Understanding the 3 Tenets of Company Growth: Culture, Language, Identity

 Understanding the 3 Tenets of Company Growth:  Culture, Language, Identity

Understanding The 3 Tenets of Company Growth: Culture, Language, and Identity

“Our mission at GitLab is that everyone can contribute.” Betsy Bula, All-Remote Evangelist, GitLab (on building a remote-first culture that everyone can be part of)

“Remote-first is real, and it’s going to be part of our lives for many years to come.” Jill Neilson, VP of Global Services, Sequoia Consulting Group

 Managing global expansion and growth in the age of remote and hybrid work environments is an amazing opportunity to ensure alignment between a company’s culture, unique language, and organizational identity.

In this PANGEO 2021 Session, Three Tenets of Company Growth:  Culture, Language and Identity,  Moderator Allie Kovalik, Community & Culture Manager at Globalization Partners, speaks with Lanie Denslow, Author of Working With Americans and Cultural Competence Consultant;  Jill Neilson, VP of Global Services with Sequoia Consulting Group; and Betsy Bula, All-Remote Evangelist at GitLab, about strategies for aligning all three tenets to facilitate successful global expansion and growth.

How must a company’s culture change when hiring internationally?  

Moderator Allie Kovalik posed this question first to Lanie Denslow, who trains companies and teams to work across borders, and is widely known in the U.S. as a cross-cultural expert.  Lanie shared that what is often needed is a shift in mindset that begins first with the senior leadership team.  

Those executive teams that are able to shepherd their organizations through a successful international expansion do it with a new awareness, acceptance of different cultural norms, an adaptable working style, and the simple ability to be curious. “The mindset has to change, the details have to change, and it’s a company-wide process,” said Denslow. “The person or group responsible for leading this shift, is really the senior management, because the shift has to start at the top, and then it will funnel all through the company, if and when it’s done well,” said Denslow.

How can companies effectively communicate culture, language, and identity to prospective new hires?

GitLab All-Remote Evangelist, Betsy Bula has been at the forefront of the remote work movement as an early adopter in her role with the global DevOps company; GitLab was one of the first American brands to embrace an all-remote work environment for its 1,400 employees across 65 different countries. In Betsy’s experience, GitLab’s public 2,000 page handbook acts as its single source of truth for the way employees and teams approach working remotely and eliminates the guesswork of how to interact individually and collectively.  GitLab has six company values described in its handbook, and whenever an award or bonus is earned, a message on the company Slack channel goes out, sharing which of the six company values that team member embodied so that all teams can see GitLab’s values aren’t just written, they’re also a lived experience.  “This allows us to scale our culture, and unite everyone under our shared values,” said Bula.

How can fast growing teams build effective communication methods and learn a common organizational language?

Jill Neilson shared with panelists and attendees that there is “a global language for every organization.” In her work with global brands, Jill noted that meeting people where they are, really listening to their cues, and integrating cultural truisms throughout the broader organization are areas where brands leading successful global expansions tend to shine.  “What is our broader business language and how do we harmonize this globally, ” said Neilson.  Lanie Denslow added that there are two different cultural forms of communication: a style that is factual and direct, and another wherein relationship and rapport are more valued.  Teams with a high level of cultural competence should be able to switch between the two styles as needed.  

 The panelists also discussed the best approach for companies shifting their brand identities from local to global, and how best to maintain alignment between collaboration and compliance.

Jill Neilson’s advice here was pretty simple: “Put a policy in place first.”  Whether hybrid or 100% remote-first, the company executives should first set up the policy, for in and out of the country, and then decide on either a global PEO or establishing an entity for expansion. 

Neilson works closely with companies that want to make global remote teams happen, but managing the tax, payroll, and benefits challenges can vary widely from country to country.  “Having a roadmap to the expansion is so important, are you going to use a global PEO,  or set up an entity? Make that decision after you establish the policy,” said Neilson.  If senior leadership communicates the policy in a way that resonates, a remote-first environment could easily become both an attraction and retention tool to broaden global talent acquisition programs and ensure work-life balance becomes a true part of the culture.

What we learned

  • It’s people that reflect the culture an organization builds.
  • Develop company ‘brand ambassadors’ to speak to potential employees and new hires to share the culture and be its representation
  • Before determining whether the team is remote-first or hybrid, first determine the official policy and entity in-country; the solid policy must come from senior leadership.

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