These are the latest events that Keith has been a speaker at.

Global Cultural Fluency and MBA’s

Last week saw me running a series of training programmes on the world-renowned MBA programme at Warwick Business School (apparently ranked 36th in the world and 4th in the UK.)  There were a couple of remarkable things about these programmes:

  • Firstly, all of the students are incredibly motivated.  They all give up successful careers and invest a lot of their own cash to take part in this programme, so they are very keen to make the most of every opportunity.  It is in turn very motivating for me to be in the company of such amazing people.
  • Secondly, the group is wonderfully diverse in terms of nationality.  There are apparently around 120 in this year’s cohort from in excess of 40 different countries.  Every continent in represented and this is such an exciting environment within which to be talking about the impact of global cultural differences on cross-border working.

When I started working on this programme with Warwick Business School my sessions were positioned much later in the process but it was moved forward to be one of the earliest modules which MBA-ers are asked to look at – at the express request of the students themselves.

It was recognised that global cultural differences have an impact on just about every other module in the programme.  If you are studying global business, you need an understanding of global business culture and you need to nurture your cultural fluency.  Cultural understanding is also incredibly important when the students work together in multi-national teams on various different assignments throughout the year.

Can’t wait to meet next year’s cohort…..


Implementing Global Strategy

I often find myself working with teams who have been tasked to roll out a global strategy across complex international organisations.  Everybody knows that such roll-outs are difficult for a number of reasons:

  • Poor articulation of the strategy
  • Resistance from the business which feels disconnected
  • Lack of resource within the strategy team
  • Strategy key stakeholder disengagement once decisions have been finanlised

However, one area which is often overlooked in the roll-out phase and that is the impact that culturally differing views of the world might have on this whole process.  Monday found me working with the Portfolio Solutions leadership team of one of the world’s largest insurance companies who have the responsibility of pushing through a new approach into the market – an approach which will have far-reaching impacts on both brokers and underwriters.

I was asked by the Global Director of Portfolio Solutions to work with the extended team to explore how cultural differences need to be factored into the global roll-out.  (Interestingly the Global Director had met me at an earlier cultural awareness training programme in the UK which I had run for different major insurance company ten years previously. I’m always so pleased when people say they have remembered the lessons learned – even ten years on!)

We looked at whole series of cultural issues but the core conclusion was this:

  • The team needs to persuade and influence lots of stakeholders across multiple cultures to buy into the core strategy
  • Each stakeholder’s culture is likely to have differing expectations in terms of what the key issues are from their perspective
  • Without an understanding of these cultural expectations the process of persuasion and influence is, at best, hit and miss
  • Cultural knowledge is key to this process

Fortunatly I was able to point the group to our website which is a wealth of country-specific cultural knowledge.


Building International Law Firm Networks

One of the biggest challenges facing large non-aligned national law firms is around how they develop a delivering network of best friends around the world who they can work with to help service their domestic clients’ international needs.  Sounds like a no-brainer perhaps – just go out and find a few comparable firms in a few key global markets and form a best friend relationship.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy….

  • Which markets are key for your firm?
  • How do we select a local firm in those markets and be confident they can serve our clients well enough?
  • How do we develop trust on both sides of the equation?
  • How do we monitor progress?

And crucially, ‘how can we ensure effective cross-border working?’  That’s where I come in…….

I was in Amsterdam yesterday with the Dutch Law Firm Lexence NV who are working hard to develop good reciprocal working relations with other firms in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic.  I was asked to run a cultural awareness training programme with a group of senior asociates who will, hopefully, be working together on cross-jurisdictional matters for years to come.

At one point during the day I asked the lawyers to outline client expectations in their own jurisdictions so the other lawyers could gain a better understanding.  The output from this exercise was absolutley fascinating (I’ll write a fuller blog on this) because the client expectations as described by the lawyers were so different.  (Who said client expectatons were the same all over the world?)  The biggest surprise to the delegates was just how different client expectations were in two countries which are so close to each other – the Netherlands and Belgium!

I always learn more on these cultural awareness training sessions than I teach……


Germany – Japan Cultural Awareness

Bizarrely, I’ve been spending a couple of days in Frankfurt working in the ‘Brexit-hedge’ subsidiary of a Japanese bank.  Lots of financial services organisations (and others) have been forced into opening an EU-based office to guard against the potential consequesnces of a disasterous no-deal Brexit or a bad Brexit.  The cost of all of this to the organisations involved is truly mind-blowing and it is essential therefore that these new offices ‘hit the ground’ running and deliver an ROI as quickly as possibe.

Hence my presence in Frankfurt running cultural awareness training programmes on working with Japan (and also the UK).  It’s quite a copmplex jigsaw puzzle if you work in an office in Frankfurt which reports into the UK which then reports into Tokyo!  Lots of potential for cultural misunderstandings and inefficiencies in all of that!

In one of the cultural awareness training programmes where we were focuing more on Japan than the UK, I had the good fortune to have an experienced Japanese expat and a British guy who had worked in Tokyo for Japanese banks for 15 years and who was a fluent Japanese speaker.  At one point I took these guys aside and asked them to feed back to the rest of the group what they felt were the top ‘need to knows’ when working into Japan.  These are what they came up with:

  • The pace of work is slow and decisions take a long time to be reached
  • Hiererchy is very important and this manifests itself in lots of ways but one impact they really stressed was on respect for age
  • The Japanese don’t expect foreigners to ‘get them’
  • There is a delicate balance between business and social – you have to do both with colleagues and socialising outside the office is critical
  • The Japanese are ultra-change-resistant and this is partly a result of both consensual decision-making and the rotation policy used by all large Japanese companies
  • Face is vital – do not do things to make people lose face.

I had a slide ready covering all of these issues but thanks to these two great delegates I didn’t need to use it…….


Global Stakeholder Engagement for MBA’s

I always really enjoy the development sessions I run with the part-time MBA students at the world-famous Warwick Business School.  The guys who complete these challenging MBA programmes are amazing – not only are they studying for this qualification but they are also holding down full-time jobs and therefore juggling work, family and studies.  I take my hat off to them.

Anyway on Wednesday evening I had a full lecture theatre (not my favourite training environment) and we spent about three hours exploring the global cultural aspects of effectively engaging with global stakeholders.  The delegate base was massively international – literally from every continent – and so the questions and input was really interesting.  We had a whole range of experiences brought to the table ranging from how Cartesian logic runs through the French decision-making process and how that doesn’t work too well in the UK, through to the problems of gaining acceptance when working as an expatriate in a new country.

The challenge is always time.  Although we had about three hours, the topic is so vast that I am always left to feel that I’ve hardly scraped the tip of the iceberg!  There were so many issues we could have profitably explored as a result of delegate interventions – and I only managed to get through about half of what I’d hoped to cover.

I set myself quite limited targets for these sessions – I want everybody to walk out of the room thinking ‘I really do need to factor global cultural differences more into my thought processes.’  If I can achieve that goal, then I think my intervention was worthwhile.


Senior Africa Leaders and Cultural Awareness

I was really delighted to be asked by the Crown Agents to address a group of senior Africa leaders as part of a week-long leadership training programme in the UK.  These leaders from Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda came from both the private and the public sectors and were in the UK developing authentic leadership skills.

However, I was asked to address the group on the impact that global cultural differences can have when leading colleagues across cultural boundaries.  As Africa becomes increasingly engaged in global trade, developing global fluency will be a vital skill which African organisations will need to focus on.  China is ever more active in Africa – as is India – and there are still lots of legacy relationships with the old colonial powers, so African leaders will increasingly need a knowledge of how business is conducted in various different parts of the world.

I find it interesting that for the first 15 years or so of running Global Business Culture, we were very rarely asked to work in Africa or with African organisations but the last 3 or 4 years has seen a reversal of that trend and we find ourselves incerasingly involved in Africa-related activities.  My hope is that this increased involvement is, in a microscopic way, a sign of the growth and increased stability of many African economies and a portent that Africa is starting to become a much more important global player.

I look forward to ever increasing ties with Africa clients.


International Market Entry Issues for HSBC

I really enjoyed meeting the HSBC London City Corporate team yesterday at their monthly team meeting.

As you would expect from one of the few truly global banks, the City team of relationship managers and analysts liaise with a lot of clients who are working extensively in overseas markets and both the clients and the RM’s themselves are therfore faced with lots of international challenges.  I spent some time with the team looking at some of the issues they should be discussing with clients in their roles as trusted advisors.

We covered a whole range of issues such as:

  • Key New Market Entry Considerations:
    • The need for clients to be strategic in their thinking on international rather than just reacting to events
    • The dangers of doing poor or inadequate research on a market and why purely desk-based research simply isn’t sufficient
    • The challenges of chosing good agents, distributors and employees in a market you have little knowledge or experience in
    • Timeframe issues and the impact slower than anticipated results can have on cashflow
    • The drain on management bandwidth that often comes with international expansion and how this can lead to people taking their eyes of key ‘business as usual’ problems
  • Cultural Challenges:
    • How do you know what ‘good’ looks like in a new market
    • Overcoming your own cultural bias
    • The timing issues that can result from working in countries where relationships are placed before business
    • The need for greater levels of global knowledge through good quality cultural awareness training.

I think the session must have been well-received because they have asked if I am happy to run another session later in the year for selected key clients of the bank.  I always feel that the best customer endorsement I can receive for the work we do is when a client entrusts us to speak to their clients – I see it as validation that my input has been viewed of value


Videoconference Training in Jo’burg

Actually, I was in an office in London and I had a group of lawyers in a meeting room in Sandton, Jo’burg and together we participated in a cross-border, cross-technology, cross-cultural, cultural awareness training programme. Although it is not the same as being in the room with a group of delegates, I think that videoconferencing is the next best thing – and certainly much better than via the phone.

I remember trying to run video-conference training about ten years ago and the technology just wasn’t up to the job at that time. The sound would drop, there was a delay in the movements, and it all felt very stilted. These days, however, with the massive advances in technology it is much easier to make these sessions interactive and I try to simulate (as much as possible) being in the room with the remote team.

It’s always fascinating to run cultural awareness training programmes in South Africa because the culture within South Africa is so diverse. We had a very interesting discussion about how diverse Africa is culturally as a continent and how inward investors often use South Africa as a stepping-stone but expect South Africans to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the other 53 African nations! That’s a tall order…..

We find ourselves doing more and more work with Africa and know how different the various countries are in terms of culture and expectations but one thing they all have in common is that they are working with China which is one of the key indicators of the current rebalancing of the economic world order.


Working with India Training in the UK

I ran a cultural awareness training programme yesterday for a client near London and although the session was initially set up as a more general global cultural awareness programme looking at generic cultural issues, it became quickly apparent that many of the people in the room really wanted to focus on India.

This client has extensive interface with India at a variety of levels:

  • working with clients
  • working with agents
  • working with supply chain partners
  • working with local administrators

So the relationships in India are pretty well developed and the delegates on the session were seemingly frustrated by a number of different aspects of working with India – but two main aspects came to the fore:

  • lack of willingness by Indian counterparties to take ownership
  • the all pervasive nature of hierarchy in India and the percieved paralysing effect this seems to have on progress

Despite the fact that many in the room had worked with India for a number of years and had visited on numerous occasions, they admitted that they really didn’t ‘get’ India and why the Indians they worked with didn’t respond in the way they expected (which actually seemed to mean ‘like people in the UK.’)

I think we will end up doing a more focused session on India but it always amazes me that organisations are happy to ‘bumble along’ in a state of confusion when some quality, targeted training could really help push the process forward.

Don’t wait until cultural issues bite you before reacting.  Be proactive – look at cultural fluency building at early stages of any international project.


Cultural Awareness and Business Ethics

I had a great day in Glasgow yesterday with a group of associates from a global law firm.  I ran a general cultural awareness training programme aimed at increasing these lawyers ability to work cross-border.  All law firms say they offer their global clients a seamless service across the jurisdictions but not all law firms invest in the training needed to make lawyers truly global in their outlook.

One of the discussions which created a great amount of interest was around the blurred lines between cultural expectations and ethical boundaries.  In a nutshell, what one country finds ethically unacceptable is very often standard practice in another country.  What constitutes a bribe under the UK Anti-Bribery and Corruption Act is merely seen as a relationship-building gift in a different part of the world.

This creates massive dilemmas for global companies.  Can you have an ethics and compliance programme which is truly global without it coming across as 21st century colonialism?  Does it matter if it does come across in that fashion?

This also presents difficulties for lawyers who can only give accurate legal advice when a client might be looking for more commercial, practical solutions.  If an international client makes it clear they don’t want a female partner working on a matter, should the firm refuse to take on the mandate?

In the post-Brexit world, UK companies are being encouraged to look for new business in the emerging market spaces.  When they do that they will be faced with lots of these ethical dilemmas and have to compete with organisations from other parts of the world who are not bound by the same ethical agenda.  These clients will be looking to their lawyers for advice in these situations.

How will the lawyers and law firms respond?