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  • audreybevan

What does a process have to do with culture?

Processes like everything are impacted by the context and circumstances that surround them.

Think of the process you follow to get to work. It could go something like this:

1) Get dressed

2) Have coffee

3) Catch the underground to stop abc

4) Walk to the office at the following address xyz

If someone lives in your city they will know which underground you mean and how to catch the underground. They will know what dress code is appropriate in your office. They will also know how long the whole process will take and the ‘tools’ they will need. In short they know what you mean.

Now imagine this person lives in a place very different to your city. They don’t know whether to buy a ticket or use their phone (does their phone even work there?) or how to be able to catch the underground. They don’t know whether to queue politely or to push forward to get onto the train. Your process assumes prior knowledge and understanding of where you live.

The same happens in corporate life. New processes are often designed, and rolled out globally without making all the details explicit, which inevitably causes challenges when the implicit is not obvious to all. Typically this happens when new technology is rolled out.

I remember an instance when a new HRIS (HR Information System) was being implemented globally in an organisation headquartered in the UK. All the processes were documented, training sessions given etc. From the project team’s perspective they had provided all the required information and it was now up to each country to apply it. A few months later the project team went to Asia to assess the compliance with the new processes. Shock horror – only half had been implemented.

A number of the processes assumed knowledge the local teams didn’t have or that things worked in the same way as in the UK. Contracts of employment couldn’t be printed to be signed by the company for example: in the UK digital signatures are widely accepted but in China contracts still need to be stamped. So the China team didn’t implement that process. Another process said to save the employment documents in the personnel file. The Indonesia team had assumed the physical personnel file as is common practice there, when the global team meant the digital personnel file which came with the HRIS.

The efficiencies predicted by implementing new technology were lost. The preferred communication style of each country also added to the complexity. As each process was reworked in partnership with local teams, the implicit was made explicit and adaptations were made to accommodate local requirements.

When you are a subject expert, it is easy to forget that others may not understand all aspects of your best practice process or that your process may not work everywhere. It takes effort to seek input from a variety of cultures to ensure every step is communicated explicitly and understood globally. But putting this effort in at the start will cost you a lot less time, money and frustration than having to revisit processes during/ after implementation.

So here are a few principles that you may want to consider when reviewing processes:

- Use plain language – no acronym, no jargon, no expression

- Simplify the process as much as possible

- Test the feasibility of the process in as wide a variety of location as possible. Ask which of the countries have very different and complex legal requirements to where you are and use them as test cases.

- Test the understanding of your process from a diverse group of people particularly people who speak another language, live in a different country etc.

These principles should be applied to all of your design steps, user testing, training materials etc.


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