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Rewriting Social Contracts - The Multicultural Win


© Peter B.   |   Corporate Culture  |   Comments
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Winning organisational cultures are built on social contracts that outline the agreed rules by which we play.

I was invited to work with a CEO who had recently moved to Singapore to take over her new responsibilities. Not only was the country and the multicultural context new to her, but she also came from a very different professional background than the context she entered.

The new organisation was a subsidiary of an old German company, the market was slow moving, and the company had had decades as market leader. The new organisation by any contrast was a start-up software development organisation in France with fast moving targets, and clients expecting the newest and most innovative solutions.

The CEO was expected to deliver major strategic change which would require a sanity check of the organisation’s cultural foundation to ensure it supported the way ahead. Changing the culture would be one of her challenges and working alongside the CEO, I was to provide a sounding board and help facilitate the development of the organisation.

Winning organisational cultures are built on social contracts that outline the agreed rules by which we play. They need to be accessible to everyone outlining what good leadership is, organisational structures, mottos, dress codes and the expectations we have of one another. They are the foundation upon which behaviour is directed which leads to the success of our teams. And as most of these behaviours are "unwritten" just as they are in our own cultures, it's important that we write them down.

After learning about the existing organisation through a series of interviews, we spent two days offsite to assess the state of the organisation and the dynamics between key players. As part of this we revisited the organisation's social contract to ensure the organisational culture was capable of handling evident challenges such as a diminishing market and increased competition.

We worked in multicultural teams highlighting and discussing cultural differences and how these influenced the way we do things, what we find important and the impact on how we work together. In re-writing the social contract, we were making the unwritten rules explicit and the outcome would be a positive one.

Over the following year the CEO and I met several times to to follow-up and strengthen the progress initiated by rewriting the social contract. The last time we met she pointed out that "the main result was the creation of a context where it is permissible to disagree, where respectfully challenging view points, and where personal initiative was appreciated - expanding the envelope of new business opportunities and possibilities." And with a smile she added "Now we utilise the naturally divergent thinking of our colleagues with different cultural backgrounds to create innovative business solutions."

Isn't it time you revisited your Social Contract?

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