“Can you come and fix our culture?” is a question I am frequently asked, and my immediate reply is: “Do you know what needs to be fixed?”
The most common answer, unsurprisingly, is “we want more efficient ways of working”, and with 96% of respondents to a recent Booz & Company survey agreeing that changes to culture were needed, and 51% feeling a major overhaul was required, culture change has become a big topic in the Middle East.
No doctor would prescribe treatment without diagnosis. The same applies to business: why try to tackle business transformation, mergers and acquisitions or in-sourcing, without first undertaking appropriate data collection and analysis? Wrong interventions can be damaging to any company, not least in the Middle East.
The challenges in the region are unique. In no other part of the world can organisations sometimes include individuals from 50 different countries and six continents. This exceptionally diverse, often much younger, workforce brings extra dimensions, including a multitude of ethnic and religious traditions and languages. The often high staff turnover requires companies to constantly train and reinforce company vision, values and corporate ways of working.
Can culture retain talent?
YouGov recently published a study showing that 82% of employees in the Middle East and North Africa saw team spirit as a key attribute in a job, and 35% were even willing to leave their current employer if they were not comfortable with the organisation’s culture.
Failing to have a strong business culture, team spirit and company loyalty not only leads to operational inefficiency, but loss of key talent.
Why assess values?
Surveys and polls are invaluable when preparing a variety of organisational change programmes. The numbers and facts invite a powerful and constructive dialogue in facilitating changes in a company.
Middle Eastern managers are often younger, talented, perhaps less experienced, but very critical, and require transparent tangible data.
The presentation of facts, analysis and assessment encourages them to acknowledge their teams’ values and expectations – thus creating a true sense of urgency for change.
Survey content and questions then become a natural part of leadership development, and help management articulate their own leadership values and ethics, agree on necessary action, monitor progress and take the initiative in implementing changes.
Does the survey tool serve its purpose in the Middle East?
There are abundant survey tools in the West but few offer Arabic language support. Tools that group responses to cultural dimensions do not always correctly capture local values. I have seen well-known Western survey tools reveal unexpected results, when, for instance, analysing ‘power distance’. Local organisations often have a combination of a strong hierarchical structure with a consensus-driven decision-making process.
Identity and belonging are not just strong traits of Arab culture, but symptomatic of the multicultural, expatriate environment. Work and business relations are influenced by bonds and fellowship within ethnic, national, religious and family backgrounds. Such phenomena can lead to survey results showing strong team solidarity, when, in fact, the organisation is fragmented into discreet groups, leading to internal shortcomings.
What does you survey tool need?
To gain the most from an online assessment tool it is important leaders and their consultants can adapt, translate, or run it in conjunction with customer and employee satisfaction surveys. Questions can be tailored to capture specific values on topics such as nationalisation, gender, ethical management and regulations and CSR.
Cross-cultural assessment tools often overlook simple variables such as age or years of experience. The average age of staff in European organisations is sometimes 10 years higher than in the Middle East, which undoubtedly has an impact on experience and approach to processes, decision-making, curiosity, innovation and motivation.
Questions to consider when selecting a tool
Arabic and multilingual: Does the online tool support translation into different languages, including Arabic and right-to-left writing?
Middle East culture: Do questions truly capture the cultural context of the Middle East (age, gender, belonging, nationality, ethnicity, religion and family)?
Open interface: Are you or your consultant able to make changes to the questions to align with customer and employee satisfaction, as well as projects on gender and nationalisation?
Cultural dimension: Are you locked into a pre-defined cultural dimension? Can you access responses to individual questions?
Giving the organisation a push to change
Finally, in most of my change programmes, I use survey and assessment tools – whether they are on management or middle management teams, sales teams, the entire organisation, or individual coaching, in order to:
- Accelerate change through self-awareness
- Evaluate tangible data and go beyond perceptions and emotions
- Provide a priority list for work packages
- Enable meaningful group discussions
- Track changes when regularly used