From Universalism to Poly-Culturalism

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Cultural Dimensions > Best Practices > From Universalism to Poly-Culturalism

From Universalism to Poly-Culturalism
Gandhi Heryanto, Management Consultant, Indonesia, Premium Member
There used to be 2 paradigms of organizational culture:
  • The first is UNIVERSALISM, a belief in colorblindness and uniformity in the treatment of all people, by suppressing any individual cultural characteristics.
  • As the world became more globalized, this evolved to a secondly paradigm, MULTICULTURALISM, which sort of acknowledges other cultures, preserves them, and does not demand that people subordinate themselves to one type of code or behaviour. Note that when we say or use the word 'multicultural', what we are effectively doing is segregating the cultures, even the cultures within ourselves. Multicultural implies that cultures are fixed, discrete entities that exist side by side - a kind of zoological approach to culture.
With many companies operating in a more global world than ever before, the idea of encouraging cultural fluency is taking hold. More people want to work abroad and workers are constantly comparing not just companies but countries to see what’s best for them. In turn, companies are looking hard at their diversity (or lack thereof) and what it means for themselves.

Due to the above, a 3rd paradigm can be distinguished:
  • POLYCULTURALISM implies that all cultures can coexist at the same time to create a whole—it is possible and even probable that a person, group, organization or country has multiple cultures living within it/him/her at any given time.
    Polyculturalism is a team effort, it can not exist if only one individual practices it. Everyone must be sympathetic with everyone else, everyone must be on board, everyone must be united for polyculturalism to be a reality.
Do you think that polyculturalism may be a sound approach for today’s global businesses?
Source: Blog on "Polycultural Me" by Robin D.G. Kelley.

Amarnath Krishnaswamy, Professor, India, Member
Polyculturalism is just a stepping stone… It would lead to a new "culture" within the organization.

Instilling Polyculturalism in Organizations
CLAUDIUS RWODZI, HR Consultant, Zimbabwe, Member
The reality in the global business today is subordination of individual cultures and precedence is given to commonly acceptable cultures by all team members of various origins. It is a give and take kind of situation where members are obliged to accommodate the cultures of others ahead of their own individual cultural preferences, so that there is harmony and sharing of common goals and vision of the organization.
This calls for a coordinated effort by management. Polyculturalism need to be instilled in members through rigorous training.This calls for the right tone from the top to induce compliance of the principle of polyculturalism by all players in the equation. This can best be achieved through a change process where the change principles need to applied to enable all team members to embrace multicultural system in the organization. This, if embraced by all members will effectively lead to better organizational practices.

Moving from Organizational Multiculturalism to Polyculturalism
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Thanks Gandhi for your most interesting post to our Cultural Dimensions SIG.
Indeed there is a big difference if your organization (or you yourself !) takes a MULTICULTURAL POINT OF VIEW and acknowledges that other people HAVE different values, beliefs or cultures (but basically preserves each one as it is) versus a POLYCULTURAL VIEW POINT in which an organization is really interested in values, beliefs and cultures from other people and is perhaps even open to the possibility of actually accepting parts of it as its own. That means your organization can gradually move to a new culture as @Amarnath Krishnaswamy already mentioned.
I certainly think this is the direction where we need to go in global organizations. Because being open to values and ideas from other people will increase the level of acceptance, interaction, creativity and cooperation between employees and parts of the organization coming from other cultural backgrounds. This may also extend to contacts with clients. As a result, such an approach to culture generates superior shareholder, customer and stakeholder value.

Mutual Respect
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
I have read, and tried to absorb, the blog spot and have come to the conclusion that, with respect, the missing term in all definitions is "mutual respect". If we apply mutual respect to either multi- or poly-culturism the result is the same - a stronger, diverse mutually respectful whole. Acknowledging that we are not all the same is rational, reasonable, obvious and intellectually stimulating.
If, in society (or business) the various groupings in a society concentrate on emphasising their group strengths and identity, while remembering the societal common purpose and the need to respect persons of different groupings then the polyglot whole is significantly enhanced. Instead, we try to avoid classifying people and ignore those aspects that make them different. Why - their difference makes our whole stronger.

Multiculturalism to Poly-culturalism
CLAUDIUS RWODZI, HR Consultant, Zimbabwe, Member
Culture change will always be a challenge to deal with, so once organizations understand that we are now living in a global village, a lot more needs to be done to prepare employees and managers to flexi their minds, values and belief systems to align with global setups so that there is convergence of cultures that foster productivity in organizations.
Multicultural setups have got their own ways of being promoted which obviously acknowledges diversity within all ranks. Poly-cultural setups cut across many diverse situations but still require alignment for the common good of the organization. This takes a wider scope, hence requires a broader range of strategies. The alignment of cross cultures (poly-cultures) should take a global strategy as well to bear fruit as suggested by the Editor.

Multi- and Poly-Uniculturalism
Andre-Ambrosio ABRAMCZUK, Teacher, Brazil, Member
From my early years I was taught that "si fueris Rōmae, Rōmānō vīvitō mōre; si fueris alibī, vīvitō sicut ibi."

Editor: this latin phrase is translated as: "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", meaning: when abroad or in an unfamiliar environment you should adopt the customs or behaviour of those around you.

Behaviour and Culture
bill kinlough, Lecturer, Member
I think when we say polyculturalism and then start talking about behaviour, we could get our wires crossed; if we acknowledge all different types of culture, that is fine and should be so, but if we believe that something is right in one culture but is wrong in another culture, something is strange, because aren't right and wrong universals? So can two conflicting acts be both right, just because two people say they are right? Example: if you make someone work overtime in one culture and pay someone to work overtime in another culture, then the question is; can both be right? Is this correct behaviour?

Polyculturalism in Sweden
Borje Vickberg, Sweden, Member
There are, at least, two dimensions on this subject; The company you manage and the country you live in. My personal experience – Being the leader and boss of 23 individuals of 5 different cultures working almost intimately together (dental care) the concept “polyculturalism” makes it easier to manage my coworkers.
Sweden, with a population of 9 millions, takes a heavy burden in the ongoing global conflict resulting in vast numbers of migrants applying for asylum. If “polyculturalism” becomes a politically correct concept Sweden will be a winner. If not – who will help us?

Diversity in Culturism is Rich
Francis Joseph, United Kingdom, Member
This debate is not about culture change, culture change cannot be initiated or coerced, therefore perish the thought. Multiculturism is best defined as more than one culture existing peacefully within a community, village or country and does not imply segregation of or a loss of these unique cultures but appreciates difference and promotes assimilation. We all co-exist and that is a humanitarian approach and that polyculturism is diversity" and not necessarily to create a whole?" and therefore not probable? By definition, meaning no one’s culture or race is superior to another and therefore should not be subjected on another.
Let us all embrace diversity, learn from each other and bring out the best smiles in all of us.

Cultural Sensitivity as a Skill
Cruijff, Manager, China, Member
Nice first post and interesting idea, Gandhi.
When reading this, I felt that Polyculturalism implies a skill within people to be flexible in their outlook and actions; more so than Multiculturalism and Universalism which both seem rigid and imposed from the outside. If it is a skill, then it could be learned and trained. I’m looking forward to more ideas on this topic!

Value-based Sensitivity to Cultural Differences
Sonny Vicente, Coach, Philippines, Member
I tend to subscribe to your proposed 3rd paradigm, Polyculturalism, Ghandi and totally agree with Andrew Blaine's introduction of the ingredient of Mutual Respect. I believe the basic values of what is good are common to all cultures. Sensitivity to and mutual respect for cultural differences while observing the common basic values should be practiced in the workplace to ensure sustainable productivity and growth.

From Universalism to Poly-Culturalism
K.Narayana Moorthy, HR Consultant, India, Member
Whether you are an executive or an entrepreneur, the ability to bridge the cultural gaps and leverage foreign ideas and opportunities is critical to success in today’s increasingly global business environment. Culture forms values, creates attitudes, and influences behaviour. How do some people collaborate effectively all around the world, while others succeed only with people of similar backgrounds? Why do some diverse firms enjoy cosmopolitan creativity, whereas others suffer from cultural clashes?
The "Polyculturalism" views cultures as networks; not as categories. Multiculturalism with its entailed ideals emphasizes differences among cultures. Polyculturalism emphasizes interculturalism (diversity & recognition), fosters intercultural interactions and hybridity; recognizes other’s plurality; and combines strands of culture to renew them.

Forget Poly Culturalism
Gian Singh, Lecturer, Malaysia, Member
Since immemorial times, this theme of poly culturalism did not work and biased racism is built in the human being. Remember the Neanderthals were slaughtered by Humanoid.
When Muslims and others conquer a village they slaughter the original inhabitants (Note what the whites did the USA) and occupy their homes.
Humans are programmed to kill since the biblical Cain killed Abel.
Where are the old races in India, they have been slaughtered by the invaders.
Remember the Muslim robbers 3 offers to the those that were conquered everywhere: 1. Die be slaughtered, 2. Convert, or 3. Pay high taxes. This was practiced in Spain, Turkey, Middle East, India by the Turks, Moguls, Afghans etc after the latest Ice age.
So good luck! The recent event in Malaysia shows: slaughter the men and take over the females that seems to be the solution since 10,000 years ago.

The Matter is How to Influence Majority
kenji hachiya, Business Consultant, Viet Nam, Member
As a Japanese consultant who is supporting Japanese companies operating in Vietnam, the difficulty is how to blend Japanese company’s culture with the Vietnamese culture.
Of course in Vietnam, the majority of people and culture are Vietnamese, and all the foreigners form just a minority. Especially at manufacturing company, there is 100 to 1000 Vietnamese employees for each 1 Japanese normally. Because of the language and cultural barrier, it is quite tough to influence Vietnamese employees about the Japanese way of doing work which is being adopted also in other subsidiaries in other countries.
I’m playing a role as interpreter with a deeper understanding of both the Vietnamese way and the Japanese way, and providing instructions which Japanese way can be adopted as it is, which one needs adjustment and which can not be applied.
I think it is easier to manage diverse cultures in the situation that everyone is a minority (people come from different countries).
However, difficulty is how to influence a majority to be willing to change too.

Establishing and Merging New Cultures in South Africa
Pieter Erasmus, Management Consultant, South Africa, Member
Then there is a group that migrated from the Northern African continent to the Southern African continent. These guys took over by numbers the local populus, the Coi San, which was very sparsely populating a vast area. In total eleven culturally and language different groups. As a born and bred South African (SA), I have seen and experienced what others on the planet have seen to some extent. Two views for consideration. The population consists of a coherent group of other continent people originating from the Netherlands, Britain UK, Germany, France, Portugal, Italy, Malaysia, India, Poland. The cultural difference merged in some families while some is still not completely merged. Today this group still fights in-house as four bigger groupings exist. Also today more immigrants from North arrives and is trying to start-up businesses. The "local" population that migrated from North 300 years ago now wants to drive these guys back by killing them off publicly.
This is sick as their grand parents came from the same areas... Lessons learnt. 90% of the populus has learnt to work and live together in language groups. Western groups have merged and have accepted all to be a new group and culture incorporating traditions and beliefs. Likewise three African groups into two language groups. A mixed group based on inter-marriage exists which is not accepted by the two skin color groups. This is now being transformed by further inter-marriages. In this environment I have managed staff of 100 plus for 30 plus years. People become tolerant of each other in time. The only interesting phenomena is that cultural groups vanish in the eyes of people through common spiritual beliefs. These groups accept each cultural distinctive group as being one of "us".
This leads to a common platform to build on in the workplace and social arenas.

We Need to Embrace Polyculturalism
eddie m, Interim Manager, Kenya, Member
Can’t agree more, indeed as somebody said 'the world is a small village' we need this to not only to co-exist but to add value to the 'village' organizations. Embracing polyculturalism can and should be able to operate in different parts of this world.

Polyculturalism is a Must if we Want to Leverage our Differences
Hardtmann, Entrepreneur, Germany, Member
Giving everyone the chance to remain unique, and contribute in their own way is key to our success in future - it's the (only viable?) growth and development strategy that will allow us to make more out of less (environmentally), manage with more (overcrowding, gender-, generational- and regional-diversity, information...), and make progress or initiate change (a bit like fusion cuisine, or quantum leaps resulting from spontaneous or synectic synergies).
Yes, it will mean that our cultures will mix and bleed like watercolours do, but if we are mindful of both who we ourselves are and where we come from, and of the value that the differences we and others have to offer bring, then this mixing will be limited.
Fundamentally, however, I believe that what we know as culture(s), that has developed over the last millennia and more, will begin to change shape under the irresistible force of information / technology. It will likely become less defined, more personal, and more malleable.

Coexisting Reaching Project Goals
Johannes Vandeweijer, Entrepreneur, Germany, Member
Finally, if there was an invasion from Mars, all cultures would stand side by side fighting for the same (project) goal. And, for this one moment in time, culturally differences wouldn't be an issue. But to come to a common coding of demeanor toward a conscious goal independent of the culture, and I mean this in a behaviorism and respectfulness way, can't be really easy, as we all might have experienced. If we work on mutually respect, then we also work successful on coexisting. So it is floor work with on an open mind and an open heart I think.

From Multiculturalism to Poly-culturalism
Gandhi Heryanto, Management Consultant, Indonesia, Premium Member
Thanks for all great reactions. I just would like to add further about traditional model and polyculturalism.
The traditional models of understanding culture and human behavior categorize individuals by their culture of origin and identify cultural influences with differences between cultures, which often lapses into stereotyping while polyculturalism contends that individual's inheritance from cultural traditions is both partial and plural. Polyculturalism views cultures as network not categories and emphasize interconnections among cultures whereas the traditional models view as "multiculturalism" and emphasize differences among cultures.
There is a study finding from Michael Morris, the Chaikin-Chang of Leadership at Columbia Business School. Said that at a time when so many businesspeople live and work in multiple cultures, categorizing people based on their passport or birthplace just doesn't ring true. Polyculturism offers a better lens of understanding cultural complexity.

From Multiculturalism to Poly-culturalism
K.Narayana Moorthy, HR Consultant, India, Member
Thanks Mr Gandhi Heryanto, Totally I agree with your views. Yes, I agree Poly-colturalism offers a better lens of understanding cultural complexity.

Poly Culturism is Just the Outcome!
Ashwini Saxena, Operations Officer, India, Member
Coming from the Hindu philosophy of "Vasudheva Kutumbukam" meaning that the whole world is a family, to me poly culturism doesn't seem to be a new concept. Given the diversity that exists in the world, differences surely exist due to climatic, religious and historical reasons.
As global organisations grow and reach out, the need for poly culturism will become more and more significant. The cultural differences can be easily answered through poly culturism if there is a shared vision towards the common needs of humanity and in the organisational context, that of the organisation.
The ability to understand the underlying reasons for certain peculiarities, without being judgmental about them would be the key to the success of poly culturism. However, the deterrent would be the lack of objectivity in questioning certain cultural practices and their real purpose and need in the changing times.
Some may not be ready for such ideas while for some of us may be.

Beyond Polly and Her Cultures
Brad Altemeyer, Professor, United States, Member
I just wrote a short article for our new faculty publication here at South Texas College (great place for international students *cheap!) on the topic of culture competence. Polycultural as defined here seems already superseded by the cultural flows of concepts ideas and practices around the world. We see flow fastest in things like Food and Music. From K-Pop's success in the USA, to the Food Network bringing food ideas into fusion in virtually every show, the apparent elements of culture shift and flow across the planet. Business success comes in part with RESPECT for people, and with FAIRNESS in working with others. For example, a breakout concept in the USA is SCHEDULE UNCERTAINTY for our hourly workers - many workplaces have fallen victim to obsessive cost savings and have started mistreating workers by failing to post up schedules ahead of time (or having ZERO commitment to the posted schedule). Some workplaces have even been CALLING my students DIRECTLY out of their classes! Bad/rude.

Co-existing Reaching Project Goals: Mutual Respect
K.Narayana Moorthy, HR Consultant, India, Member
Yes, Mr. Johannes Vandeweijer, I agree with your views. In fact, during my early service years, when I was in charge of a project work, carrying out activities with ideals of 'open mind and an open heart' as you had stated, the people round me were happy and satisfied completely and made the project a success. Yes, we have to work on mutual respect.That was a rememberance I had when I read your views. Thank you.

Borje Vickberg, Sweden, Member
@Gian Singh: Extremely pessimistic and cynical attitude. We have in contrast to the Neandertals, many options of communication (12manage for instance), accumulation of knowledge and information crossing geographical and temporal borders. I totally disagree with the cultural defeatism that has been published by some.

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