June 5, 2018

The Realities of Managing Company Culture Across Locations


A strong company culture can provide you with a significant competitive edge, or at least that’s what the majority of business leaders think. It’s hard to really quantify this advantage, but we all know it when we see it. Companies with well-defined and committed cultures focused on positivity do better at attracting top talent, and they also tend to be more productive.

It’s hard enough to manage company culture when everything is in one place. But when you’re dealing with multiple locations, things get even crazier. Your norms and rules mix with the local culture, and this can be a real challenge.

To be able to successfully manage company culture across different locations, you need to be realistic about what you can and cannot do. This will help you get a better understanding of what you need to focus on and what you need to leave alone.

Here are some things to consider to help you understand the reality of managing company culture.

People are infinitely different

This is something we all know to be true, but we don’t always appreciate its depth. Our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions are all shaped by the world around us. What one person considers to be normal might be ludicrous to another, and vice versa. And no matter the situation, this will always show through.

Communication is one of the best examples of this. It’s draped in nuance, and what we communicate is not always received the way we intended. For example, there is a large difference between direct and indirect communication. Some cultures value one over the other, and while neither is right nor wrong, there can be trouble when these cultural norms overlap.

When someone is operating in a culture where direct communication is valued, more open-ended communication can be seen as vague and useless, and therefore is often ignored. However, in contexts where this vagueness is expected, more pointed communication can feel like an order, which can lead to resentment.

To manage company culture across different locations, you need to be sensitive to these differences. Just because something is done differently than what you’re used to, this doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And believing you will be able to make meaningful changes in the way people do things is just foolish. You’re asking for something that cannot be, and this will create tension and friction.

The solution of this is to try and find people familiar with both cultures, i.e. that of the company and of the location where you are operating. These individuals will understand what it is you are trying to do, and they will be able to make the appropriate adjustments so that they are understood and absorbed by everyone. Yet this will require a good deal of delegation, something not all managers do particularly well.

So, the first step in successfully managing company culture in different locations is to make yourself comfortable with the reality of difference, and to accept you’ll need help. You can’t change everything, and there’s often no point in trying. Doing so will only lead to confrontation and conflict.

You need to establish constancy

However, just because people are different, this does not mean they cannot be brought together around a common goal. You might not be able to influence exactly how people function, but you do have some control over what they do.

Yet if you don’t make this abundantly clear, people will decide for you, and this isn’t always what’s best for your company. Your job as a manager is to find a way to establish constancy amidst all the difference and diversity in your organization.

Your vision, mission statement and core values will be crucial in helping you do this. By clearly defining who you are and what your identity is as a company, you’re giving people a foundation upon which they can build.

Say, for example, you’ve defined quality customer service as a core value, and your vision has to do with empowering people to communicate freely. This will be applied differently in different contexts. The types and styles of communication and organizing work will be different, but it doesn’t really matter. The culture that develops at each location will be different, but it will be adequately connected to the overall company culture you’re trying to promote.

So, one of the realities in managing company culture across different locations is that things can be simultaneously different but the same. If you can successfully establish and communicate who you are, each location will be a variation on the overall company culture you’re working towards, helping make it more authentic and effective.

Groups will feel left out

When managing a company with different locations, we want to think everyone is equal. And theoretically they are. But one of the realities we must accept is that one location will emerge as the “center” with the others being considered the “periphery.”

Developing a strong company culture requires internal cohesion. Everyone, in each location, must be committed and dedicated to the overall mission and values of the company. As solidarity breaks down, so will commitment, and your culture will suffer as a result.

The ideal solution to this is moving people around, but this is often impractical. So what we must do instead is find ways to combat this potential segmentation. And the first step is awareness. By recognizing when we are favoring one group over another, we can begin to take steps to bring people together.

Solutions can vary in complexity and scope. For example, you as a manager could make it a point to spend an equal amount of time in each location, checking in on things and getting to know people in their own environments. This will help put a face to some of the top-down directives, and will make cultural buy-in more likely.

But you can also do simple things that will help people feel more included, such as providing all locations with similar perks, such as a free coffee subscription. This might seem insignificant, but it demonstrates to people you’re sensitive to the separation that exists between the different locations and that you’re doing something to break it down.

It’s going to be hard

Probably one of the most important realities to wrap your head around is that managing culture across different locations is going to be difficult. You will make mistakes, no doubt about it. But this is okay. It’s all part of the growth process. However, if you’re aware of these realities, and stay true to your values and mission, you will succeed in bringing people together to build a strong company culture across any number of locations.

More from Vistage:

David Smith, High Performance CultureAbout the author: Raj Jana founded JavaPresse with one goal in mind, creating great products that make your morning coffee an incredible experience. He has team members in various locations across the globe and he fully understands the importance of a defined and positive company culture.

Our gift to you...

Apply now for your personal leadership consultation with a Vistage Chair. They'll help you assess areas of strength of your business and identify areas of potential growth.

Apply Now

    Subscribe to Vistage Insights