Plus: Why the rest of the world should take notice of this important aspect of doing business int eh rainbow nation
11 Official languages. 9 Provinces. An influx of immigrants. Seemingly countless ethnic groups. And one strong case for investing first in your company culture in South Africa. Doing business in South Africa, like anywhere in the world, comes with its own quirks and intricacies. But did you know that South Africa makes an extremely apt case study for the importance of investing your company culture?
“Think about it, we have so many different cultures in our country, not to mention the many little subcultures created in the various places we live and even just within our families and households,” says Dr Cobus Ootshuizen, founder and director of LifeXchange Solutions.
“We’re extremely culturally diverse, which is beautiful. But have you ever stopped to think about what happens when you bring people from such a wide variety of cultures together to work in one place?”
Dr Oosthuizen has an exciting theory about using culture to boost your business. In fact, he believes that focusing on culture in your company is probably one of the smartest – if not the most fundamental – organisational moves you can make. Here’s why it’s so important to invest in your company culture in South Africa specifically (and why the whole world should also take note).
WE’RE UNIQUE: CULTURE IN SOUTH AFRICA
It’s no secret South Africa is a very diverse place. We lovingly refer to ourselves as the rainbow nation after all. Our country is made up historically of a beautiful mix of indigenous peoples, settlers and even immigrants from colonisation and slave-trade activities of the past. Today we have 11 official languages and countless unofficial ones spoken every day.
We also have huge numbers of immigrants adding to our cultures all the time. And on top of all that, we have the same intersectional issues of gender, ethnicity and who one seeks to identify with as the rest of the world. Not to mention our smaller sub-divisions of culture from region to region, family to family.
And we’re all very proud of that fact. South Africa is a beautiful and bountiful place. And we’re proud to be the rainbow nation. But what does this say about our businesses?
HOW OUR CULTURES AFFECT BUSINESS IN SA
“Now, when you have people just on their own, there’s an important and proven understanding about our behaviour that comes out of neuroscience and behavioural theory (see our neuromanagement) that says people will always self-regulate back to what they know or how they understand things,” says Dr Cobus. And you can get some insights into this in our post on how your brain works.
“It’s why we often struggle with change and why your New Year’s resolutions are probably all long forgotten by now. You constantly self-regulate back to a state that helps your brain conserve energy – and that’s usually the ‘comfortable’ place, going back to what you know.”
But here’s the kicker: Something similar happens when you bring a group of people together to work in a company. It’s called environmental self-regulation and you see its impact on your business every day.
ENVIRONMENTAL SELF-REGULATION IN YOUR BUSINESS
“Environmental self-regulation is when people come to a new place (your place of business, for example) and, in the absence of a really strong new culture to assimilate with, they’ll automatically start reverting to their home culture, bringing that culture into your office or factory,” says Dr Cobus.
“You can see the effects of this in businesses all around the country. If people come from a home environment where sanitation is not a big focus or where maybe there isn’t proper refuse collection, for example, you’ll find you struggle more to get people to maybe wash their hands or keep their workstations clean. If they’re from a place where genders aren’t considered equal, you’ll have some tensions at work around this too.
“What’s happening is they’re self-regulating this environment (work) back to what they know (home). It’s a completely automatic process, and if you confront someone over it they won’t even know what you’re talking about, because it’s a very deep subconscious process. And that can become problematic for businesses in South Africa because we have and want people from all walks of life to be able to come and work for us and live and thrive.
“And this is not an alien concept. Psychologists know this is very real. We see it in many other places every day”.
AN EXAMPLE FROM PSYCHOLOGY
“We see the same thing happen almost daily in couples’ therapy and marriage counselling. Where people have a problem and they can’t get along, what therapists often find is that there’s a clash of cultures, stemming from how people were raised. A conflict of viewpoints and beliefs that are causing so much tension people just want to get out.
“Now, there’s an important tool that psychologists use to overcome this very successfully, and it’ll give us a clue of how to solve this in our businesses, too,” Dr Cobus explains.
“What therapists do when people have this misalignment of cultures in their marriage, is they help the couple create a new culture – their own culture, one that’s unique to this marriage. So it’s no longer about how your mom and your family used to do this or that, but it’s about ‘how are we going to do things from now on’. And it’s extremely successful in therapy. Couples can create a new culture and then move on to much better things quickly.”
So, how does that address the environmental self-regulation we see in our businesses?
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO INVEST IN COMPANY CULTURE IN SOUTH AFRICA
The same principle applies to your business. People only start self-regulating to their culture in the absence of a stronger, unique or “new” culture to assimilate. In other words: They automatically look for a company culture, your company culture.
If you have a strong, defined, visible and accessible company culture, your employees are free to let go of their baggage and adopt this new culture. It’s bright, it’s shiny and it’s a simple statement of “this is how we do things around here”.
“From all the research and studies we’ve seen on this topic, creating a strong company culture really works. People actually thrive if there’s a separate and distinct culture at work that’s different from their home culture.
“Your company culture is more than a nice-to-have here in South Africa. It’s absolutely crucial. You might find you’re spending a lot of unnecessary time and resources trying to solve minor ‘people issues’ when you should be focusing on the bigger and better things. That’s why we’re focusing on helping companies invest seriously in their company culture,” Dr Cobus says.
PLUS: WHY THE WHOLE WORLD SHOULD TAKE NOTE
The world is changing. In the last couple of years, immigration to Europe and first world countries has increased to the point where it’s causing social and political changes. It’s not unimaginable that soon, the whole world will be as culturally diverse as melting pots like Africa and South America are currently. And then, you’ll want to have taken note of how important investing in company culture is for boosting your business’ performance in a very diverse environment.
HOW TO CREATE A WINNING COMPANY CULTURE
Dr Cobus and his team at LifeXchange Solutions absolutely live to help companies manage change. He’s a PhD in Human Behaviour, and he and his team have been using concepts of neuroscience and NLP to drive social and business change for over a decade – see about LifeXchange Solutions.
And they’re currently driving a project to bring the idea of using your company culture to boost business performance to companies in sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.
Discover more: Find out exactly what company culture is and why company culture is so important. See why new employees quit so often and use this simple tool to do your own quick test to better understand your company culture.
And, if you’re really intrigued, watch as Dr Cobus explain how to create a high-performance culture in your company.
WATCH: HOW TO CREATE A HIGH-PERFORMANCE CULTURE IN YOUR COMPANY
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And see the science behind workplace trust.
If you want to see something truly revolutionary, you can watch Dr Cobus do what millions said was impossible in our videos on the backwards brain bike.