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3 Tips For Integrating Corporate Culture Into Developing Nations

By Debbie Nicol (1181 words)
Posted in International Management on April 30, 2013

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By Debbie Nicol, Managing Director, 'business en motion"

Developing nations are just that – developing!  Similar to a child, as he or she develops, time is spent gathering information, experiencing different perspectives, receiving guidance, strengthening foundations and making choices that will provide a road to their desired future. This process is no different for developing nations.  International organizations must take all of this into consideration when they establish themselves overseas.  Forcing corporate policies, procedures and regulations onto their operations located in a developing country is not the answer because initial lip service will fade quickly. Simply accepting the local culture is not the answer either because nothing is likely to get accomplished while they wait for your guidance.  The key to sustaining a successful international operation in developing nations is to integrate meaningful policies over time.  Here are 3 tips to consider as you develop your own integration strategies.


3 Tips For Integrating Corporate Culture Into Developing Nations


Tip 1: Never believe a corporate culture is superior to a country’s culture.


Integration means to become a part of, and not to dominate, exclude or separate.  Efforts in integration must be based on commonality, thereby allowing the future to be what was always intended yet somehow brighter or stronger.


For example, a policy from HQ provides an essential, non-negotiable guideline that you discover contradicts the views and practices of your host country’s culture. How will you handle that?

  • Apply a ‘just do it’ implementation approach?
  • Call upon the resources at HQ to feel the cultural misalignment, steering them towards a solution that will serve both parties?
  • Other?


Tip 2: Slowly, slowly!


Integration is a change, and change takes time! People need to have the ‘why’ question answered.  With many check points along the way to provide tangible evidence of value, highlight and promote any changes giving local people the opportunity to spread the subject in their words.  If people are not excited by the changes or can’t relate to them, the value you see in the change is simply irrelevant.


For example, how would you introduce the corporate commitment to annual appraisals when in fact this concept is virtually alien, and never been adopted before?

  • Break the process into ‘parts’ with success in part one essential before part two is introduced.  Perhaps start with on-the-job undocumented chats before documented ones are introduced in order to allow employees & managers to feel the difference between objective and subjective feedback.
  • Introduce the process with a timeline and no supporting education initiative.
  • Other?


Tip 3: Highlight benefits that serve all nations equally.


Integration should serve the development of the whole and not the few.  That’s why it is important to document any tangible differences between cultures.  Before you roll out international initiatives, first define the intended value each process or procedure is suppose to have and then determine if that intended value represents the actual outcome in the developing nation. When times get tough, value is what we seek and values are all we have!


You can implement a ‘temperature gauge’ to indicate acceptance on all fronts by working with representatives from each level of the organization to provide initial feedback and input on the changes you intend to implement.  By giving these individuals a ‘taste’ of the change prior to implementing it fully, you can get an idea if your intended value exists or is lost in cultural differences.  If the value does not exist, it is probably not worth implementing.


Comparative Examples of Integrations in Nigeria & UAE:



Nigeria has been attempting to emerge as a corporate and ethical business environment for over 15 years now.  International assistance from bodies such as the World Bank and United Nations abound, supposedly building a culture to serve the nation, and allow all to prosper from the sheer wealth of resources the nation possesses.  Systems have been built based on the success they brought  ‘other environments’.  The civil service, a product of the international assistance, is now embedded with promotions based on years of service whilst systems in the private sector, one which has seen limited assistance, incorporate promotions based on productivity.  On paper, one sounds more robust, sustainable and able to contribute. In reality, can it always do so, and if not, why not? 



UAE has emerged from desert sands in the hands of the British oil explorers in the late 60’s. It really was in the developing phase for over 20 – 25 years. With this came much awareness of British systems, the US then joined in and once again a developing nation chose to ‘take on’ systems that worked. Why – possibly it was faster than to re-invent, possibly it was all there to simply implement, and more likely the trust factor had major influence.  As the years tick by with lessons learned, UAE is now seeing many of the integrated systems evolve to a level that will not only integrate to the changing society, yet also help take the changing society to an even better place!


With business existing as an ecosystem with much dependency upon external factors, integration really depends on leadership’s capability to:

  • Recognize where we’ve been, where we are now and where we’d like to be in the future.
  • Recognize the reality of the context in that environment – the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • View any integration through the eyes of service to all equally.


When the above comparison is put side by side, the key to successful integration is clear and undisputedly influenced by the calibre of leadership.  Where would you stand in the comparison stakes?



{#/pub/images/debbienicol.jpg}Written by Debbie NicolManaging Director, 'business en motion' 
With leadership workshops, strategic approaches to organizational development and change, executive coaching and public speaking engagements, Debbie’s USP is the ability to open minds of those around her. Offering both traditional and contemporary toolkits focused on story-telling as the impetus for self and corporate leadership change. Sectors span across Asia, Africa and specializing in Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.


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