Do you work with people across Australia and the Asian region? Develop a deeper understanding of communication styles, workplace culture, and business expectations in different countries.
I’ll never forget the moment. I was facilitating a Global Teams program in Shanghai for Country leaders of the IT department of a multinational client. It was a well-earned coffee break and Eric, a participant from Hong Kong approached me with a question which has stayed with me ever since.
“Why is it?’ he asked gazing around the room, “that he’s from Delhi, she’s from Tokyo, he’s from KL, he’s from Bangkok…we’re all speaking English as our second language, and we all understand each other perfectly well.” He then paused and subtly turned to direct his gaze at Ben from Melbourne. “And yet, we can barely understand a word Ben is saying.”
I asked myself, “Why are Australians so hard to understand?!” Australians often don’t realise how confusing their communication style can be. Australians use the English language in a particular way, have a unique approach to hierarchy and use banter and teasing to build rapport. Colleagues and clients who aren’t Australian can find this style difficult to understand.
After years of research and working closely with Australian businesses to improve communication in their global teams, Beasley Intercultural is excited to release our Working with Australians eLearning Program. This Program is designed to demystify Australian cultural and business practices.
The Working with Australians eLearning:
- Provides practical strategies to develop rapport with Australians
- Enables participants to understand how Australians communicate at work
- Outlines how respect and hierarchy are demonstrated in business
As you observe the Australia Day Public Holiday think about your newly arrived team members or colleagues working offshore. Could they use some help understanding Australians and the unique Australian communication style?
In 2016 hundreds of Australian employees participated in Beasley Intercultural’s Working with the Philippines 35 minute elearning program. This great online program enables Australian employees to be more productive when working with their colleagues in the Philippines.
What our participants said:
‘The most valuable component of the elearning for myself was the extent of the cultural differences between my country and the Philippines, and the way the people of the countries interact with each other.’
‘It was valuable to understand how what I say and how I say it comes across on the other end.’
‘I will think more about how I communicate and especially what I say.’
‘I am going to make communication more specific and be open to spending more time developing a relationship with the person on the other end of the phone.’
How would you describe the program?
‘Easy to understand and relevant so that we can get things done more efficiently.’
‘An eye opener to things that us Australians may not have known or understood.’
‘Informative. I thought I was being friendly, but at the same time I was probably confusing people.’
‘A great tool to be able to effectively work with the staff in Manila.’
Thank you to all of our participants! Your deeper understanding of your colleagues in the Philippines and new communication strategies will make a big difference to business outcomes for your organisations.
A major new report ‘Leadership at Work – Do Australian leaders have what it takes?’ has just been released by the Centre for Workplace Leadership, the largest ever survey of leadership in Australia. The findings are sobering. Most organisations do not have the leadership required to survive and thrive in the 21st century. It was really interesting to attend the launch of the report in Sydney and engage in dialogue with members of the Centre for Workplace Leadership team.
What’s happening in Australian organisations:
1. Australian workplaces are underperforming.
2. They don’t get the basics of leadership and management right.
3. Few organisations report high levels of innovation.
4. Leaders are not well-trained for the job.
5. There is underinvestment in leadership development, especially at the frontline.
6. Leadership doesn’t reflect wider social diversity. Australia has an ageing leadership, lacking cultural and gender diversity and with low formal qualifications.
7. Many senior leaders don’t draw on strategic advice – they don’t access external or diverse perspectives, contributing to a lack of risk awareness and capacity to innovate.
So, for the good news. There is a clear relationship between leadership capability and high performance, and the more training leaders receive, the better their firms perform. There is a correlation between improvements in self efficacy, leadership capability and workplace outcomes.
Key areas for quick wins are:
1. Get the basics right: Set clear goals and KPI’S, make them visible. Monitor performance, address issues, ensure continuous improvement.
2. Enable innovation: Build a culture of learning. A growth mindset is critical.
3. Develop leaders: Ensure leadership development is at frontline levels, not just senior leadership. Access training, coaching and mentoring.
4. Access strategic advice: In times of market and competitive pressure and volatility, leaders need help to ‘make sense’ of what’s happening and make informed decisions.
We’re all leading turnaround businesses defined by the realities of complexity, ambiguity and change. Investment in leadership pays dividends. It is also critical to enable performance.
In this article ’14 Aussie Phrases we should all be using’ an American website initially does quite well. I found it interesting to see another culture’s experience of our phrases such as ‘can’t be bothered’, ‘my shout’ and the use of the word ‘keen’. Well, at least all was going well until:
“What a Beaut”: There are so many beautiful people in Australia, they must have just needed a quicker way to say beautiful… after all, they have to say it so often.
Not sure about you, but I’ve never said, or heard said ‘what a beaut’. ‘What a beauty’ maybe?! The next phrase explained: “the sus” also doesn’t ring true.
The safest way to ever explore culture is through engaging with people who know and are representatives of that culture. If that’s not possible, the next best step to ensure that at a bare minimum the things you are saying about another culture are a) true and b) verified by direct experience or someone from that culture.
Particularly in a multicultural and highly diverse culture like Australia, cultural representation and exploration needs to be done with great sensitivity and professionalism. Particularly when 25 per cent of people in Australia were born overseas, you can be almost guaranteed there’s a representative of the culture you are talking about in the room to correct you.
Productivity and ‘high performance’ are key buzzwords in today’s economy. Businesses and organisations must extract the optimal output from limited resources and achieve more for less. We also have an aging population, and are entering an era of skills shortage and the global ‘war for talent’.
One of the more underestimated areas of capacity in our economy is the capacity to better leverage the cultural diversity of our population, the upside of migration, and the benefits associated with our location in the fastest growing economic region in the world.
All too often cultural diversity in Australia is perceived to involve ‘being nice to people from different cultures’, ‘chopsticks and manners’ or ‘overcoming barriers such as language’. To define diversity in such terms is to radically misunderstand our place in the world, our population and our economic future. While it is critical to treat people with respect, such paternalistic attitudes demean the contribution of migrants and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the sophistication of skills and global knowledge of many who come to Australia seeking a better life for themselves and their families. As so clearly stated by Frank Lowy, and Rupert Murdoch in their recent lectures, migrants make an economic contribution which far outweighs any costs which may be incurred by the state in their arrival.
We are a diverse nation. 25% of Australians were born overseas. To understand diversity is to understand and service the Australian market.
In our work with ASX 200 listed and multinational companies, we frequently see leaders struggling to negotiate the complexity of operating in emerging markets. We see managers challenged by creating inclusive and functioning team cultures when staff come from enormously diverse cultural backgrounds.
Research by Asialink business shows, less than 40% of Board members and less than 50% of senior executives in leading Australian companies have any experience in Asia. Yet nearly 10% of Australians have Asian cultural heritage, and Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in Australia other than English. Clearly, the diversity of our population is not being reflected at senior leadership levels.
Many organisations initially attempt to achieve ‘the numbers’ of diversity without recognising it’s a process of organisational change. What’s the point of hiring senior talent from Singapore with high-level networks if that individual isn’t taken seriously in the Board room due to their lack of ‘local experience’ or capacity to talk about rugby results?
Going global requires reflection on the supposed universalism of communication processes at leadership levels. The capacity to communicate with people who have different notions of rapport building, and to believe in the validity of anothers’ perspective without a shared sporting code or cultural approach to humour is critical.
Research, and experience tells us, that diverse teams can be more productive, more creative and more innovative than mono-cultural teams. However, such benefits are only realised if teams can tap into the diversity dividend. This means ensuring all team members are able to fully participate, engage and share perspectives, opinions and maintain a sense of their authentic self at work.
The capacity for leaders of diverse teams to create an inclusive and participatory high-performance culture is critical. Key skills include: structuring meetings in such a way that all people feel confident and capable of contributing; creating a shared sense of vision and direction; enabling feedback on what’s working and what’s not; and most importantly, ensuring delivery and performance is not negotiable.
Recently, when I spoke at the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia Conference with Peter Scanlon on a panel session on productive diversity, I was struck by the lack of business participation in the forum. It’s time for our business sector to realise that effective diversity management is effective business management and a strategic investment in productivity outcomes.
Diversity is the key to our economic future and a significant contributor to enable a creative, innovative and growing economy.
It’s time for our leaders to lift their game. Diversity management is about productivity and effectiveness in a globally interdependent economy. It’s about focusing on what matters to build a shared sense of vision to unite rather than divide. It’s about building capability to engage with, understand and negotiate complexity, ambiguity and the cultures of our region.
Our economic and business future depends on it.
This morning I participated in a panel discussion at the 2013 CPA Congress in Sydney on ‘The Rise of Asia’. Facilitated by Ticky Fullerton, our discussions explored what Asia capability is, and how we achieve it.
There has never been a more timely discussion. As Australian businesses, we need to get Asia capable, and we need to do so now. Just one of the ways we can expedite our Asia capability is through leveraging the talents of our diverse population. However, the Diversity Council of Australia ‘Capitalising on Culture’ report released today reveals just 2% of Senior Executives and 4% of Directors in ASX 200 listed companies have an Asian background. This contrasts to our population data which tells us 10% of Australians have an Asian heritage.
To engage with Asia we need to ensure the leaders of our organisations have, as Alex O’Malley, the CEO of CPA a fellow panellist so succinctly put it “strategic intent”. To be successful in the region takes time and commitment, and as the CPA demonstrates so clearly, their sixty years in the market is paying off.
Awareness – of the region and the opportunities and realities there
Perspective – an understanding of how our ‘Australianness’ is not universal, and differs to the business practices of many cultures of the region
Knowledge – of the distinct cultures, political, institutional, economic and social environments in Asia
Capability – to adapt, adjust, innovate and perform in this new business environment
Asia capability is not ‘nice to have’, it’s a critical strategic imperative for business success in this Century.
The Q&A Indonesia program from Jakarta should be essential watching for all Australians. A refreshing take on Australia’s position in the world from an Indonesian perspective, the program showcases some of the most entertaining and articulate panelists we’ve seen for a long time.
If you are interested in exploring intercultural capability and inclusion, there are lots of interesting forums coming up – come along. I’ll be presenting:
- Masterclass on ‘Cultural Intelligence’ at the Asia Education Foundation Inaugural National Conference
- Co-presentation with a client of a Case Study on offshoring to Malaysia at the International HR Directors Forum (Members only – part of CEO Forum Group)
- Keynote breakfast panel: Rise of Asia – rethinking business models to capitalise on emerging opportunities facilitated by Kerry O’Brien at the CPA Congress Sydney
- ‘Does culture call the shots’ Business Today on ABC TV with Whitney Fitzsimmons
- Government News: Cultural smarts essential for public sector success in Asian Century
- ‘The next step in addressing the Asian Century’ Australian Institute of Company Directors
Also some resources and new thinking:
- Don’t go back to where you came from, reflections on Tim Soutphommasane’s book by Ramona Singh
- Stakeholder engagement and how to make it work, tips and techniques for success in stakeholder consultations in culturally diverse groups
- Balancing the global and the local – the ‘what’ and the ‘how’
- What’s wrong with the world? Free copy of Tim Soutphommasane’s book to the first person to contact our office via return email with specific feedback on the world map!
Don’t hesitate to be in touch if we can be of support through the provision of coaching, training, facilitation or consultancy services
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!
Last week I facilitated a forum in Jakarta on ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia. Beasley Intercultural were supporters of the event alongside the ABC, BBC, PPMN (Indonesian Association for Media Development), the Ford Foundation and the Australian Government. The gathering brought together media, journalists and bloggers from across the region. The event coincided with the launch of the podcast/radio series ‘What Can I Say’ on BBC and ABC. It is always deeply satisfying to facilitate dialogue among groups of people with great depth of personal knowledge and experience, and such important topics to discuss. Click the links below to listen to the podcasts/programs:
It was interesting timing, with events in Tahrir square in Egypt unfolding at the same time. The BBC broadcast live from the conference venue in Jakarta (albeit at 1am Jakarta time), interviewing panelists and crossing live to Tahir square to speak to fellow bloggers and social media specialists. Concurrently, events relating to reactions to freedom of expression were also unfolding near Jakarta with the burning of two churches and the killings of three members of the Ahmadiyya movement. Such developments focused conversations on the potential to mobilise groups through the immediacy of social networks, and the inherent freedoms and risks involved.
Key elements of the workshop discussion I found most interesting were the focus on the tension between ‘Freedom of Expression’ and ‘Freedom of Religion’ – what
happens when expression challenges local religious truths? Participants in the workshop explored the cultural sensitivities around interpretation and analysis and the necessity for understanding the audience. Cultural change was also a key topic – how cultures are dynamic and do change, and an insightful discussion of power structures driving and benefiting from change ensued.
An insightful keynote presentation was provided by Mr Bambang Harymurti, CEO and Publisher of the Tempo magazine in Indonesia who reminded the audience of the importance of exploring alternate perspectives free of judgement. Other speakers included: Mick Bunworth Executive Producer Al Jazeera English Asia-Pacific; Nezar Patria, Chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists in Indonesia; AlexAu Waipang and Supinya Klangnarong, political bloggers from Singapore and Thailand. The most eye opening of presentations was on the depth of twitter and facebook penetration of Indonesia. Indonesia is the biggest ‘twitter’ population on the planet, and the second largest Facebook, and the use of the platforms are having some fascinating impacts on social movements.
As one participant so eloquently put it – “Just because we have new platforms for communicating, it doesn’t change who we are. A computer is just a vehicle, a piece of technology. It is the human being who is the driver that makes the difference. What we say, why and how we say it is what matters. It is easy to forget with the proliferation of social networking that ultimately it is people, with human fears, needs and concerns which utilise these platforms”.