March 2018 | Global Business Culture

Monthly Archives: March 2018

After a lifetime working on Global Supply Chain & Logistics, Think Global Growth’s founding director Neil Moon (ex-Agility Strategic Enterprise VP) realised that many of the key pinch-points within global Supply Chains are actually the direct result of globally differing views about how business is done in various parts of the world.  He saw that many of the problems around such issues as communication break-down, planning, contracting, dispute resolution and adequate staffing were all caused by the fact that people in China simply did things differently than people in the UK and that people in the UK did things differently than their counterparts in Germany.  The problem was that nobody really understood these issues.

As Founder of Global Business Culture I have worked for years on helping with the operational efficiencies of organisations who work cross-border.  Working with many of the world’s major corporates I had also come to realise that the cultural dissonances found within global supply chains were causing huge problems which people often lacked the awareness and knowledge to overcome.

Our meeting resulted in us developing the world’s first programme which fuses global supply chain excellence and global cultural competence.  The programme, called ‘Global Business Culture and Supply Chain Management’ is aimed at helping industry experts hone their skills and really get a better understanding of how global business culture can impact on key elements of supply chain management and what steps can be taken to ensure global effectiveness.

This one-day programme fuses deep global cultural knowledge and a lifetime of supply chain expertise – it’s an essential ‘must do’ for people who look to continually improve their operations.

If you would like more information on the specifics of this programme, please contact me at:

This post was originally published on LinkedIn,

There has been a lot of noise being made recently about the constitutional changes in China which have allowed Xi Jinping to extend his grip on power beyond 2022 as well as the new emphasis on Xi Jinping Thought which to many sounds like a disturbing echo of Mao’s Little Red Book.  Many commentators are concerned about what they see as the twin threats of a looming new repressive order within China coupled with aggressive expansionist policies internationally (both economic and military.)

What is seldom discussed in the media is what lies behind the simple phrase ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ and whether this might be a force for good or ill.  History will, I suppose be the judge, but it is worth taking a moment to look at some of the key principles of this approach:

  1. People orientation: The key emphasis of Xi Jinping’s thinking is that the economic policies pursued by the state should be designed to meet the needs of the whole Chinese population and their aspiration for a better life.  These policies should focus on the whole life cycle of a citizen from cradle to grave.  Only policies that foster progress for the majority should be undertaken.
  2. Qualitative Changes: The country should focus on the development of quality goods and services rather than quantity as was the case in the earlier cycles of Chinese economic development.  To this end the State will actively promote investment in high growth, high quality sectors at the expense of older quantity-oriented areas of production.  It is recognised that this approach will result in potentially slower rates of GDP growth than have been seen in the past and that there may be some major dislocations within the labour market – but these are prices it is deemed worth paying in the long-run.
  3. The New Industrial Revolution: China, by and large, missed out on the first two industrial revolutions (steam and electricity) but it has no intention on missing out on the third industrial revolution centred around big data, AI and renewables.  In fact, China leads the way in many of these areas – none more so than in the development of renewable energy.  The State is very actively orchestrating massive developments in multiple sources of renewable energy which serves the twin-purpose of reducing reliance on imported carbon-based fuels and addressing China’s crippling levels of air pollution.

Xi Jinping’s policies are unashamedly interventionist.  The Communist Party sees it’s role as that of shaping the future and controlling the impacts of market forces.  This contrasts markedly with the approach of the current White House in the States which aligns itself to a much freer market approach where the influence of the State is increasingly being rolled back.

A new global cultural battle is being played out where the egalitarian, individualism of the West produces an ideological allegiance to the free market and the hierarchical, group-orientated nature of the Confucian East pushes policies towards a centrist, people-oriented future.

We do indeed live in interesting times.

‘International Business Attitudes to Corruption’ a report published by Control Risks, highlighted some of the extreme challenges faced by Compliance Officers within global organisations. As regulators increasingly extend their global reach whilst anti-corruption laws become ever more comprehensive, Global Compliance comes face-to-face often with uncomfortable on-the ground reality of culturally differing norms around the world.

The report points out that an over reliance on a belief that centrally driven compliance programmes will be understood and actively implemented in all parts of the globe can produce a dangerous disconnect between the perceived effectiveness of any programme and the actual reality on the ground.   The danger is that the process looks comprehensive and watertight at HQ but leaks like a sieve when it lands in different geographies.  This can actually lead to an increase in non-compliance rather than a reduction – thereby unwittingly exacerbating the problems.

Why might this disconnect occur and is it a process or a people problem?

I think the answer comes in one particular sentence in the Control Risks report which says that you need to really know who you are dealing with at every stage of your value chain, what motivates them, how they behave and how to forge compliant and collaborative working relationships’.

In reality this sentence is saying that you need to have a comprehensive understanding of the cultural drivers and expectations of the people you are interfacing with around the world and how those things will impact on the way in which your compliance programme lands.  That’s a tall order and requires a huge degree of global cultural fluency – a degree of cultural fluency that is possibly quite rare in global compliance departments.  In my experience some compliance professionals shy away from looking at the cultural nuances of all of this because it simply makes their jobs more difficult.  It may indeed make their jobs more difficult but without the requisite amount of global cultural knowledge, their jobs are actually impossible!

If, for example, your cultural background is one where corruption is so endemic it is as much a part of life as buying bread and where it is considered very bad behaviour if you don’t try to manipulate the system for the benefit of your family, friends or tribe or where it is an insult not to lavish extravagant entertainment on a potential client, then being presented a new programme or process from a faraway head office is unlikely to change your perception of what the world looks like.

How do we address the difficulty of trying to shoehorn a benchmark set of compliance principles into a world in which vast swathes of people simply ‘don’t get it’ or are just not interested? 

We want to be ‘glocal’ but rail against it when the local comes through more strongly than the global.  We want people to be fully integrated into the local market place so we can compete effectively but complain when people act as the locals act.  We want people to be able to compete against the local competition who do not have to conform to the policies of an alien Head Office which might be counter-cultural in that location.

The answer to this has to be education – both at Head Office and throughout the international network – but this education has to go way, way beyond the typical compliance e-learning programme – which is often seen as a backside covering exercise anyway.  The education has to be designed to help people develop a global mindset where all parts of a global organisation can see where the other parts are coming from.  Globalisation is a mindset, not a word.  Compliance is also a mindset, not a word (and certainly not a set of processes).

As Control Risks put it ‘you need to really know who you are dealing with at every stage of your value chain, what motivates them, how they behave and how to forge compliant and collaborative working relationships’.

We can help your organisation develop a global mindset and in so doing we can challenge the way in which you view and address the world. We can help make your compliance programmes meaningful in different territories.

If you would like to discuss these issues contact me at

This post was originally p2015

I recently met a taxi driver from Africa whilst taking a ride from the airport to my hotel in Hamburg.

It turned out that the guy was originally from Ghana and we started to have a wide-ranging conversation about the state of Africa, where Africa is going, Anglophone vs Francophone Africa and other fairly typical stuff.

He then said something that surprised me – he said that what his country needed was a leader like Vladimir Putin. In fact, he said all countries needed a leader like Vladimir Putin and that Britain would never be Great again until we found such a leader.

Now that made me feel really WEIRD.

By that, I mean western, educated, industrialised, rational and democratic. Indeed, I am WEIRD. I was born and raised in the UK, believe in democracy as the least bad form of government and think the rule of law will prevail in the end. Like the rest of the WEIRD world I also think that everybody else around the globe must surely share my view of what’s best for the world and that those people who don’t live in WEIRD countries are just hoping and praying that our way of doing, being and thinking will soon arrive in their neighbourhood.

The problem is that most of the world’s population are not WEIRD and have no intentions of becoming WEIRD anytime soon. Lots of people in the non-WEIRD world think people like Putin are just fine. As my taxi driver said. ‘Putin puts his people and his country first and doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks. That’s the type of leader I can follow.’

I work in the field of the impact that culturally different approaches can have on global organisations.

I discuss these issues on a daily basis with business leaders from lots of different sectors – so I’m supposed to ‘get’ this stuff. However, my conversation with the taxi driver from Ghana really made me stop and think.

We are facing one of the biggest cultural clashes the world has ever seen as the WEIRD world tries to educate the non-WEIRD world with its view of what is ‘right’ and the non-WEIRD world starts to more confidently push back and say ‘Your right isn’t right for us. We have our own view of what is ‘right’. And that might include backing people like Vladimir Putin!

This clash of cultures is currently being played out in a mini way as western companies push their compliance programmes into their global subsidiaries. They have to do that – it’s the law – but so many of the compliance issues we are globalising are based on WEIRD concepts and people simply don’t like what they hear. I’ve heard the words ‘modern-day colonialism’ used to describe some compliance ideas and people really don’t like to be colonised!

In an earlier blog I discussed some of the findings of a recent Boston Consulting Group report which highlighted the fact that many companies face a huge capability gap when it comes to implementing global strategy.  The strategy may be fine but if individuals within the organisation lack the global mindset to enable them to implement the strategy successfully, then things can go badly wrong.

Many of the problems associated with the corporate globalisation process are caused by a lack of global cultural fluency which leads people to take the same approach to everything, every time, everywhere.  In the multi-faceted, complex global world we all work in this simplistic approach just doesn’t work.  Maybe it did twenty years ago when the big global players ruled the roost but the world is a more level playing field these days and a colonial approach is quickly rebuffed just about everywhere.

So what should organisations and individuals within those organisations do?

  1. Recognise and accept how little you actually know about other countries and other markets. There is no shame in recognising that you don’t know what you don’t know.  Start with the assumption that there are a myriad of unknowns and that it is your responsibility to do some initial research on those unknowns.
  2. Accept that you take into every cross-border transaction your own level of cultural bias. Your background makes you see things in a peculiar way – but your Chinese counterparty probably looks at the same situation and sees something completely different.
  3. Build into your thinking that ‘just because things are different’ in another country it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wrong – they might be wrong but a different approach might actually be better than the way you do it ‘back home’. This sounds simplistic but in my experience it is very often a difficult message for Head Office to take on board.
  4. Think through the impact of every decision on every location. A centrally determined policy is usually biased towards the country it is originated in (usually where the Head Office is.)  You want to move towards a more matrix structure?  Great – but how do you make that work in a country where hierarchy is not only the norm but seen as the way in which the whole world (both business and private) is and should be shaped?  A memo from head office or a town hall meeting is not going to change a mindset 4000 years in the making!
  5. Accept that a good idea is a good idea – regardless of where it originates. Not all good ideas start in the centre.  For me the sign of a truly mature global company is when I hear people in the centre talking about what they can learn from the outside.  Not all good ideas start in your head office – but equally not all ideas which come out of head office are bad.

I think that what I am really saying here is that knowledge is the key.  People in your organisation (and not just a handful at the top or in the ‘international function’) need to be more aware of the impact that international culture has on every facet of business, they need to be given the specific knowledge necessary to navigate a complex global environment and then they need to figure out how to apply that knowledge and awareness to the benefit of the business.

One thing I do know is that this process never happens by osmosis.  It needs careful planning and targeted interventions.

If you would like to find out how Global Business Culture can help you on this journey, contact me at

This post was originally