Is organization culture something that you are or something that you have? So, how does it matter when it comes to selecting your language service provider?
Here is some food for thought: The types of questions to be found in a typical translation/localization services Request for Information (RFI) have undergone a natural development over the past 15-20 years. I recall the times when a lot (and I mean a lot) of detailed questions were asked about quality processes (before quality became a sort-of given), or capacity and scalability (showing exactly how many translators, proofreaders, editors or reviewers you have for each of the 25-50 languages quoted).
Today, we’re certainly somewhere else, and the selection criteria are more balanced, and more nuanced. But recently, one type of question has caught my eye in several RFIs coming from larger US-based organizations. It goes like “Please describe your organization culture.” It got me thinking in two directions. 1) What is the right answer, and 2) How important is this question, how is it used (if at all) in vendor selection?
What Is the Right Answer?
The truth, of course. But how would you define such a broad concept as culture in such a narrow context of an RFI? From my studies I would recall many concepts of culture, from the simple “the way we go about things here” (Deal and Kennedy’s Cultural Model, 1982, since you ask) to the management-speak way of seeing organizational culture as a competitive advantage or resource. So what is being asked here?
Next, is it worth checking with the client if they rather mean corporate culture or really organization culture? The former would be reflecting managers’ values, interpretations and their preference for doing things, something the company “has“, something more-or-less definable and controllable by the company. Or do they really mean the much softer, uncontrollable organizational culture, something practically impossible to define, something the company “is“, something rather subjective?
Finally, from a certain size, there are really multiple sub-cultures in every company. For instance at Moravia, the multimedia localization team, which may work with the cool multimedia materials say for a creative campaign marketing latest smartphones, has a culture different from the Life Sciences unit, with its focus on the detailed, process-driven aspects of the regulatory environment.
And the same applies to national cultural differences. The team in China would have a different culture compared with the one in Ireland, or the one in California. Is that important, or is the client really asking about what the smallest common denominator might be?
How Important Is It for Translation Vendors to Fit with Organization Culture?
In our B2B, end-to-end professional services industry, the compatibility of the client and vendor teams is certainly important. The specific industry of the client organization plays a role, as does the age of the company, their growth trajectory, their history, the role of their founders, and many other factors.
Wherever and however possible, it is necessary for vendors to customize their approach to the many, varied business cultures their clients have, and deploy the “right” people that will make a good fit. Working with a team you feel comfortable with, one that speaks the “same language” and has the “same human experience”, should be normally more important than a 0.53% difference in a word rate.
But how organization culture is actually used in vendor selection at the RFI stage, if at all, I do not know. Is there a way of verifying the culture is as described, and compatible with yours? Here, I’m afraid, like with test translations, the proof is always in the pudding.