I recently took part in a podcast for ICF Pittsburgh as part of their Beyond the Basics: Advanced Topics in Coaching Course, featuring a range of topics taken from the book: Professional Coaching- Principles and Practice by Springers Publications.

We discussed chapter 8: Managing “Invisible” Cultural Issues to Create Partnerships That Work. I wrote the chapter not only for coaches working across boarders but also with managers, entrepreneurs and directors of organisations in mind.

One of the themes discussed was why values are important in the workplace. When you are thinking about how to create a successful corporate culture as a leader, it is crucial to consider the role that values play, as well as their contribution to you as an effective leader.

Values are an important part of any company culture. A culture can be defined as a set of values that we share, for example, the values that you hold as a family, as a country or as a company. Those values are the things that make us who we are, whether we are Dutch, Mexican, Chinese or German etc

However, after so many years delivering cross-cultural diversity coaching, cultural competency training, <to services> etc., my own specific definition of what culture is has evolved. Today, my definition of culture is of course about values and beliefs. Namely, the values that we choose to believe and how the lessons that we learn impact us.

“Our values support our beliefs and our experiences shape our choices. When we know and understand our values, we can make conscious choices”.

As leaders, we can choose to stand still, listen and see each person in front of us and the values that they hold. Only then, can we bring different cultures together in a place that is safe and secure for everyone. So a company culture is the shared company values and experiences of everyone in that organisation. If we have good company values in place, we can build a corporate culture where everyone feels safe, valued, seen and trusted.

In my corporate coaching  sessions for leaders and managers, we look at the values of the company and the individual values of each team. Then we put the two back together, add some symmetry and  create a map to see where there are similarities and differences.

Next we create a conversation about what that value means to them and the team, whether the team members are experiencing the value at work and whether as leaders, our leadership is modelling those company values in the right way.

For example, if one of the company values is respect but an employee is getting calls in the middle of the night from a manager, that might not be showing the company’s value. How do you create company values that mean something? For company values to have any impact, they must reflect the experience of your entire team. The experience must be a shared experience of everyone throughout the company for it to be successful.

Values are a huge part of my work with corporate leaders, so the first three leadership coaching sessions are focused on values – what values are, what company values look like, what the company core values are etc.

During the session I was asked: Having travelled so much and lived in so many different cultures, do you think that values remain the same, or do they change as you travel around the world?

Values are definitely different as you travel around the world. For example in Holland and Germany the focus is on the individual. It’s about how I perform, I get the responsibility, I am in charge of getting the job done.

In those countries, teamwork has a very different meaning to other places in the world, such as Venezuela for example where people value collective responsibility rather than individual responsibility. Here employees work together to make sure that the work is done.

Yes, it can be a case of it I don’t do it someone else will, an excuse to hide behind someone else, but actually what happens is in those countries, when I go to work, I know that everyone else will be mad at me if I do not do my part, so getting the job done and well, still matters. Therefore, in cultures like that, teamwork is very different, it is a collaborative process.

So there are lots of different values that people have around the world, but values can also translate differently, so standard practices that are part of one culture can be interpreted in a different way under a different value system.

For example, in Western culture it is standard practice to talk with a manager behind closed doors, even if you are a woman. If however, you are from a culture outside of Western culture to be in a room with a male-manager, on your own as a young woman may be completely unacceptable.

As a corporate leader in that situation, you would have to recognise that that practice was not in line with the woman’s values. However, it would still be necessary for you to carry out some conversations in private, so you would need to talk about both of those values within the discussion and find a new solution.

Thus, different people can experience the same value in a different way because of the value system that their culture has given them.

I am committed to supporting corporate leaders and organisations to understand the important role that culture plays in organisational success. Through both leadership coaching and corporate training, I continue to help organisations find solutions to implement projects and manage teams.


This post is the first in a 3-part series.

Part 2: What is the most powerful way to improve corporate culture?

Part 3: Why safety, trust and presence build successful organisational culture and leadership