… So I’d better quickly explain what I mean by calling you WEIRD.
Joseph Henrich, Steven J Heine and Ara Norenzayan issued a research paper a few years ago showing that most behavioural science theory is built upon research that examines an intensely narrow sample of human variation – disproportionately biased towards US university undergraduates and that this has skewed the findings of a great deal of research when you try to make it fit a culturally diverse world. Their definition of the sample base was that they were quite simply WEIRD
I think that all of this seems very likely to be true but I think that you can take the hypothesis way beyond the fields of behavioural science into the world of politics and it also seems incredibly true in the world of commerce.
I spend my days working with (mainly) western companies who are international in nature and who struggle with the complexities of interacting across the boundaries of global culture, time zones and geography. We help them understand how significantly and deeply cultural differences can impact on the effectiveness and efficiencies of their global operations. The longer I work in this field the more I come to realise that this WEIRD issue is at the heart of a lot of the dilemmas our clients face.
I have come to realise that (either consciously or subconsciously) people who are WEIRD in North America and Europe look around the world and think that the rest of the world is also WEIRD or, if they are not, would really like to become WEIRD at some stage in their ‘evolution’. The problem is that probably 80% of the world (by population) actually are not WEIRD and have no desire to become so. In fact the 80% of the world’s population who are not WEIRD look back at North America and Europe and think ‘those guys are seriously WEIRD’.
Where are most global compliance policies driven from? Europe and North America on the whole. We are moving around the world trying to apply WEIRD policies, processes and ethics into an un-WEIRD world and people simply just ‘don’t get’ what we are talking about. Our core values and beliefs are simply an irrelevance to people in many parts of the world.
A very good, very topical example of this would be the reaction of the majority of Russians to Vladimir Putin’s close association with the recent Panama leaks which highlight tax evasion amongst the rich and powerful. A BBC reporter, when interviewing ‘the man in the street’ in Russia was greeted with this reaction. “People high up have always had accounts like these and they always will. Putin can’t keep an eye on everyone.” In other words – it doesn’t matter and I don’t care. Contrast that with the reactions to the news that the Icelandic Prime Minister, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, was associated with the scandal or that David Cameron’s father had been named.
I’m not saying that I disagree with the ethical and commercial standpoints espoused by the WEIRD – I’m WEIRD myself – it’s more about getting people in the WEIRD countries to recognise that the ‘universal’ truths that they see as ‘self-evident’ are only ‘self-evident’ to a very small minority of the people on the planet. The starting point should be that ‘there may very possibly be a fundamental disagreement on this issue’ rather than am assumption that everybody, everywhere will ‘get it’.
It will be interesting to see, as China and India evolve as global super-powers, whether these WEIRD ideas will prevail globally or be eclipsed by other philosophies and approaches. Any thoughts from my WEIRD (and non-WEIRD) contacts?
For more information on how Global Business Culture can help you become more globally savvy contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Global Business Culture works with a large number of major global corporations and as they become more and more engaged in business activities outside their home bases in North America and Western Europe, they seem to be asking increasingly difficult questions about the difference between cultural sensitivity and ethical correctness. I suppose the question boils down to a simple one – should we always play by the rules of the country we find ourselves operating in or should we always apply the rules that work in our home country? Those of a culturally understanding nature, as well as those who place the commercial imperative before all else tend to argue that ‘when in Rome do as the Romans.’ But is it really that simple? Should local norms always trump home country beliefs?
One of my North American clients placed a female employee as the project lead on a project with a certain Asian client. They received an email from the client in Asia saying they would prefer a man as the project lead. What should the North American company do? Should they acquiesce to the demands of the client even though that would contradict both the law in their own country and their strong corporate policy of being a gender blind employer? When I pose this question to clients around the world, responses vary enormously and not just, as might be expected, along gender lines. I’ve had female managers in the US saying that the client is always right but then being argued with by male colleagues who say that corporate policies should be adhered to regardless of the commercial consequences.
I spend a lot of time explaining the impact of differing attitudes to meetings, decision-making styles etc. on global business and my usual advice is to adapt to the expectations of the client as this can help you meet your goals on time and on budget. Nobody objects to the idea of adapting to a different meeting style – but condoning gender bias or bribery is a whole different ball game!
These issues are really complex and there is no simple answer to them. However, I strongly believe that a global company needs to address these difficulties rather than sweep them under the carpet. Organisations need a clear policy on all of these issues which is then effectively communicated and they also need to be strong enough to apply that policy in all situations – no matter how commercially uncomfortable that might be. It just not fair to say ‘we don’t pay bribes’ but then to punish a sales guy for losing a contract because they were competing with someone who did. It sounds bizarre but it happens.
If you’d like to discuss how increased cultural fluency can help you develop and implement effect global compliance policies, please contact me at email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
International cultural differences will have an impact on absolutely every element of any global supply chain. Every single element of the complex chain you have developed will be touched by the effect of global differing mindsets. However, I’m going to take just four illustrative issues and highlight why lack of cultural knowledge and the practical application of that knowledge can seriously damage the health of any supply chain:
Contracts: In the west we have a fairly standard understanding of what a contract is. Generally speaking it’s an agreement between two or more parties which binds those parties to the terms of that contract. It is the end of the process of negotiation and it is a full stop at the end of the sentence.
Unfortunately broad swathes of the world don’t share that definition of a contract with us. In many parts of the world (and in virtually all emerging markets), a contract is an agreement on the best set of terms possible at a specific point in time – but if those circumstances change it is unreasonable to expect people to keep to the original terms of the contract. Therefore ta contract is not binding – it is intrinsically fluid.
People go into supply chain agreements with fundamentally differing views on the nature of the contract. That’s great for lawyers but not so good for supplier/customer continuity of relationship.
Time and Schedules: It’s a cliché I know but attitudes to time really do differ around the world and many countries just don’t feel the same sense of urgency as people maybe do in the US or UK. They do have a sense of urgency but just not the same sense of urgency as in most of the West. Deadlines in some countries are seen as guidelines and couple that with infrastructure problems, over-zealous bureaucrats and even issues around corruption – then schedules can easily drift.
In a recent seminar I was running for a major global MNC a non-native English speaking delegate confessed that he’d only recently realised what ‘asap’ actually means to Americans. He had taken the abbreviation literally, thinking that he meant he should do the task as soon as he had a bit of free time in his diary – even if that meant next week or next month!
Supplier selection: Do you really understand what ‘good’ looks like in China or India? There are obviously ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in both places but do we really have the country-specific knowledge to make the call?
In my experience too many decisions are made based on what the home team’s view of the world is when very often the home team has little or no knowledge of any culture other than their own. We end up buying what we’d by at home – but that is very often not fit for purpose in countries as vast and complex as China, India, Brazil etc.
Communication: No common language, no common style of communication and no agreement on protocols around communication. That just about sums up the situation we all find ourselves in.
Lots of organisations seem to face huge capability gaps when it comes to successfully implementing global strategy. The strategy may be fine as a concept but individuals within companies very often lack a sufficiently global mindset to allow them to implement the strategy successfully – and that’s when things can go badly wrong.
Many of the problems related to any 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 – they embrace a ‘once size fits all’ mentality. In the multi-faceted, complex global world we all work in today, this s approach just doesn’t work – perhaps it worked twenty years ago when the big global players ruled the world but the world has since become a much more level playing field these days and a ‘one size fits all’ approach is quickly rejected just about everywhere.
What I am really saying here is that knowledge is the key.
People in your organisation (and not just a few 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 work their way around a complex global environment and then they need to apply that knowledge and awareness f0r the benefit of the business.
One thing is certain – cultural fluency within an organisation never happens by accident. It needs careful planning, training and targeted interventions.