Why Taiwan's companies should think about culture
- Chris W. Hubbard
- Communications Strategist
I’ve been working professionally in Taiwan for years now, and observed something similar in almost every workplace I’ve been a part of.
Young Taiwanese wish things at work were different. They wish their workplaces were more fun, creative, and collaborative. They’d like the work they do, and the ideas they have, to be valued. They’re looking for culture change. But few seem willing to do anything about it.
At the same time, many Taiwanese brand owners wish things were different too. They wish the world saw their brands as more international, innovative, and relevant. They’re looking for perception change. And many are willing to do something about it, they just aren’t sure what.
Here’s the bottom line:
If Taiwanese employees aren’t able to realize their dream of more creative, collaborative workplaces, where the work they do and opinions they have are valued, then the brands they work for, will in turn, never gain the international perception they deserve.
Many of my young Taiwanese friends see only two options for finding better workplace cultures: Move abroad, or start their own businesses. And many are doing just that, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it means larger Taiwanese brands are missing the opportunity to benefit from what these young people have to offer.
Here’s an example: Imagine a company that makes sporting goods. They’ve always been known for their ability to make goods fast, but they want to be known for more than that. They want to be a visible brand, seen for making the best sporting goods equipment available. They’ve even embarked on an expensive marketing campaign to show the world how innovative and inspiring they can be.
Now imagine this same company provides their employees with zero access to sports or health related activities. In fact, they discourage too much movement. Their offices are dark, damp, and built around one activity only; hammering away at a computer all day. Leaders in the company don’t talk about sports or health (outside of their own products) and opportunities for employees to share passions and ideas simply don’t exist.
Do you imagine, even for a moment, that employees of a company like this actually believe in their “brand”? What do you think conversations they’d have with friends and family about work would sound like?
Now think about Nike.
I asked a few Taiwanese brand owners why they feel Nike is such a successful brand, and they mentioned things like amazing products, famous logo, creative marketing campaigns and super star athletes. All of which are true of course, but only represent half the story.
The other half is that Nike has built an internal company culture that aligns impeccably with their brand perception. That means that working at Nike is just as inspiring, innovative and cool as the brand appears.
How does Nike create a culture that aligns so perfectly with brand perception? The answer is surprisingly simple: Communication.
In 2013 James Elmer Neiderhauser conducted in-depth research specifically on how Nike’s leadership affected brand image internally and externally.
Neiderhauser states that "Through (CEO) Phil Knight’s communicative leadership which is considered visionary, he indirectly communicates freedom to his employees allowing them the independence to experiment, take calculated risks, and continue to strive for innovation. He trusts them and that is displayed through his communication or rather his lack of communication at times. Since Nike is an incredibly competitive environment, Knight welcomes the thought that employees should be able to see what they can do in their own divisions. If they create something great, or have an idea that could provide more value to the consumer, then useful and meaningful communication can occur at that time.
One Nike employee said, “Working at Nike is like a factory for fun, like finals night, being in a playground, or coming down the face of a wave”. It’s obvious through the research and investigation that’s been done that Nike has worked to create a culture that breeds winning through hard work and teamwork.”
Nike’s brand is imbedded in their company culture, which means their employees like working there as much as they like using the products. This company culture is supported and maintained through constant communication from their leadership, who enable employees to live the brand, and are in a sense branded themselves, which has the effect of creating a success most can only dream of.
It’s been said that “culture is the one competitive advantage that competitors can’t easily copy and paste”. And that’s been painfully true for many Taiwanese brands.
If Taiwanese companies genuinely want the world to see them as more innovative, international, and relevant to today’s young consumers, then their leaders need to live and breath it. They need to communicate it internally, especially to their younger employees, to help initiate culture change. Not just once, in a memo about innovation, but continuously through actions and policy that makes it easy for culture to grow.
And what can young Taiwanese workers do about it?
Be ambitious. Start doing something about it. Young Taiwanese should seek out and support those companies trying to improve working culture. They should also be more active with their own communication to leadership. They need to be a part of the change they’re seeking by taking risks and communicating ideas with each other, managers and those whose influence in the company can help make a difference.
There are of course much bigger cultural issues which can’t be solved overnight. Taiwanese and Chinese societal culture doesn’t encourage young people to stick their necks out. Being creative and challenging ideas, especially leaders’ ideas, can be seen as dangerous. But the dangers of refusing to change are much bigger.
Thankfully, there’s a small but growing number of Taiwanese brand owners who do recognize this and are initiating change, which is in turn injecting new life and energy into their workplace cultures. I hope that in another five years we’ll see more brand owners championing this concept. If they do, young Taiwanese workers will become brand ambassadors for the companies they work for, and the global perception of Taiwanese brands will start shifting in their favor.