A homogeneous company can never be a true meritocracy.
6 min read
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I’m fortunate enough to say that my career has been very global. My pursuits have taken me from Switzerland to Singapore and everywhere in between. Constantly working in a global context, it was important from quite early on to learn to work with the more challenging elements of different cultures, while at the same time identifying their best factors and making them my own.
Through time spent observing culture in businesses across the world, I’ve come to learn that workplace cultures that emphasize collaboration, sharing and innovation are far more likely to succeed. However, cultures that permit judging a person by anything other than their abilities and merits can stymy growth or even bring down a company.
These lessons yielded big dividends when I expanded my business, Yerra Solutions, into the United States and specifically the greater New York City area. This landing spot allowed me to foster a diverse culture that I learned can be successful through my experience across the globe, while at the same time confront the challenges that emerge from these environments.
One example from my past that helped shape my workplace beliefs comes from my time spent as head of EMEA operations at a firm where I was building experience before starting my own venture. On several instances, employees reporting to me switched to a language I didn’t speak to intentionally freeze me out of the conversation. We could spend all day discussing why they chose to do so, but the more immediate takeaway was this: any choice made in a workplace to stifle the input of another person reduces that organization’s capacity to perform and innovate. An employee that needs to work twice as hard to make their voice heard will often end up being half as productive.
I will never forget this experience or how frustrating it was when I had to fight to have my contributions acknowledged. Being disregarded because of a personal characteristic can slow down someone looking to execute on a bold idea. A company that allows this to happen is one with a culture that won’t foster professional development or business success. As a CEO, I refuse to lead a company where people may feel their ideas aren’t valued simply because of who they are.
When I first built my company, I wanted to make sure that a culture of respect and equality permeated everything we do – and not just respect for individual differences but also for larger cultural differences. Pursuing this goal takes effort, but establishing a healthy culture means never having to worry that the great work our company does will be impeded by outdated attitudes. Implementing these values is especially important for business owners in the United States, where diversity and specifically workplace diversity is commonplace. Here are three lessons I’ve learned about how to build and maintain a great corporate culture.
Be cognizant of the past.
Many employees arrive at Yerra from environments where, because of one trait or another, they were steered towards being more of a passive force than an active contributor. We recognize that the effects of unhealthy work cultures can linger. That’s why we have several internal initiatives to promote voices from a wide range of backgrounds. We recognize that true, effective diversity of thought within our culture should go beyond our hiring practices. We strive to make sure our employees know their insights are valued. That said, no one here receives preferential treatment: each of us is given the same opportunities to succeed as anyone else. Yerra is a place where differences are valued, not pushed aside.
Bringing offices together digitally.
Our workplace culture cannot exhibit any boundaries between offices. To ensure connectivity between our U.S. offices, we love using tools like Slack to make employees miles apart feel as though they work sitting next to each other. It’s a great way to encourage the passionate discussion that’s a sign of any healthy workplace. We always share our accomplishments, celebrate our successes and spread our new ideas throughout the firm. This ensures that good work gets due praise no matter where it’s been done, and that anyone can actively contribute to projects no matter their starting point.
Hiring locally, across cultures.
Despite being an international company, we’re committed to hiring local talent across our network including at our U.S. offices in New York City and Hoboken, New Jersey. While we are fortunate that for these two locations the “local” applicant pool is drawn from the melting pot that is New York City, we would take this approach regardless of region. Having supremely competent staffers that each bring different perspectives to the workplace provides an immeasurable benefit. At the same time, a wide range of cultural backgrounds allows us to effectively market to a diverse customer base. All business owners, no matter their location, should adopt this approach as best they can when filling out their staff.
For anyone looking to grow a business as I did, be ready for bumps along the way. But I can attest that it truly pays to invest some time in identifying your cultural values early on. Ignoring someone’s contributions or ideas just because of how they look or where they’re from is a surefire way to poison a workplace. Ignoring or not fully understanding the cultural nuances between different places where you hope to do business can also stymie growth. This is true not only among different regions of the same country but within individual offices as well. A successful and growing business requires a healthy culture and an open mind, and that is only possible if everyone has an equal chance to be heard and understood.