A New Frame of Interpretation: How Analogies Can Help Direct Cross-Cultural Behaviors

Meet Marie.

Marie is a German business consultant tasked with reorganizing a French company.

Excited with the prospect, Marie initially enjoyed her frequent trips to Paris and the directive with which she was tasked. But soon, she faced regular roadblocks that would make the fun project a chore.

The French company she was to reorganize was hierarchical and centralized. Despite this, Marie had difficulty identifying the appropriate decision-makers, as a number of people claimed to be in charge though they didn’t actually hold any power in moving the project forward.

Their interference threw rocks into the cogs of this project, slowing it to a standstill, and the delay resulted in even less support from the French team.

At this point, she wasn’t even able to secure a meeting with management or access the information required to complete her mission.

Marie had two choices: a) abandon the project, or b) find someone who could assist in her cross-cultural understanding of the way a stereotypical French company functions.

The Working Parts of a French Company

Marie was lucky enough to find her Zookeeper at the wedding party of a friend.

Using an analogy, this Zookeeper – a French manager who’d worked for over a decade in Germany – managed to crystalize Marie’s understanding of the hierarchy in the French office and the politics with which it functioned.

The Zookeeper told her, first of all, to abandon her German ideas of how an office should function. Unlike in Germany, companies in France don’t function like well-oiled machines.

Instead, he said, they are more like royal courts, in which the CEO reigns supreme. He is the king, and surrounding him, are his noblemen, knights, servants, etc. – all of whom vie for his attention.

They do this by constructing their own fiefdoms.

As Marie was someone sent in from the outside to manage a project, she should navigate this world like an earl.

As quoted from I am the Monkey, the Zookeeper advised:

“Be humble in the right moment. Be bold in the right moment. Be courteous when required. Be rude when needed. Build your political relationship and network, until you have the ear and favor of the king or one of his important ministers.”

By abandoning her expectations that a French office should function like a German one, Marie would be able to get the job done effectively in this foreign culture.

A Culture’s Office Hierarchy is Often a Microcosm of the Country’s Structural Macrocosm

France, itself, has a thousand-year-old history of strong monarchies. Further, its current politics is centered around a strong presidential state; so much so that President François Mitterand was deemed the “last French King.”

French thinking and the stereotypical hierarchies of French companies have been influenced by this historical structure and the way in which it functions.

In understanding this, Marie was able to adapt her behavior to a new frame of interpretation.

The idea that “French companies are like royal courts” created a firmer, almost visceral blueprint for not only what was expected from her, but for the methods by which she could achieve her goal in this setting that differed greatly from her own back in Germany.

This is one example of how analogies can aid a manager’s understanding of a new cross-cultural environment. We’ll be talking more about creating analogies in the coming weeks.

Corporate Social Responsibility Model: Changing the Way Corporate Giants Do Business

Enhancing education, partnering with the World Wildlife Fund, committing to Conservation International’s sustainability efforts.

These are just some ways in which big corporations are leaning hard on a corporate social responsibility business model.

Last week, we talked about social responsibility and how it can be passive or active.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an active approach in which businesses consciously change the way they do business in order to positively impact society.

CSR Objectives

There are two main motives to CSR:

  1. To improve quantitative social aspects – including the company’s societal impact
  2. To improve qualitative social aspects – including efficient employee management and processes

This relatively new concept of CSR has evolved as shareholders have. Today’s shareholders are often concerned in a company’s ripple-effect – its impact on the environment and society – rather than simply on the bottom line.

Industrial repercussions are at the forefront of the social conscience, thus shareholders are more apt to hold a corporation responsible for environmental and social impact.

This is not an individualist approach to business; it’s a collectivist approach.

personal values societal resp.jpg

As you can see in the chart above, rule-based/individualist cultures lean towards personal responsibility, while relationship-based cultures lean towards societal responsibility.

In this way, you can see how economic management business models can benefit from cultural values other than our own.

CSR injects rule-based cultures with relationship-based cultural values.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

Mandated CSR

In some cases, governments mandate corporate social responsibility.

India, for example, required that companies donate 2% of net profits to charitable organizations in 2014, becoming the first country to enact such legislation.

The law required that a CSR board committee be established within the company, designating that 2% over the previous three years’ net profit to CSR. The board director would, at fiscal year’s end, review the company’s efforts to ensure compliance.

But, oftentimes, CSR is voluntary, as in the following cases.

Voluntary CSR

Microsoft’s Bill Gates is well known for his charitable efforts.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done a huge part in eradicating hunger and poverty.

The Microsoft company, itself, has focused its efforts on social responsibility, with the Reputation Institute’s Chief Research Officer, Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, stating:

“Microsoft is committed to enhancing education as a highly relevant global human issue – and, unlike Apple, operates as an open-source platform that fosters perceptions of good citizenship and good governance.”

Another example of CSR done right is the Danish company, Lego.

Lego promotes sustainability, partnering with the World Wildlife Fund to fulfill its “Build the Change” and “Sustainable Materials Center” initiatives.

In 2017, Lego extended this partnership, with goals to push global action on climate change and reduce manufacturing- and supply chain-CO2 emissions.

These are just two examples of CSR in action.

What do you think of corporations taking an active approach in positive social change? As a conscious consumer, does a corporation’s social responsibility influence your purchases?