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Behavior Norms for the High Tech Workplace
By Dr. Karine Schomer, President, CMCT

In a recent survey of global executives, 52 percent felt that their company's corporate culture was a significant bottom-line factor, and 86 percent considered culture change initiatives in their company to have been successful and worthwhile. In 1998-99, the hectic first year of Oakland, California's highly successful Xpede Corporation, CEO Jim Noack devoted significant time and resources to defining and implementing an effective organizational culture.

According to Korn/Ferry International Managing Director Christopher Kidd, corporate culture is one of the four key elements of an effective organizational strategy.

The behavior of people at work reflects fundamental attitudes toward acceptable performance standards (tasks, productivity, quality) and quality of worklife (relationships, group functioning, job satisfaction, motivation). In today's tight labor market and competitive business environment, neglecting these "intangibles" - unresolved conflicts on the software development team, inadequate communication on the part of management, lack of respect for the administrative support staff, erratic behaviors around time and commitments, all-round insensitivity to people and their needs, a willingness to compromise on quality and ethics - can be prove more than costly.

A frequent mistake made by corporate leaders is the failure to acknowledge gaps that may exist between the explicit culture proclaimed in official company statements of values and the implicit culture expressed in people's daily interactions. If the disconnect is wide, there will be widespread cynicism, and the possibility of employees "voting with their feet".

A healthy practice is to have periodic reviews of the corporate culture, preferably with outside assistance that can, in a neutral fashion, help see what behavior norms are in operation up and down the company, and the degree to which they are helpful or need to be changed.

A quick way to take the pulse of your own corporation's culture is to enlist focus groups in drawing up lists of behaviors under headings like "It's OK here to . . . " or "People who get ahead here are those who…" The results of this exercise may be startling.

The possibility of a disconnect between official and actual culture increases dramatically when the context is a cross-cultural one. According to Conference Board editorial director Charles Mitchell, "the most important influence on corporate culture is the national culture of the country in which the corporation is based." Equally important are the behavior norms of the company leaders. If the leadership (e.g., mainstream North American) attempts to impose a culture of behavioral norms that is deeply at odds with basic values of the workforce (e.g., an international workforce), there will be all manner of avoidance. The fine art of cross-cultural management involves developing hybrid cultures of behavioral norms that can apply across cultures, with flexibility.

© 1999 Karine Schomer. All Rights Reserved. Originally published in Siliconindia, December 2000.


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