Archives For Culture & Global Leadership Series

Both the ancient Romans and Greeks called all foreigners “Barbarians”. The North Africans call their mountain people “Berbers”, Arabic for Barbar. The Europeans, until the late 19th century, called everything in North Africa “Barbaria”. The word “barbarian” refers to the uncultured, or those with unrefined communication skills – both explicit and implicit. The way we express ourselves is predetermined by our differing cultures (even if we often do speak the same language). How we communicate ultimately determines how we are viewed as global leaders. Damaging miscommunications can (and do) happen frequently when working across cultures, but they can be avoided if we apply some cultural intelligence to our diverse interactions – in particular understanding the differences between high and low context communications and leveraging both for personal and organizational gain.

High Context cultures communicate meaning not only with words, but with voice tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, speech patterns, and the use of silence. Words play a relatively small part in the overall meaning of the communication, and the context conveys the bulk of the information. People in high-context cultures, such as Asia and South America, tend to take time getting to know one another, providing for an understanding of the broader context of a conversation. This results in a knowledge of what to expect, what signals to look for, and how to interpret subtle signs or expressions – fewer words need to be said.

Low Context cultures are expecting explicit communications. People want detailed background information before making a decision, however they are generally unaware of subtle nonverbal signals going on around them. Documents and contracts are not taken seriously unless written or signed – details must be provided. For example, in the United States and Germany (both low-context cultures), contracts with numerous explicit clauses are a normal way to conduct business and the written word is taken quite literally. In low-context cultures, expect detailed documentation – thorough job descriptions, detailed accounting, and lengthy business planning documents. The devil is in the detail.

When communications become challenging, it can be tempting to access your “barbarian-reflex”, especially when messaging becomes unclear. But, as you can imagine, it is completely ineffective to view your colleagues, staff, or even clients as “foreign” or “unrefined” simply because they do not communicate as you do. If you are motivated to communicate effectively on a global, multi-cultural level, you will need to invest in building trust – the more you come to know someone, the less you tend to look upon him or her as a “barbarian”.

If your purpose is to ensure your colleagues and staff reliably implement to your specifications across the globe, the strategy you choose will vary depending on the cultural orientations you are working across. In those high-context cultures, your strategy will need to be relationship and trust based and may not be explicit – more soft-skills based and time intensive.  In low-context cultures the purpose of communication is to transfer information and your strategy will need to be explicit, efficient, and detailed in order to ensure the correct implementation. A sound strategic approach that is rooted in cultural orientation will be imperative to your overall success in the global organization.

As a global leader, everything you do conveys a message. Leveraging high-context and low-context cultures means relying on both implicit and explicit communication – carefully ensuring that what you say (low-context) is always mirrored by what you do (high-context). When there is alignment, you automatically build trust across all cultures  and your strategic approach becomes less diverse by nature – your message becomes stronger, and you can more readily achieve your global organizational goals, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

For the next several weeks, I will continue to discuss specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website atwww.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders.

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Globalization and rapidly changing technology continue to sweep the world. Organizations working across international and cultural boundaries face significant challenges as they seek to reach and maintain market leadership – however, inherent in those challenges are often unrealized opportunities. One such opportunity, Multicultural teams, offers a wealth of leverage to the discerning global leader. Our research repeatedly identifies the following advantages when multicultural teams are leveraged effectively:

–       Global economies of scale and scope are realized

–       Effective global learning & knowledge transfer takes place

–       Global strategic capabilities are enhanced

–       More innovative products and services are developed

–       Better understanding of customers across multiple geographies is achieved

–       Strong cultural intelligence fostering competitive advantage is accomplished

In today’s complex global marketplace, success depends on a company’s ability to work effectively across different geographical locations and cultures in order to drive innovation and capture market share. Leaders must go beyond motivating people from very different cultural backgrounds, experiences and leadership styles – they must create an environment that facilitates multicultural teams to collaborate effectively across boundaries and borders. There is simply no better better way to understand and strategically exploit the global marketplace.

The truth is that most organizations under-utilize their multicultural teams as strategic assets. When properly developed, such teams contribute significantly to the growth and success of the organization and to its bottom line. In fact, multicultural teams are one of the most consistent sources of competitive advantage for any organization who deploys them – they are effectively the bridge between the workplace and the marketplace.

Multicultural teams are, at the same time, both the most challenging teams to bring to high performance and the highest performing teams when properly developed. Indeed, multicultural teams can be considerably more creative and effective than same-culture teams, but only when they are built and managed knowledgably. This requires the global leader to consciously and intentionally build diverse multicultural teams to drive the best results for the organization and its clients.

Despite the layers of complexity inherent in multicultural teams, such groups offer their companies distinct advantages. They provide diversity of thought and perspective that leads to ongoing innovation, which ultimately drives better business results. The philosophy and uniqueness of diverse cultures brings richness to problem-solving. The different methodologies used in product and service development and an openness to diverse methods leads to better products and services,  leveraging cultural differences for innovation, collaboration, and ultimately, organizational success.

As a global leader, what then is your responsibility? It is simple, but not easy: You must leverage your multi-cultural, global teams as strategic assets – use them to gain competitive advantage. Invest in global innovation and diversification through your people to create blue ocean strategies instead of continuing to fight in bloody seas for small pieces of marketshare. Leverage the diverse knowledge that is inherent in your organization. For you and your organization to succeed, you must continually find ways to maximize the contributions of all of your varied workforce. Multicultural, global teams are the seldom leveraged keys to unimaginable success, because diverse people are truly the only sustainable competitive advantage in today’s global economy. The effectively leveraged multicultural team will certainly add up to more than the sum of its parts, revealing a wealth of Hidden Treasure just waiting to be discovered and appreciated.

You can contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next Thursday for the next installation on Global Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders.

There are several hundred national and regional cultures throughout the world. The enormity of the notion of deciphering the cultural norms of each of these diverse cultures is incredibly overwhelming. A dose of cultural intelligence goes a long way toward facilitating better relationships and reducing misunderstandings across boundaries and borders. Ideally, armed with some valuable information and tools, the global leader can acquire insight into the diverse cultures within which s/he must interact – making it possible to adopt a cultural stance toward teams/colleagues/clients designed to fit in appropriately with the orientations of the other.

If we are open to similarities versus differences, we can begin to see that it is possible to view all of the variant cultures through three lenses. These differing orientations will greatly increase the ability to successfully interact across cultures:

1) Task-oriented, highly organized planners (Monochronistics)

2) People-oriented, extroverts (Polychronistics)

3) Introverted, respect-oriented listeners (Reactives)

In a world of rapidly globalizing business, the ability to interact successfully with foreign colleagues is seen not as optional, but as essential.

Monochronic, or linear, cultures, such as the Swiss, Dutch, and Germans, prefer to devote their attention to one thing at a time – focusing hard on that one thing and achieving it within a scheduled timeframe. From a monochronistic perspective, devoting full attention to one person or group at a time is the professional, or polite, thing to do. Processing of tasks is sequential, rather than parallel. In this type of culture, people feel they are more efficient and get more done by segmenting their time, tasks, relationships, etc. into compartmentalized units.  By virtue of this compartmentalization, monochronistic people are less likely to view their activities within the context of the whole, or “big picture”.

Polychronic, or multi-tasking, cultures, such as the Greeks, Portuguese, or Italians tend to interrupt a task or meeting in order to attend to another important task or relationship at the same time – they are the proverbial multi-taskers.  Polychronistics are not too interested in schedules or punctuality and prefer to remain flexible. They do not like to leave conversations unfinished. Completing the human interaction, versus observing monochronistic time constraints, is the best use of their time.  They consider it professional and polite to juggle different projects and people at the same time. In Mediterranean polychronistic cultures, for example, an executive interacts with multiple people at once. Everyone feels acknowledged through having access to an important person, which is seen as a significant advantage. It is accepted that several meetings may take place in parallel in different rooms. While the senior person is sharing his/her time across several meetings, it is common practice for the other attendees to continue the meeting until s/he returns.

When people of differing orientations work together, irritation often results on both sides. Unless someone adapts – and they rarely do – they are in constant crisis. For example, a German may wonder why a Mexican won’t arrive on time, work to deadlines, or follow a plan. At the same time a Mexican may ponder why a German seems so regimented, why s/he insists on sticking to plan if circumstances have changed, or why a German may be willing to sacrifice quality to meet a deadline.

Reactive, or listening, cultures, such as Japan, China, Turkey and Finland belong to a group of listening cultures, who rarely initiate action or discussion. They prefer to listen and establish the other’s position first, then react to it and formulate their own response. Reactives listen carefully, concentrate solely on the speaker, and do not let their minds wander. Interruption is not an option, and they will not respond immediately. A period of silence after the speaker is finished shows respect. When a Reactive does respond, do not expect him/her to demonstrate any strong opinion immediately, but instead s/he is likely to ask questions to clarify the speakers intent. Reactives are introverts by nature and are quite proficient at nonverbal communication through subtle body language.

Although adaptation to an alternative culture may not be an easy task, it is nevertheless critical to global business success. The reserved, factual Finn must navigate toward common ground with the loquacious, emotional Italian to facilitate common business requirements. American, as well as European, global leaders have the opportunity to turn over many more billions of dollars in trade if they learn to communicate effectively with the Japanese and Chinese. Observing and respecting the above cultural orientations goes a long way in the right direction toward building solid partnerships across a diverse world to achieve exceptional results. After all, whatever mode of transportation is chosen – all roads do lead to Rome….

For the next several weeks, I will continue to discuss specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders.

 

 

 

 

 

Both the ancient Romans and Greeks called all foreigners “Barbarians”. The North Africans call their mountain people “Berbers”, Arabic for Barbar. The Europeans, until the late 19th century, called everything in North Africa “Barbaria”. The word “barbarian” refers to the uncultured, or those with unrefined communication skills – both explicit and implicit. The way we express ourselves is predetermined by our differing cultures (even if we often do speak the same language). How we communicate ultimately determines how we are viewed as global leaders. Damaging miscommunications can (and do) happen frequently when working across cultures, but they can be avoided if we apply some cultural intelligence to our diverse interactions – in particular understanding the differences between high and low context communications and leveraging both for personal and organizational gain.

High Context cultures communicate meaning not only with words, but with voice tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, speech patterns, and the use of silence. Words play a relatively small part in the overall meaning of the communication, and the context conveys the bulk of the information. People in high-context cultures, such as Asia and South America, tend to take time getting to know one another, providing for an understanding of the broader context of a conversation. This results in a knowledge of what to expect, what signals to look for, and how to interpret subtle signs or expressions – fewer words need to be said.

Low Context cultures are expecting explicit communications. People want detailed background information before making a decision, however they are generally unaware of subtle nonverbal signals going on around them. Documents and contracts are not taken seriously unless written or signed – details must be provided. For example, in the United States and Germany (both low-context cultures), contracts with numerous explicit clauses are a normal way to conduct business and the written word is taken quite literally. In low-context cultures, expect detailed documentation – thorough job descriptions, detailed accounting, and lengthy business planning documents. The devil is in the detail.

When communications become challenging, it can be tempting to access your “barbarian-reflex”, especially when messaging becomes unclear. But, as you can imagine, it is completely ineffective to view your colleagues, staff, or even clients as “foreign” or “unrefined” simply because they do not communicate as you do. If you are motivated to communicate effectively on a global, multi-cultural level, you will need to invest in building trust – the more you come to know someone, the less you tend to look upon him or her as a “barbarian”.

If your purpose is to ensure your colleagues and staff reliably implement to your specifications across the globe, the strategy you choose will vary depending on the cultural orientations you are working across. In those high-context cultures, your strategy will need to be relationship and trust based and may not be explicit – more soft-skills based and time intensive.  In low-context cultures the purpose of communication is to transfer information and your strategy will need to be explicit, efficient, and detailed in order to ensure the correct implementation. A sound strategic approach that is rooted in cultural orientation will be imperative to your overall success in the global organization.

As a global leader, everything you do conveys a message. Leveraging high-context and low-context cultures means relying on both implicit and explicit communication – carefully ensuring that what you say (low-context) is always mirrored by what you do (high-context). When there is alignment, you automatically build trust across all cultures  and your strategic approach becomes less diverse by nature – your message becomes stronger, and you can more readily achieve your global organizational goals, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

For the next several weeks, I will continue to discuss specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders.

 

Given the worlds extensive history and diverse variety, it is interesting how many common concepts, such as time, are rooted so firmly in a similar manner in very different societies. What is commonly not recognized is that each culture has its own notion of these concepts that are present across all cultures.   The general concept of time is very clear, however context and value vary widely. Because a person’s perception of time influences the way s/he understands time and behaves in respect to it, we ultimately have diverse views of time across cultures.

If we consider time from three vantage points – past, present and future – we can begin to understand why different cultures may espouse different orientations and the values that can be drawn from each worldview. As a leader in a global organization, it is critically important for you to understand not only that time may be viewed as scarce or plentiful, but also the context of time and how decisions are made, as well as how process, policy, and procedure is implemented and executed, may be significantly driven by the source of time orientation – past, present, and future worldviews.

Past: For many cultures, the past is, understandably, very important. Lessons learned from past mistakes are remembered and applied to current situations. In East Asia, for example, past events, notable scholars, as well as ancestors are honored and observed in ways other cultures may not fully understand. Historical context is extremely important to many European cultures as well, where nearly every speech, book, or article begins with background material providing historical perspective.  The value of the past lies in memory and history. When partnering with someone with a past orientation, it is extremely useful to frame the situation so as to allow the future to become more credible as it evolves into a new occurrence of the past. Learning from past mistakes helps to ensure we will not let them happen again. Alternatively, thinking back to positive outcomes inspires us to emulate the behaviors that resulted in the positive outcome.

Present: Many traditional cultures live in an “eternal” present. For example, many African and Native American cultures do not have verb tenses to indicate past occurrences or future events – everything is referred to in the present tense.  Another people focused on the present are Americans, who are heavily influenced by the ideas of instant gratification and short term benefits. The importance of the present is captured in the famous adage, “carpe diem” (seize the day) and in the common belief that the present is where life takes place. The challenge with a solely “in the here and now” mentality is that mistakes of the past can often be overlooked (and thus repeated), while at the same time no clear direction is defined and there is little to strive for if the future is negated.

Future: A future focused orientation usually coincides with a long-term worldview and typically resides within relationship and obligation-based cultures. Chinese and Japanese cultures, for example, are careful to build mutual commitment to relationships because they understand that many years from the present time, those relationships will continue to grow and add value. It is the view that short-term profit is not nearly as valuable as long-term growth. The future gives meaning to our present actions and defines where our dreams will materialize (if sufficient effort is made) – an important concept.

Beyond its presence in our actions, time is inherent in what we communicate. Obviously, a good balance between past, present, and future orientation is optimal, however most individuals do not occupy the precise center-point on the continuum. In order to bridge the cultural gap, you (as an intuitive global leader) must be willing and able to adapt to different time orientations, as is relevant to the culturally diverse audience you are partnering with, which is directly reflected in how you communicate. When a leader can frame communications in such a way as to connect with a preferred worldview, there is a significantly higher probability that culturally diverse orientations will connect and create leverage – to everyone’s advantage.

For the next several weeks, I will be discussing specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders.

Where Are You On The Continuum?

Worldviews, or orientations, held by differing cultures vary widely. Time is an essentially universal concept, however the nature and essence of time can be strikingly different across cultures.  If observed and leveraged, each orientation offers pearls of wisdom worth considering and leveraging in your multi-cultural communications.

In cultures where time is considered scarce, it is similar to a valuable commodity – it is carefully saved and allocated judiciously.  From a scarcity perspective, it is viewed as critical to plan, delegate, learn to say no, and set strict priorities. As a global leader, you may communicate with cultures that view time as scarce and it is critical that you value time and maintain an efficient and practical pace within all interactions. Be clear on goals and priorities, apply timelines, clarify ownership, and always communicate effectively and efficiently.

Where time is viewed as abundant, the pace of life is much slower. Relationships are critical, and little will be accomplished without the time invested to create a trust environment. The human interaction is the single most valuable aspect of a business transaction, even to the exclusion of achieving business goals. For many cultures where time is perceived as abundant, interactions are seen as something to be unwrapped or unfolded slowly in order to know your counterparts, make well-considered decisions, contemplate the implications, and ponder the potential outcomes. Understand when you are working with cultures that perceive time as abundant, you may not accomplish everything you set out to do in the course of a meeting, quarter, or even year! Take the time, lay the foundation, and make an effort to build relationships based on trust – it will be invaluable to getting things done! Be cognizant of the fact that your concept of time may not be theirs, and allow plenty of time to get things done.

Time is seen in a different light by Western and Eastern cultures in particular (but certainly not exclusively), and even within these groupings time assumes unique aspects from country to country. For example, the United States and Mexico employ time in such diametrically opposing manners that it has a very high potential to cause friction, particularly in business scenarios. In Western Europe, the Swiss attitude toward time bears little resemblance to that of its neighbor, Italy; while the Thais do not evaluate the passing of time in the same way the Japanese do.  As you distinguish your own orientation toward time, recognize that your staff, counterparts, and colleagues from other nations are highly likely to understand time from a very different worldview. If you adjust accordingly, you will have a significantly higher success rates than if you consider only your own perspective. Take the chance – discover new options, shift perspectives, and leverage differing orientations to facilitate both your personal, and your organizations success!

For the next several weeks, I will be discussing specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results.  You can contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next Thursday for the next installation in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders, Time Management: Past, Present, and Future Orientations.