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The Power of Culture with RPC's Kate Gregg


What’s the one thing that motivates you? The Mag’s “The Power Series” invites industry leaders to discuss the “power” of one initiative and how it’s crucial to everyday life, whether work or play. This month, Practice Director, Asia of RPC Kate Gregg talks to us about the power of culture.

Culture influences us all. At a very basic level, it drives our values, and different values lead to different behaviours. At the same time, you may not even be aware of your own values and beliefs until you experience a culture shock – when you are confronted with someone different from you.

I didn’t experience a massive culture shock when I moved here over six years ago, since I’d actually grown up here. We’d lived in Asia – mainly Hong Kong – for 10 years, before moving back to the UK where I went to school and eventually started working for RPC 20 years ago. I relocated back here by chance when we opened offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, and a lot of what I do here is to help integrate our offices in Asia to the broader firm. The culture shock then, for me, was really about understanding the important cultural differences of the office environments and how I would manage a much more multicultural team.

It became very important for me to understand culture from a business perspective. Law firms are well known, perhaps unfairly, for being rather change resistant; but having a culturally diverse team helps us embrace innovation and change in a positive way, while staying competitive in Asia thanks to the local connections, native language skills and cultural insight the team brings.

On the flip side, it can also be a barrier to interpersonal communication. Even the choice of medium used to communicate may have cultural overtones. Some cultures expect communications to be explicit and specific, while some look for meaning and understanding in what is not said. The small things can make a real difference, and cultural insensitivity and ignorance can really damage your brand. The damage may be internal, by alienating and distressing employees, or offending clients.

And that’s why cultural awareness is essential for businesses in this age of globalisation. It isn’t just about being sensitive to different cultural values, but more about having a global mindset, being interested in diversity across cultures and markets, and looking to see the common patterns and opportunities. Being culturally aware at work can make an overseas assignment, an international business meeting or cross-cultural negotiation a successful one. It’s probably one of the most central skills to have if you’re going to have a career in Asia.

The key is to avoid making assumptions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. As a manager, I’ve worked hard at trying to create an open forum where people can speak to me honestly about any issues. What I’ve learnt is one approach doesn’t work for everyone, and you need to work out what is going to work best from a management and motivation perspective.

Bridging the gap between differences can be as simple as holding monthly lunches. We find food, especially in Asia, a great way to familiarise staff with other cultures. So we’ve organised lunches at restaurants that serve food from around the world, asked employees to share recipes from home and celebrated cultural festivals – all these help create shared experiences and promote a culture of understanding and mutual respect.

Our people ultimately underpin our culture, which values fairness, respectfulness, openness, sincerity and approachability in the workplace. We recognise that people have lives outside work and actively support their desire to find the right balance. Our people pursue diverse interests outside work and the energising effects benefit not just them but our clients too. We aren’t the biggest firm, but our culture has always been one of our differentiators as a business. For this reason we won’t ever compromise on culture – it’s our strongest card!

Need more inspiration? Find out why having direction is important, according to Bupa’s Angus Slater.

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