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Cultural sensitivity


How to address cultural challenges at the board level?

Our recent NCD Board Circle dealt with the subject of cultural differences – both at an organizational and national level. Jurgen Stegmann, a supervisory board member of ABN AMRO, introduced the subject by sharing his personal experiences. He wrote his INSEAD thesis on culture and was inspired by Erin Meyer. Erin wrote the book Culture map, and is one of the professors in the INSEAD international directors program that Jurgen participated in, together with Fennemiek. Jurgen’s message to the NCD circle was that culture should always be on the agenda of boards, but even more so during mergers & acquisitions and when your board includes members from different cultural backgrounds.

In the discussion the Chatham House Rule applied so we won’t share any of the specific experiences. However, a key insight for the participants was that although most agreed this is a key topic for boards, few actively have it on the agenda. Together, we came to the conclusion that it helps to frame the topic in a relevant way, how to do this varies per organization. For some it will help to frame it as innovation culture linked to business transformation, for others it helps to link it to quality improvement or to define culture as a risk. Other topics we discussed were the role of the yearly self-evaluation; does it include questions about the tone at the top, culture and behavior? And lastly, the mixed blessing of diversity, in theory it makes us better but in practice it can lead to more complexity and cultural misunderstandings.

When did you last discuss culture in the board? And how do you make diversity a positive asset?

PS. Our next NCD meeting is a dinner on Tuesday Sept 10, we’ll collectively design a non-executive board for an international scale-up. Are you active as a supervisory board member and interested in joining one of our NCD circles to experience what it is like? Please let us know by mail to info@caracta.com and we’ll invite you as our guest for a future session.

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