Global Companies Reexamine Corporate Culture

Personnel Journal, August 1994 | Go to article overview

Global Companies Reexamine Corporate Culture


McDonald's has long been an American tradition and part of our national culture. But the "billions and billions served" are no longer only U.S. citizens. In fact, of the 14,250 restaurants worldwide, almost 5,000 are outside the United States. Since the Golden Arches went global in 1967, the company has had to perform a cultural balancing act: Like other U.S. organizations operating internationally, Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's Corporation has had to find a way to maintain its corporate identity around the globe without trampling on the diverse cultures of the countries in which it does business. "McDonald's employment practices and philosophies, in essence, are similar around the world," says Amy Boynton, director in the company's international human resources department. "But that doesn't mean that the way these practices are executed is the same from one country to the next. That's where cultural differences come into play."

For McDonald's, areas of operation are as widespread as Kuwait and Sweden. In all, Boynton says there are restaurants in 73 countries--employing approximately 750,000 people. It's these employees who are key to keeping McDonald's corporate culture alive. Boynton says that the company strives to hire management team members who have skills that complement its corporate values: "We're looking for people who are customer-service oriented, who have high work standards and who have the ability to coach others," she explains. In addition, Boynton says that the managers must have good individual leadership styles and strategic leadership abilities, be able to solve problems and have the ability to manage the business. She stresses however, that these characteristics may differ greatly from place to place. "We're not saying exactly how someone has to do something or be," she says. "That's unfair and culturally inappropriate."

WIDESPREAD CONCERN

McDonald's isn't the only company grappling with this issue. According to a recent survey of HR managers by New York City-based The Conference Board, promotion of corporate values and culture is the top priority for 15% of global companies, compared with only 6% just five years ago.

But how do these HR professionals meld their corporate cultures and the cultures of the areas in which they operate? "Very carefully," says Calvin Reynolds, senior counselor with Organization Resources Counselors, Inc. in Ossining, New York. Reynolds, who has more than 30 years' experience working with global businesses, says that one solution is to establish broad HR principles, rather than specific guidelines. "There's a total lack of homogeneity in this world of ours; if companies start to generalize too much on HR policies, they get into a mess," he says. "I think it's fine to come up with a general set of principles, but global companies can't try to detail everything."

Richard Gros agrees. As vice president of personnel at Somers, New York-based PepsiCo Foods and Beverages International, Gros says that PepsiCo has determined four core competencies to be essential in the company's recruitment practices worldwide. By limiting these competencies to four, Gros says that PepsiCo is able to uphold its corporate values within a diverse population that--by design--includes many non-U.S. executives. "We use only four core characteristics; everything else is determined by what's appropriate for a particular culture," he explains. "There isn't a template on organizational structure around the world. As long as we have the same attitudes and cultural underpinnings, every other aspect of the business can be different."

CORE COMPETENCIES

What are PepsiCo's four must-haves? Gros says that the first is integrity, which the company defines as honesty, candor, the ability to communicate openly and the ability to deliver what's promised. "Because our population in PepsiCo Foods and Beverages International is almost 70,000 people, we don't have time for memos and a lot of bureaucracy," he says. …

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