add coverage where it might be lacking. Countries may mandate pension programs—something the United States doesn’t do that’s a fairly common benefit elsewhere. Every time we expand into a new country, we have conversations with consultants about local requirements and what the norms are for employers of choice. That way, we can ensure we’re not just competitive but also very attractive to candidates. 

Furthermore, in a global company, people will often want to relocate. The biggest challenge of international relocations is employment law that governs visas and similar programs. The United States is particularly difficult, in most cases requiring an H-1B visa. Moving employees from one European country to another is easier, but Blue Card requirements can still be tricky for relatively new regional offices to acquire. 

When it comes to policy matters, it’s important to do your due diligence. This allows you to show and balance important aspects like benefits, which are directly linked to corporate values across a widely dispersed company. 

Hiring Minds

Core values must be your North Star when it comes to hiring. When doing so globally, there are many nuances to be aware of. For instance, in the United States, 2 weeks’ notice is standard practice when candidates tell an employer they’re moving on. In Germany, it takes longer to recruit talent because the standard contractual notice period is at least 2 months. This could completely alter your hiring and planning trajectory if you’re caught unaware of the timing constraints. 

Probationary periods in Europe are a standard part of employment contracts. This ensures workers have an opportunity to be successful. From a performance management standpoint, when somebody passes a probationary period, they’re pretty much part of your team. If someone isn’t a good fit or is missing key milestones in their first few months, there needs to be a very solid history to support making a change, backed up by thorough documentation.

Overall approaches within hiring teams are nuanced from region to region, as well. Rather than hiring from a global perspective, teams should be matching candidates to the needs of the specific region of business they’re engaging in. Customer service culture in the United States tends to follow a “customer is always right” point of view, guiding consumers to an answer but never wanting them to feel inferior or unimportant. In Germany, customers usually expect their service experts to approach conversations with a sense of authority and leadership. All of this must be incorporated into how you vet, coach, and retain talent.

Simply put, there’s a lot for hiring minds to consider.

Achieving Balance

To raise understanding of corporate values across our organization, all of our new hires immediately receive “The Culture Map.” This book outlines strategies aimed at creating a global workforce culture. It also facilitates cultural awareness and shapes the way people communicate. There’s no judgment of good or bad, just an illustration of differences and patterns that can help us better understand each other.

It’s a strong but subtle means to define, promote, and balance our corporate values. After all, a global, remote company encompasses many distinct regions, but all must be able to work together on shared and mutual goals to succeed.

Kristen Tronsky is Chief People Officer at DoiT International.

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