Selected views on the organisational culture of multinational corporiations
Alena Safrova Drasilova (Masaryk University, Czech Republic) presented her research on conflict and culture in multinational corporations (MNCs). Drasilova surveyed people from 2509 branches of 335 MNCs, in an effort to understand the influence of headquarters culture on the culture of branches located in the Czech Republic. The preliminary results indicated that MNCs headquartered in Europe displayed less conflict at the branch level than companies headquartered elsewhere.
The discussion that followed the paper was extensive—clearly the paper stimulated the interest of the audience. One aspect of the discussion explored the notion of cultural alignment in a category Drasilova described as global (companies that identified themselves as not having a national head office—Bosch being German, or IKEA being Swedish, for example—but rather a pervasive culture in which the characteristics of the brand itself prevails over the location of the country—McDonalds, for example)
It would be very interesting to understand if any linkages between culture/conflict and performance exist, particularly whether the presence or absence of conflict makes any difference. Drasilova said that no work had been undertaken yet, but that this is the next step in the research. I look forward to reading this next phase of work, because I suspect the approach she plans to take may well have parallels to my own work.
The 9th European Conference on Management Leadership and Governance was held at Alpin-Adria University, Klagenfurt, Austria.
The opening address, by Julia Sloan of the USA, explored the topic of learning to think strategically, and the importance of such thinking to sustainable business performance. Sloan drew a clear demarcation between strategic thinking, strategic planning and strategic implementation. She asserted that most organisational leaders have reasonably well-developed planning and implementation skills, but poorly developed thinking skills.
Whereas strategic planning tends to be linear, tidy, convergent, clean and aims to solve problems, strategic thinking tends to be non-linear, iterative, messy and aims to suspend problem solving while the nature of the problem is more clearly understood. Sloan suggested that leaders need to become skilled in strategic thinking and strategic planning. Otherwise, if leaders can only but plan in detail—without asking questions of context—and, as a result, expose their organisations to the very real chance of getting it wrong.
Sloan's thesis is as compelling as it is self-evident—which begs the question: Why do so many leaders ignore the strategic thinking element? Is it too hard, too complex, or is it simply a case of leaders not knowing what they don't know? Perhaps more importantly, how can this gap be bridged? Our business schools probably have an important responsibility in addressing these questions. They need to take stock of Sloan's thesis, with a view to adjusting their curricula, to emphasise the cognitive skills that are so obviously missing from the graduates emerging from their programmes.
Readers wanting to more should read Sloan's book "Learning to think strategically", the second edition of which has just been published.
Later this week—on Thu 14 and Fri 15 November—I will be speaking at the 9th European Conference on Management, Leadership and Governance in Klagenfurt, Austria. I'm looking forward to renewing acquaintances and making some new connections; to presenting a paper to an international audience which will include some of the world's leading governance scholars; to testing some emergent ideas; and, to learning from others throughout the two days.
I plan to post reflections here during the conference, so check back if you'd like to hear about the latest developments in management, leadership and governance research and practice.
The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) has just published its 2013–2014 Public Company Governance Survey. The news release and several top-line findings are available here. A copy of the full survey report is available from the NACD bookstore.
The report makes for interesting reading. One metric that caught my attention was the average amount of time that board members commit to their work. Respondents claimed their annual time commitment was 235 hours per board. Using an 8-hour day as the basis, this means that directors of public companies in America commit, on average, 2.5 days per month to each board of which they are a director. Does this sound like a lot of time, or not much? By way of comparison, most boards of public companies in New Zealand meet ten or eleven times per year, and board meetings typically last between four and seven hours. Even taking the generous end of these ranges, and doubling the figure to account for committee work and pre-reading, the figure for a New Zealand director is about 154 hours, or roughly two-thirds of the American figure.
What amount of time is reasonable? Clearly, boards and companies are complex, socially dynamic, and subject to the vagaries of markets and many internal and external factors, so every situation is different. However, I would have thought that a figure closer to 400–450 hours per year would be necessary, if a director is to understand the business of the business well (this being a prerequisite to making an effective contribution to the development of strategy and the making of informed strategic decisions), and monitor performance well. Could the lower levels of commitment that seem to be typical be material to the various failures of governance that have come to light in recent years?
Great news—in the form of two emails—awaited my arrival at the desk this morning.
The first was from the organisers of the 2nd International Conference on Management, Leadership and Governance, to be held at Babson University, Mass, USA, in March 2014, advising that my paper entitled Towards a re-conceptualisation of governance, via strategic decision-making and performance has been accepted onto the conference programme. That this paper has been accepted is a significant milestone on my doctoral journey, for it signals that the ideas and conclusions that are starting to emerge from my work are of interest to others.
The second was from the family that I lived with during my AFS student exchange to northern Minnesota in 1979–80. Somewhat presumptuously, to wrote to them last week to mention the possibility of the conference, and to ask whether I could visit if the trip went ahead. My host parents are now well into their 80s, and I have not seen them since 1990, so I was hoping they'd be agreeable. The reply was amazing, for not only are they happy for me to visit, but they have already organised a function, and arranged for my host siblings to travel from various points on the compass to be there as well.
News like this really lift one's spirit and makes the long—and at times arduous—doctoral journey so very worthwhile.
I'm working my way through a busy three-week period in my PhD programme: a period of gathering data, attending meetings, writing papers, preparing speeches and testing ideas. Having successfully navigated a travel-heavy programme last week, this week is a little more orderly, with another round of interviews and meetings in (just!) two cities. However, the travel kicks in again on Saturday, with a flight to Klagenfurt Austria, via London and Vienna, to attend and speak at the 9th European Conference on Management, Leadership and Governance (13–15 Nov). The programme looks very interesting, with a wide variety of peer-reviewed papers to be presented by some very capable scholars. One of my papers will be presented on Thursday morning, and the other later the same day.
Despite the busy-ness of the period, the opportunity to meet some of the world's leading governance scholars, to further test the ideas that are starting to emerge from my research, is one I am very much looking forward to. For readers interested in the ECMLG conference, do pop back next week, because I intend to share my thoughts and insights here, as I did at the ICMLG conference in Bangkok earlier this year.
I'm sitting at my desk looking at a fantail flitting between the branches of the tree just outside the window. It's a great distraction from what I should be doing: cataloguing the pile of data gathered in the last week, including 900MB of sound recordings and 28 pages of handwritten notes, from two board meeting observations and three interviews. The insights from this latest data need to be compared with insights from data gathered earlier. While this process is akin to swimming in data, there is some good news: five "causal powers" (that may explain how boards influence business performance) are starting to emerge. However, I keep reminding myself not to jump to conclusions, for there is more data to gather and more analysis to conduct. The ideas forming in my mind could be significant, or they could be a mirage. Time will tell. The fantail has gone now, so it's back to work. I'll keep you informed.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and effective board practice; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.