Culture is a set of beliefs that a group of people share. And, as such, it is important wherever a number of people get together. The business environment is no exception.
In order to ensure people work together efficiently and together towards your business objectives in a positive and motivating environment, managers need to be aware of the existence and importance of both a corporate culture and international culture.
The corporate culture develops subconsciously and often owners or senior managers are not even aware about them. Your employees adjust to a certain way of working and new staff is being taught to adjust to this culture. This doesn't necessarily having knowingly, but by watching colleagues or noticing their reaction on certain actions, a new member of the team quickly learns what is acceptable and what is not. If you are aware of it or not, every company has a corporate culture. And to understand it, is quite important.
Why? Well, your corporate culture can help you to achieve your business objectives, e.g. when part of the culture is teamwork, helping each other, taking initiative and so on. But it might also be a hindrance. Staff might not be supportive of each other, overly ambitious colleagues are looked down at and this can break their motivation. You might wonder, why things don't go the way you expected it, why your strategy fails and why you can't get the internal commitment you need. The reason might be the corporate culture which goes against everything you are suggesting. You ask your employees to act against the beliefs they got used to and believe in and such a change needs to be handled carefully.
Cultural change programs might be required, internal marketing and getting key staff on your side are crucial. Corporate culture can also be a major issue in the case of mergers and acquisitions. When you try to merge two companies, cultures can seriously clash and all the perceived benefits of merging the companies never materialize.
International (or for that matter religious or other cultural) differences can affect a small business as well, but is more commonly an issue for larger organisations. You might have international staff working within your organisation and different sets of believes can make working together difficult. Some cultures take offense of certain comments. A Christmas party might not be seen too keen by non-Christian religions. You have to make sure you understand what offends others in your company and - within reasonable limits - act upon it.
You might also have businesses in different countries. Getting everybody to work together might not be very easy. Apart from language issues, different countries have different approaches to work. I worked in a number of countries and international businesses, and to get different cultures to work together isn't always easy. Germans say often what they think and might offend the English. The English are very subtle and the real message completely gets lost on the German. You can only work together successfully if you understand each other - both in terms of language and culture.
And don't forget, culture is important as well when dealing with international customers. Your customer in Japan might have very different expectations from you than your customer in Sweden.
Cultural sets of beliefs and differences cannot be easily changed or overcome. But it is important for any business owner or manager to open their eyes and be aware of them and how they impact their business. This will help you to adjust to them and improve efficiency, profitability and success of your business.