I really believe this statement is true if an organisation is to be able to work really effectively across the barriers of culture, language, geography and time. The problem is that people are not necessarily born with an innate understanding of how business works in areas of the globe they don’t know and maybe have never visited.
The process of changing global mindsets in any international organisation is a three step process:
In my experience – and I’ve worked with major organisations all over the world on these issues – this process is rarely approached with a consistent, whole organisation plan and progress towards better quality and more effective global co-operation is slow.
If you would like to discuss how Global Business Culture can help you develop greater levels of cultural awareness and fluency within your organisation, please contact me on email@example.com
I ran two training sessions yesterday at the London Branch office of a major Japanese investment bank.
In the morning, I worked with a group of senior Japanese expatriates who have been seconded into the London Office – we were looking at the major differences in approach to business between Tokyo and London. This session was designed to help these expatriates integrate more effectively into a UK business environment.
In the afternoon, I spent a few hours with a group of UK employees of the same Japanese investment bank. The objective of second session was to help those UK employees better understand the internal workings of their Japanese parent company and therefore enable them to effectively influence at the head office level.
Both sessions contained a group discussion in which each group was asked to identify what they felt the major difficulties were when working with their colleagues from the different culture. Thus, the British were asked to identify issues they encountered when working with the Japanese and the Japanese expatriates in turn were asked to explore the difficulties they had encountered when working in the London Office.
The output of these group discussions was fascinating. It was almost as if I had influenced them in some way regarding the feedback they should give. However, the feedback was completely spontaneous and merely highlighted the extreme cultural differences that can still be found within a single global organisation in 2018. Some people would like to contest that the cultural differences no longer exist, but I can assure you there are alive and kicking in 2018 even within highly sophisticated, globally experienced financial institutions.
I have put the feedback from each of the two groups into a table below.
|Japanese problems with UK approach||UK problems with Japanese approach|
|Extreme lack of attention to detail||Obsessed with irrelevant detail|
|No preparation for meetings and therefore not possible to get to an answer||Always come to meetings having already decided the answer|
|Make decisions too quickly based on insufficient information||Very slow decision-making process caused through detail obsession|
|Make decisions very quickly but then change the decision just as quickly||Once they have eventually made a decision they are nor prepared to change it|
|Prioritise private life over their working life and the company||Obsessed by work to the detriment of their personal lives|
|Mean ‘no’ when they say ‘no’||Don’t mean ‘yes’ when they say ‘yes’|
|Speak too much in meetings – even when they have nothing of value to add||Don’t speak up in meetings and express their opinions – why do they attend?|
As you can see from this feedback, the challenges each group face is an exact mirror image of each other. What one sees as a problem, the other group sees as a virtue. There are no rights and wrongs in any of these issues merely deeply held convictions around how best to operate in the working environment in order to deliver the best results for the organisation.
I suppose the question that needs to be asked when confronted with such stark differences in viewpoints has got to be, ‘who should adapt to whom?’ This is a question that must be addressed by any international organization who wishes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their internal operations. Unfortunately, the answer is not obvious or easy.
We spend a great deal of time working with our client base of major global organisations helping them to address these complex questions in a practical and effective manner. If you would like to discuss how we can help your company you work smarter across the barriers of culture, language, geography and technology please contact me at www.globalbusinessculture.com
For more information on this and other global virtual team issues contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Like it or not, English is the common global language adopted by most international companies. The trouble is that language levels in English vary around the world – even within one organisation. Native speakers often assume that ‘if somebody is working in my company, they have to have really high levels of English.’ This is often a dangerous assumption. Just because people don’t tell you they haven’t understood, doesn’t mean they have understood! People often don’t tell you – it’s a face thing.
So when communicating in English in a global environment, everybody needs to think very carefully about the way they use English.
Be aware of the following at all times:
Control Your Speed
You can probably think of other useful hints and tips but these are a good starting point.
At Global Business Culture we run training programmes on global communication all over the world – if you’re interested to find out more please email me at email@example.com
It may be a contentious statement but many of the well-documented difficulties associated with getting international shared service centres (ISSC’s) to work effectively and efficiently are actually cultural and linguistic in origin.
Maybe it isn’t that contentious a statement after all because what you are actually saying when moving to an ISSC model is that ‘we think we can make things run more smoothly and more efficiently by taking operations out of the country which they service and replace the operations of 10 countries, 10 different business cultures and 10 languages within 1 remote location’. The process sounds complex to me but, having worked on dozens of these transitions over the years, the mindset seems to be that these issues will sort themselves out somehow over time.
It is telling that in every single example where Global Business Culture has been called in to help with cultural problems at a major ISSC, we have been called into the frame well after the transition has happened – nobody seems to want to look at these issues in advance for some reason despite the fact that so much academic research and pure anecdotal evidence point to cultural differences as the key stumbling block.
So what tend to be the problems? There are many but here are a few for starters:
I could enumerate many other areas of potential tension and inefficiencies but what is important is that all of these issues are addressed either before transition or as the difficulties arise, rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist or will disappear through osmosis.
You can address these issues through timely and targeted interventions and if any of these issues ring true to you and you would like to see how we could help, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As more and more companies organise themselves in regional or even global structures, the need for some form of global bench-marking of performance becomes ever more pressing – but is it really possible to have one system that can accurately grade performance in the USA, China and Nigeria?
The problems start to arise as soon as you try to set benchmarks for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in any interpersonal situation. The complexities of global cultural differences mean that what is considered poor behaviour in one country is likely to be viewed positively in another:
So who chooses what is deemed to be ‘good’ behaviour and what a corporation wants to encourage in its employees? In my experience it is usually the Head Office who calls the shots and who decides positive from negative, good from bad – and then fails to understand when it is accused of latter-day colonialism.
How globally savvy and well-equipped with cultural knowledge and empathy are key HR team members and how open are they to a challenge to some of their basic beliefs in this area?
These are all difficult questions but ones that need addressing. The Mercer survey of 2013, stated that only 3% of respondents from a sample of 1056 global companies said their current appraisal systems were delivering value – so something is obviously not working at the moment.
If you would like to understand how Global Business Culture can help your HR team develop the necessary levels of cultural fluency to tackle this issue effectively, please contact me at email@example.com
‘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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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?
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 email@example.com