Reality

Culture – Right or Wrong?

During university days, it was hard to define the meaning of culture.

As easy as reading off a textbook and completing exams to prove how much management students should know, it was not properly decoded. I mean, how could one possibly know without experiencing it in realtime?

Not until I became a lucky bird who received opportunities to work with few multinational organisations, and able to immerse and understand the essence of work diversity. There is no controlled context to benchmark with for a simple reason – culture has no right or wrong.

Among the few, namely Japanese, American, Chinese, Malaysian, French, Swedish, and Australian organisations, Italian organisation was one that I felt most difficult to get by. It’s not surprising considering there are many establishments of the formers in Asia, and  localisation has been pretty common for them. The latter, contrary has a very strong culture.

There was no self-research done to manage surprises, simply because I was complacent in my ability to adapt in different type of work environments. Over the years, there are 3 characteristics I found working in an Italian organisation:

Family. Verbal. Informal.

‘Family’ to multinational organisations can mean people that make up the organisation. At the same time, family is an extremely important value within the Italian culture. Businesses in Italy, regardless big or small scale are usually family-centric and centrally governed. Putting this in an Italian organisation context, ‘Family’ can be easily skewed towards people who speak the same native language within the organisation. Career development depends on familiarity, and how well a relationship is built to be considered as part of a ‘Family’. It’s perfectly normal to feel invisible and awkward at the beginning of a work journey in an Italian organisation, being the few foreigners in a meeting room, not knowing a word the crowd is discussing.

In many multinational organisations, it’s common to witness occasional native language being spoken (although it’s becoming rare these days thanks to work diversity awareness) especially when discussions involve the top management and headquarters.  In an Italian organisation, please expect an exception to sensitivity. Not surprising considering 93% of the Italian population speaks Italian as native language (BBC), and forgive them, it’s just part of culture.

Many multinational organisations are used to business formality in both verbal and written. Italians, on the other hand, are more casual, prefer informal meetings and are rather skeptical towards outsiders. They prefer verbal, love talking, and talking is key to forming good relationships. Sometimes, full-stop is not present in a sentence because there are just too much to talk/ cover in so little time. It can be messy, not easy to keep track, more difficult to win trust and connecting dots can be challenging, which often leads to communication break-down. Being a step forward and be bold to ask would definitely help in keeping up to latest discoveries. In general, Italians are friendly people.

There is no need to question unfairness, bias, or even feeling despair. Most of all, there is no reason to take it personally.

To work in a foreign organisation, it’s necessary to take the extra initiative in deciphering not just the surface of organisation’s mission, vision, and objectives, but also the organisation’s core culture and the values it holds. Then, assessing own cultural tolerance on a personal level is crucial. One thing for sure, never expect an organisation culture to change but rather the other way round. Once they are grasped well, it’s easier to be open minded instead of judging every action if they are right or wrong.

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“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it” – Margaret Fuller

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6 comments on “Culture – Right or Wrong?

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