You need to build resilience through change. Change can be challenging, and if it’s not managed well it can breed negativity, resentment and withdrawal. Learn how to empower your employees to navigate the change process and be more resilient – for greater wellbeing and productivity.
The challenge to find out what’s really going on and what people really think
Enabling stakeholder feedback and two-way information flows can be challenging. However, intercultural communication skills and appropriate process are vital when engaging in stakeholder consultations with culturally diverse groups. People in different organisational and cultural contexts have vastly different ways of interacting and engaging, and if you want to get feedback and know what people really think, there are some key strategies to ensure greater success:
1. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve
Don’t underestimate the power of thoroughly working through this with your team. Before embarking on stakeholder dialogue, ensure your team have a shared understanding of why this is necessary and the process which will occur. It can be immensely confusing to stakeholders and minimise trust if different reasons are mentioned by different representatives from the organiser.
2. Engage with a representational group
Knowing who to engage with is critical. In many cultural contexts, the most accessible people may not be the most representational. They may be the most available, be the gender who are traditionally ‘spokespeople’ or the best English speakers.
Sometimes it’s better to use various engagement strategies for people at different levels. For example, a Country representative may meet for a formal lunch with senior Ministers or bureaucrats, while country staff meet with mid-level managers over a more formal casual lunch or small meetings.
3. Know how your intent might be perceived
In non-democratic political contexts, sharing information without permission can be risky. What may be perceived as ‘sharing opinions’ in a Western context may be seen as criticism of the government in other cultures with potentially damaging personal consequences.
Don’t assume trust is a given or transparency and disclosure are easy. In communist or socialist governments and in very hierarchical cultures, information is power and rarely shared openly. Instead it travels through trusted networks as a tradeable commodity and source of favour.
4. Negotiate a process which meets everyone’s needs
When asking stakeholders what their needs are, sometimes it’s best to consult those with experience and knowledge of what works best.
For instance in most Asian cultures, putting people from different levels an organisation in a room and asking ‘what they think’ is highly ineffective. In many cases, the boss will speak on behalf of their team who will remain silent and share only positive information.
Often it’s more effective to have multiple smaller consultations rather than one large gathering. Wherever possible, ensure your stakeholders are in their comfort zone. Go to their world and where they feel comfortable.
5. Ensure language is inclusive and relevant
Wherever possible, ensure stakeholders are speaking their first and most fluent language. There are significant risks in conducting stakeholder engagement in English in non-English speaking countries.
Effectively engaging with local stakeholders can provide information to significantly influence project success and minimise the potential for violation of safeguards. Knowing in advance how your actions may be perceived, likely challenges and pitfalls and strategies to avoid them can minimise cost overruns, poor management choices and reduce risk.
The people ‘on the ground’ are the usually the most valuable resource in terms of insight and knowledge. Development of staff and employing specialist facilitators with the intercultural essentials of awareness, perspective, knowledge and capability, is critical.
It’s been a while – our silence has been caused by the busiest two months ever in the history of BI. A good thing, but we are looking forward to a little time to digest the experiences of the last few months and do some writing and publishing. The BI team has been constantly travelling and we’re looking forward to the Easter break to spend some time with friends and family.
What we’ve been up to:
– Rolling out ‘Unconscious Bias’ training to the entire staff of a large financial institution focusing on the skills to engage with and leverage diversity – Delivering ‘Global Virtual Team Effectiveness’ Programs to corporate clients
– Delivering the ‘Parents Understanding Asia Literacy‘ program around Australia. I also went to Canberra to meet with Peter Garrett to discuss business needs for an Asia literate workforce.
– Meeting with the Review Team to provide input, and writing our submission into the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ Government Review.
– Delivering ‘Re-entry’ de-briefings, ‘Pre-posting Training’, ‘Intercultural Effectiveness’ training and ‘Working with Local Staff’ training for internationally engaged government departments
– Advising the CEO’s and Senior Leadership teams of three large companies who are navigating key challenges in Asia
– Working with the leadership team and staff involved at a corporate client to facilitate transitioning key work to Malaysia
– Submitting a tender to renew our preferred provider status with the Dept of Immigration & Citizenship
– Working with a highly diverse team of an International NGO in SEAsia focusing on enabling better intercultural collaboration, dialogue and engagement
– Planning for the Australia Thailand Business Council key event on 28 May, and the 14th International Conference on Thai Studies
Phew! I promise our next blog post will be a review of the great books and podcasts we’ve enjoyed over the Easter break. Hope you have a good one. Tamerlaine
Watch Justin Breheny, CEO Asia of IAG Insurance discuss what it takes to be successful in Asia in this brief PwC interview Positioning – investing in the future by getting in now and taking a long term view is emphasised. I agree – perserverance, patience and building relationships the key. The process of dedicating time to doing due diligence and ensuring your model is locally customised and appropriate to the specific dynamics of the local context is so important too. One size does not fit all. Getting the right partner, and having realistic expectations matters. The board needs to also understand this is a long-term play. If you are after short term returns go elsewhere!
Our culture shapes our attitudes toward the individual ability to choose. Do you prefer to see ourselves as discrete individuals whose choices have implications for us alone, or as a part of an interdependent group where choice is a collective responsibility with implications for all?
In this fascinating vodcast, The Art of Choosing Sheena Iyengar from the Columbia Business School draws on her research, and her experience in Japan, Eastern Europe and the USA to analyse approaches toward choice. Building on her famous ‘jam choice’ study of consumer behaviour, she challenges us to explore our assumptions around choice and decision making across cultures.
The implications are significant and impact upon consumer behaviour, workplace relationships, management style and how to motivate others.
In October, I travelled to York in the UK for a conference on ‘High Performing International Teams’.
Keynote presentations included: Fons Trompenaars discussing, Servant Leadership and Terry Brake exploring the key to effectiveness in Global teams. The conference had some real highlights, including the opportunity to network with professionals from around the globe engaged in similar issues. One rather refreshing session was delivered by Carlos A Gonzalez-Carrasco on ‘Reframing Complexity in International Leadership’ ,
. I was however, surprised by the ‘old school’ approach to intercultural issues by many presenters, the emphasis of many sessions still on ‘measuring’ cultures, and looking at cultures in isolation from the context and complexity of today’s globalised workplace. The colonial connotation of the use of terminology such as ‘the Far East’ to refer to Asia also was rather odd. ‘Far’ from where? And ‘East’ of what?
It is sometimes very refreshing to be confronted with views you disagree with, and very helpful for defining what it is that we do actually believe, and the values and core approaches we hold true. As a result of this experience, I have found it beneficial to define our core beliefs about the world we engage in with our clients:
We see: Complexity, interconnectedness and interdependence, and an increasing reliance on global virtual teams operating in matrix structures. We also see Increasing engagement with Asia, particularly with China and India and a rapid increase in Asian investment in Western countries.
Challenges arising include: negotiation and navigation of difference, issues o f power and systems, rapidity of change, the scale and complexity of issues to resolve, challenges of communication, collaboration and negotiation.
Opportunities include: extraordinary opportunities to leverage difference of approach to create new, creative and exciting businesses, organisational communities and collaborative responses to the challenges of a changing globe.
A few key techniques to operating effectively:
1. Develop an awareness of your own culture, perspectives and impact on your environment
Understand ‘where you are coming from’ in relation to people with whom you are engaging in the workplace. You will be encountering such diversity and change, it is not always possible, to have an in-depth understanding of each and every cultural background of colleagues. Rather, the one person who will always be present in any encounter is yourself. To understand how your values, beliefs and cultural approaches may be different to that of others, and the potential impact of your behavior is very important. Ultimately, you have control over your own interactions, but not necessarily those of others.
2. Recognise pre-existing systems and leverage strengths
Local networks and systems are complex and embedded and have distinct power networks. If you can’t, or don’t have the time to understand these, engage specialists for advice. All communities, cultures and organisations can have extraordinarily creative responses to adversity and ways of guaranteeing results. When working in new contexts, where possible, learn about and leverage local talents and don’t assume things must take longer to achieve. With an appropriate approach, very limited resources can have viral and highly positive impact. Quick action without understanding can damage, cost a lot and cause systemic resistance.
3. To understand and communicate clearly, observe, engage appropriately and be strategic
There is a tendency to believe communication skills are all about making noise, rather than developing intuitive listening and watching skills to understand and engage with others. Emotional intelligence, the ability to intuitively interact and to clearly communicate when necessary, and in an appropriate manner is vital when working in culturally diverse and globally connected workplaces.
4. Manage risk through expecting and being flexible and adaptable in ‘chaos’ and building connectedness and community
Random events happen, systems and communities are ever changing, especially now due to the rapidity of globalisation. Change is normal. Individuals and organisations who thrive in these environments of change will succeed. A tolerance for ambiguity, the desire to engage with others, high level people and communication skills are key.
The challenge of virtual and global connectivity is how to: remain connected to what’s important; filter out what’s not; and get the job done. It is all too easy to be distracted by the voluminous ‘noise’ of social networking, and the 24/7 information overload of globally connected teams. Access to communication technology can sometimes mean less quality communication and more interactions. Misinterpretation and misunderstandings can also be problematic when relying on instant communications. The rules of engagement in these new social networking and online spaces are also often learnt through trial and error. Our three key pieces of advice when communicating to connect globally in diverse workplaces are to:
1. THINK – Ensure clarity first
- Of purpose – What am I trying to achieve? Why am I communicating at all?
- Of process – How will this task be achieved?
- Of roles – What is my role, and the role of others? Who is accountable?
2. SELECT – Who, how and why?
- Appropriate channel – Know your technology and protocols for use
- Appropriate audience – Who needs/wants to hear your message and how?
- Appropriate tone – Emotive or constructive feedback better offline
3. GET REAL – Maintain authenticity and integrity
- Be reliable – Do what you say you will, and when
- Be transparent – Let people know what’s happening
- Be respectful – boundaries, of uses of language, and of time zones
In our work with globally connected, culturally diverse teams, we find the benefits of online collaboration are enormous. It’s hard to imagine how we all worked globally in the past. With any new technology there is a cycle of change and associated upheaval. I recall when managing international student exchange programs in the 1990’s one manager suggesting we ban the use of email as it was hindering the cultural immersion experience of incoming exchange students. It’s hard to imagine such a concept, yet when speaking at a national education conference last week, I learnt the use of technology is also posing significant challenges for educators even at the primary school level. As with any new process, or technology, the key to success is the message, rarely the medium. We need to ensure our use of online collaboration is deepening our understanding and engagement with others rather than hindering it. To go back to the core reasons we communicate in the first place is a simple but powerful step which can make a significant difference to outcomes.
Beasley Intercultural was recently involved in a review of the quality of cross cultural training in Australia commissioned by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The research supported our experience in that, to maximise return on investment in intercultural training, the training must be of sufficient duration and tailored to the client environment.
To read a copy of this report click here.
To maximise the effectiveness of cross-cultural training, it is important that it be positioned within the organisational context, followed up appropriately and used as an opportunity to leverage diversity within the client organisation. Following is an overview of our recommended process to ensure maximum traction on your investment in cross-cultural training:
1. Undertake a Needs Analysis
The needs analysis is typically carried out by an intercultural specialist who liaises with key management staff, people in the business line as well as Human Resources (HR) and Learning and Development (L&D) staff. Key areas explored include:
- What is the business context and what are the outcomes required?
- What are the current challenges and opportunities being faced when working in these specific cultures, and what is the impact on the business?
- What is the organisational context?
- What existing L & D frameworks are in place?
- What current knowledge and cross-cultural skills do team members have?
- Is this knowledge shared?
- What are the gaps?
The Consultant will then discuss the summary of needs analysis findings with the client and advise on the most appropriate and effective learning intervention.
2. Consultant Preparation
The consultant will then prepare a training and/or coaching process which best addresses the gaps discovered during the needs analysis process. To do this, the consultant will analyse and prepare:
- What cross-cultural information would be of most use in this context?
- What examples are available from other organisations and our experience to explore these themes?
- What cross-cultural resources are most appropriate?
- >What process is best to enable the learning and development of skills and competencies required?
The design and printing of program materials, provision of pre-reading/watching with guiding questions will then occur.
3. Cross-Cultural Program Delivery and/or Coaching
The training or coaching program will then commence. Core themes which are often covered include:
- What culture is, and the impact on your work
- The most frequent sources of challenges and how to avoid them
- Key cross-cultural competencies and what you need to know to be effective
- Approaches to your core business: what is considered important in different cultural contexts and why
- Key cultural drivers and their impact
- Cross-cultural factors depending on needs analysis results. These may include culture-specific topics such as: verbal and non-verbal communication, management, negotiations and conflict resolution
Program delivery and/or coaching may involve one or two accredited Consultants, depending on the business need. Comprehensive participant notes, including further references and resource lists are provided..
4. Key Recommendations and Follow-up
As a result of working closely with the client, it is common to identify opportunities to maximise success in the cross-cultural context. Through providing comprehensive feedback to the client, key recommendations can be made and follow up guaranteed. This process may include:
- Application of Consultant cross-cultural experience and expertise to create a brief summary for management of recommendations for greater effectiveness when achieving specific outcomes in diverse cultural contexts, based on the needs analysis and responses to program delivery.
- Summary of all participant feedback and evaluations
- Follow up call or meeting with client
As a result of undertaking this process, it is possible to ensure training is highly effective and the following outcomes can result:
- Better understanding of the cultural variances in the way business occurs in different locations
- Enhanced ability to navigate cultural differences and achieve outcomes
- Greater effectiveness in regional or global planning
- More efficient communication when working regionally or globally, reducing misunderstandings as a result of cultural or language issues
- Improved business strategy through new understanding of intercultural challenges and opportunities
An innovative model that provides companies with the framework and expertise they need to effectively engage with communities is Thai Business Initiative in Rural Development, or TBIRD. TBIRD operates under the concept of “Privatising Poverty Reduction”, and it links sponsoring companies or organizations with communities in an effort to tackle the root causes of poverty. The approach focuses on empowering communities to help themselves. The concept of TBIRD was founded by Mechai Viravaidya, the founder and chairman of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), one of Thailand’s most diversified and successful non-profit development organizations. He is an internationally renowned figure, and is known in Thailand as ‘The condom king’ for his cheeky and highly effective approach to HIV prevention. Mechai argues that poverty is largely a result of lack of business skills and access to credit in communities, and that businesses are in a unique position to guide the poor out of poverty.
PDA’s pioneer TBIRD company, Swedish Motors Corporation Pcl. (Volvo), worked with PDA to establish a separate company called Meero to implement a rural development project that emphasized marketing. After a preliminary survey and feasibility study, a sapling plantation was proposed for a poor corn-growing village approximately 150 km. from Bangkok because there was a booming market for trees for landscaping golf courses and real estate development. Meero provided market information, technology for growing and transplanting trees, financing, and marketing assistance. In the beginning, about 20 families were involved, and the planting area was only about 8 hectares. By 2005, more than 500 families in 11 villages in earn their living from planting trees. The trees are not only purchased in Thailand, they are also exported to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
For each tree planted a sum has been contributed to a village bank to generate income for capital formation. An elected banking committee, comprising 50% women, operates the village bank. The bank provides seed money for the establishment of new micro-businesses, reduces dependency on exploitative moneylenders, encourages savings, and promotes gender equality.
With the cooperation of Siam Cement Co., Meero has also provided training to villagers on the construction of cement ponds from curved concrete roofing materials for intensive hybrid catfish production. Two ponds were built for 2 village schools for a school lunch program.
Through TBIRD, sponsors have the opportunity to engage in socially beneficial business activities, while villagers have the chance to become owners of community-based industries. TBIRD offers the business community an opportunity to be good corporate citizens and display their social responsibility in the public eye.