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How do You Understand Your Customer's Culture

The value of communicating effectively both verbally and non-verbally can get lost when those of us in Finance get stuck in the numbers. We often do not get out and interact directly with our company's supply chain, customers, and strategic partners. I have had the opportunity to be in Hawaii as I help ramp up one of my business ventures. I am so lucky to have a business partner to teach me how things are done in Hawaii and why. Understanding the culture of where you are doing business is critical, even if you are not crossing international borders. What do you do to understand your customer's culture?


Ray Towle
Title: Job Seeker
Company: None
(Job Seeker, None) |

A great question that is often overlooked Ernie. Organizational culture tends to be shared by all or most members of the company; is something that more experienced folks usually try to pass on to newer members; shapes behavior and structures perceptions of the world. These cultures includes deeply held values, beliefs, and assumptions, symbols, heroes, and rituals. But too many folks try to evaluate the culture without also evaluating the climate.

Organizational climate, on the other hand, is often defined as the recurring patterns of behavior, attitudes, and feelings that characterize life in the organization day-to-day, while an organization culture tends to be more deep and stable. Although culture and climate are related, climate often proves easier to assess and change. And individual perceptions are often aggregated or collected for analysis and understanding at the team or group level, or the divisional, functional, or overall organizational level.

I suggest 3 specifics: (1) Start by talking with an accomplished Organizational Development Consultant that you really trust, (2) Check out the sample organizational client survey by Reliantt, at, and (3) if you want more then get a copy of Mathisen, G.E., & Einarsen, S. (2004). "A Review of Instruments Assessing Creative and Innovative Environments Within Organizations." At the end, you will know far more critical data and information about the past, present, and future of all aspects of the company than anyone on the planet.

All the Best, Ernie - Ray Towle, SPHR

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

I suggest it is about both written and oral clues when interacting with your customers. Obviously, this starts with face to face interaction and site visits. However, you can also learn a lot by looking at the email interaction and the exchange of information (bid packages, for example) for context, use of language, etc.

Topic Expert
Jaime Campbell
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Tier One Services, LLC
(Chief Financial Officer, Tier One Services, LLC) |

It also helps to know what specific questions to ask and markers to look for. Examples include time orientation, high context vs. low context, hierarchy vs. flat authoritative structures, inclusion or exclusion of personal life in business conversations, choice of medium for different types of communications.


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