Executive corner

Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal

ISSN: 1352-7606

Article publication date: 25 October 2011

Citation

(2011), "Executive corner", Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Vol. 18 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/ccm.2011.13618daa.001

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Executive corner

Article Type: Executive corner From: Cross Cultural Management, Volume 18, Issue 4

Ronen Koehler Head of Education Services, Check Point Software Technologies and the former Global Head of Human Resources. He is a certified Organizational Consultant, and a graduate of the OCD program – Organizational Consultancy and Development, offered by OFEK, the Israeli organization for Psycho-Analytic systemic approach to organizations. In his “previous life” he was a submarine captain in the Israeli Navy. He is married with three children and lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Interviewed by Elio Vera: Executive Corner Editor

Elio Vera – What are some of the current cross cultural management challenges within your organization or industry?

Ronen Koehler – Check Point is a global organization, spreading over more than 50 countries, and selling to more than 170 countries. We believe that as an Israeli founded company, our only way to continue being a global leader in the field of internet security is to keep growing as a global company that is not characterized by specific cultural traits model. This means few concrete processes that are enforced on the organization by definition:

  • We do not re-locate people. We think that the best talent will always be found locally.

  • We have a standard set of procedures that are common for all locations: hiring, training, leadership development, performance evaluation, compensation programs to name the important ones that are related to HR.

  • Our structure is a unified “one entity” organization, so all roles are done on a global basis, in a functional approach – Finance is managed from Israel, Marketing from the US, BD from the US and R&D from Israel, etc. We do not have “geographical silos” that work only on a local basis.

All the above and other aspects as well, mean that we must build a unified culture that is not depending on geographical aspects of culture, but are based on universal behaviours, values and norms. This is a significant challenge, but when you get there you learn that you have a company with people all over the world who are focusing on the same goals and behaving in a very similar way.

Elio Vera – In your opinion, what are some of the major cross cultural challenges your company will face in the future?

Ronen Koehler – The major challenge is growth.

As long as you have relatively small sites in many countries you can create that “global culture”. As you grow, local sites become critical masses and then they start creating some “sub-cultures”. Having many “sub-cultures” shifts the on-going cultural dissonance from the individual to a group. It is much harder to change a group’s basic assumptions, behaviours and norms then the individual’s.

Another challenge related to growth is that creating global processes requires a lot of “personal touch” and “personal relationship” – only if people from all nations meet colleagues from other nations, you are able to create the sense of being part of a global company. The larger you grow, the more difficult it is to create these type of encounters and people then might lose the sense of being part of a global culture, and just feel that they are part of a small group in a small site.

But, the most challenging aspect is the leadership aspect. As long as the company is at a certain size, you can maintain the functional cross-geographical management structure. It is the manager who people look at for guidance on behaviours and norms, so if you are able to work with the managers, train them and develop their skills, then you have a good chance of being able to maintain the global culture. At a certain point, we might lose the ability to work with all managers around the world and this might make use lose control on the company culture and values.

Elio Vera – Please share an interesting anecdote or case you have experienced in managing your company across cultures.

Ronen Koehler – A few years ago I visited our office in Japan. When I arrived in Narita Airport, our country manager there greeted me in the airport and rushed me to the underground in order to catch the 12:15 train. We dashed together – he in his three-piece suit, me with a suitcase – to make it to the train and we did. When I asked him why we had to take the 12:15 train, he said that “this is the plan for your visit”. It sounded reasonable to me until I have asked him when the following train was and his answer was 12:22. I was sure that I had arrived on another planet. We visited some clients the following day and the level of formality was very high. Everyone was addressing our country manager, whom I have known as “Matsu”, as “Matsushita-San”, bowing and being very silent when he was talking. At the end of the day we all got back to the Check Point office in Tokyo. Once we entered, they all removed their ties, the level of noise went up dramatically and Matsushita-San was now Matsu even for the lowest level employee. In a minute I felt back in the culture I knew from our office all over the world – practical, easy going yet professional and to the point.

Elio Vera – You say that: “Creating global processes requires a lot of “personal touch” and “personal relationship”, only if people from all nations meet colleagues from other nations, you are able to create the sense of being part of a global company”. In fact the psychology of institutions teaches that to create a “spirit of group” and a “sense of belonging” it is necessary to create a mutual exchange and create a feeling of reciprocal proximity, with the aim to diminish the social distance inside the group. On the other hand, inside the multinational companies the differences in culture, nationality, values could widen it. The less the social distance among individuals and groups is, the more the degree of cooperation and innovation skills develop.

So, considering your experience working in a multinational company, what is necessary to favour a collaborative exchange and how is it possible to create a feeling of mutual proximity, a spirit of group, a sense of belongings? Does it exist in your company a specific programme or activity to encourage these attitudes?

Ronen Koehler – This is a very good question. The practical meaning is that we have to work in the non-common way and actually encourage employees to travel around the world. Most companies see travel as an expense they need to minimize. We see it as a necessity that we have to use in order to nurture collaboration. Specifically we have a program we call “New Hire Orientation” that is a week long orientation program, that is conducted in Israel and all new employees from all places around the world participate in. The program includes meetings with all executives, training, etc. but the most significant part of it are team building activities that include the new employees. That way they learn what we mean when we say “global company”, they earn new friends from other countries, and they become part of the large group that is Check Point. The New Hire program is mentally loaded so it has a very strong internal impact on the participants.

As I mentioned we also encourage our employees to travel to other company sites for short visits of collaboration, or for few months of stay, while at the same time we do not allow people to re-locate for a long period.

You also underline the importance of “The leadership aspect” saying “It is the manager who people look at for guidance on behaviours and norms, so if you are able to work with the managers, train them and develop their skills, then you have a good chance of being able to maintain the global culture”.

Elio Vera – Therefore, in your group a conscious effort to develop the individual skills is done to encourage the intelligence of the employees to express themselves regardless of nationality? In which way intelligence and personal abilities are rewarded?

Ronen Koehler – I can say that the attitude towards openness is probably the one value or behavior that has the highest level of diversity between nationalities and cultures, but having said that, I think we managed to develop our culture to a high level of allowing people to express their views. In my opinion this happens mainly because we encourage personal contact and communication. When an employee meets an executive in a very non-formal environment he sees that even the executive is a human being, thus feels easier to express his thoughts. So, this is mainly a “personal example” behavior that you need to promote by creating the right opportunities to demonstrate the behavior.

Elio Vera – Further, it was possible for you to find thoughts and moods of different national groups to test the extent to which they feel discriminated or not, or in a subordinate position towards the national reference group or other more important groups ?

Ronen Koehler – The way Check Point is structured is a way of high respect for a specific nationality – because our sales managers in a specific country are from that country (no-relocation policy) there are almost no opportunities to discriminate.

Elio Vera – Finally, how the advent and fast development of the New Technologies help or interfere in the organizational structure of your company. And which effect, positive and maybe negative, has on your personal experience?

Ronen Koehler – This is a good point. With the technologies we have today everyone plays at the same field. An e-mail message or a blog in a specific country is 100 per cent the same as it is in another place. In Check Point the only language we use is English. We do not allow any correspondence in any other language, even if the people on the correspondence are from a different place (so when I send a message to a colleague in Israel, it will be in English) – this removes a lot of potential barriers.

Ronen KoehlerCheck Point Software Technologies