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Culture & Business: Why they must be in harmony

Organizational culture is the sum total of an organization’s assumptions, experiences, philosophy, and values, and are expressed in its self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world, and future expectations. Simply put, culture is “how we do things here”.

The December edition of the NASSCOM Emerge Friday 2.0 talk held at Taj Deccan on 16th December 2010, had Hari Thalapalli, the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief People Officer of Mahindra Satyam, addressing the gathering on ‘Effective business across cultures’. The forum began with everyone in the packed hall accepting that culture has become an integral part of the corporate world, yet ‘Culture’ as a concept is often misused. Hari defined Culture as a synchronization between what is said will be done and what is being done.

Talking about culture within the organization, Hari highlighted the importance of questioning. Organizations must encourage their employees to ASK. Encouraging them to ask questions empowers them to think individually. Indian culture has inculcated in us over time the notion of ‘respecting’ our elders, i.e., their word is final and not to be questioned. And this has led to Indians being viewed as subservient. Unfortunately, this has trickled down and penetrated into our corporate culture as well. As an organization you want to be known as adaptable but not rigid or subservient. Moreover, every individual member of the organization represents its culture.

What I found interesting was the fact that it’s in the first 90 days of a person’s job that she makes an impression of the organization. Organizations should maintain the impression created through the recruitments even after it is done. Hari illustrated this with a typical HR-Recruit instance. If the HR team believes its job to be over once the employee meets her manager, the employee develops an impression that the organization cares less about its members and more about its output. Instead, the impression should be that the organization cares equally about its members and output. It’s all about synchronization of what is said and what is done.

Speaking of working across international cultures, we often stereotype a region’s culture. “The American culture is very open”; “Italians have great style”; and we believe that every American or Italians fits the bill. However, it’s not always so. For an organization it is essential that they look at people and other organizations independently but within the culture. Organizations go out of their way to embrace other’s culture and practices, but a question raised by a member of the audience was, how far is too far? When do we stop being ‘flexible/accommodating enough’? To this Hari said, “When you get hurt”. That is, when you have to forego your personal values is when you stop.

Hari also spoke about change and its effect on organizations’ culture. Change is an inconvenient truth that organizations have to deal with. You can either make change happen, or watch change happen, or be the victim of change. Culture changes over time. While some changes happen gradually over a period of time, some are sudden. Either way, trying to fight it will do you more harm than good.

Being just an intern and very new to the corporate world, this discussion highlighted for me the new direction of the corporate world. Hari brought a lot of global experience and the audience was very responsive in sharing their own international experiences. It was interesting to sit amongst and listen to entrepreneurs and senior executives talk about the errors and corrections made by their companies.

Key Highlights:

  • Culture should be a synchronization of what is said and what is being done
  • You want to be known as adaptable but not rigid or subservient
  • Stereotyping cultures maybe easy but not necessarily reality
  • You can either make change happen, or watch it happen, or be the victim of change



1 Discussion on “Culture & Business: Why they must be in harmony”
  • Prejudice is the only enemy of existence. Personal as well as Corporate character should always anticipate and appreciate endless possibilities and keep their feet firm on the ground while riding the breezes and winds. To do that, each one should be original. The culture shock comes when we ape others.