Supporting employees in cultural shifts could be a great tool to initiate engagement

A professional mentor for close to 15 years and another work colleague who is now an awesome friend – met these two women at separate points of my professional career. But recently realised how they both happened to come from small towns in northern Punjab and today against all odds are ruling their career graphs. What is stunning, is them turning into brilliant role models, swimming against all social and cultural changes, they had to tide over. And both highlighted that what if someone would have guided them about the lifestyle in Mumbai and how the work culture changes here versus any other city in the country, their initial struggle would have been non-existent. 

Yes, often we assume – living in Mumbai or Delhi – that anyone coming to these cities should be able to manage themselves because of the available comforts. But we forget to evaluate that this is our assumption of the city, being a resident. For instance, in case of someone making a shift from another region of the country to Mumbai, knowing how our traffic is terrible and we need to plan better for being on time in meetings; or what should one wear to a particular party; or the fact that networking with work colleagues is an integral part of the work culture – could be true pearls of wisdom, for someone. 

Just as the city sets different tones for a living, so does each organisation have a unique culture, owing to the geography they are located in. Could communication professionals educate new employees about social and cultural changes when individuals move countries?

A lot of organisations spend time educating employees about the work culture and expectations out of them as individuals. But maybe spending a little time on how the local culture impacts the work culture, could be a starting point? This could automatically explain why some cultures encourage handshakes and some don’t, and why some cultures are particular of being on time whereas others just can’t manage without delays. 

In the book ‘The Leader as Communicator’, authors Robert Mai and Alan Akerson emphasise on the importance of leaders ensuring the importance of culture within the company. They say, “The leader of an organisation is automatically the designated chief communication officer and is accountable for all communication in the organisation”. This is a widely known concept and shared  as to why CEO’s need to be the change that they want. Could we pick the same idea and take it forward to ensure that – knowledge about regional culture and its impact on local businesses – should also be a critical communication package by the leaders, to begin with?

This approach could probably make change easier for the new employees and who could be moulded in to future torchbearers for any change communication in the organisation. Infact, they could be shaped into perfect brand ambassadors for the company, to narrate the story of the brilliant support they received when they moved geographies. This could in turn be a wonderful success story to be shared within the organisation, eventually making employees the company’s reliable brand ambassador. 

As McKinsey & Company writes, “CEOs who only give lip service to a transformation will find everyone else doing the same.” Leaders must be cognisant about the values they reinforce at every step of their follow through (source – Bonfyre blog). This is where communication professionals can fill the gap by ensuring that promised words are converted into actions, within the organisation. Also, an opportunity where internal communications and HR teams could collaborate to design a complete module for settling employees into new countries or regions (within the same country). 

Sometimes, understanding a basic change of how the work culture varies from that in a factory versus of that in an office, could also be a huge impediment for employees, if not educated well. And similarly, this is also applicable for employees moving offices or regions within the country. From basics, of what the local markets offer, how the schools operate, what are the living standards – to larger areas of what is considered appropriate when approaching colleagues or leadership team members within the organisation, changes completely. 

At Castrol, during the ICC World Cup Cricket championship, for all global team members traveling to India, we did have an information kit apprising them about the local weather, food (especially street food), travel norms, connecting with on-ground teams and safety regulations. This simple addition went a long way in comforting team members and allowing them to enjoy the chaos that our country offered. 

Introducing and educating about the social culture and the behaviours is as important as ever. The planet will soon see all of us travelling and looking for options across boundaries. So, maybe now is a good time to start working on this piece, for any communications professional.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Pooja Trehan
Pooja Trehan, VP, Communications & Public Policy.

Building brands through story-telling is what keeps me going! Having spent 18years in this industry, I am far more excited to experiment on what's next to unlearn. Worked with industries across FMCG, Oil & Gas, Technology, Fashion, Telecom, Media House, F&B and now Sports, my curiosity to craft a narrative only gets deeper. Marathons, Black Coffee, learning about Scotch and Malts, reading everything i can, travelling, are few of other personal passions that I happily pursue.

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