Archives For Global Culture Series

Of all the amazing experiences I have been so fortunate to have, across many different boundaries and borders, one of my very favorites is the unique opportunity I had to walk with lions in Zimbabwe.  While canoeing down the river Sabi (avoiding the hippos) was exciting, going on an elephant safari proved adventurous, swimming in The Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls was amazing and staying in the historic, luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel was, well… historic and luxurious, nothing compares to walking with lions. Many of you probably think I must be crazy – who wants to walk with wild lions? But this was a fascinating opportunity that offered many insights – and besides, how many chances do you get to walk with lions?

As I watched the lions approach, with only a walking stick in my hand and a pre-brief on lion behavior in my head, I wondered how I would engage these powerful creatures and what I could learn from them…

Here is just a bit of what I was reminded of through my encounter with the lions:

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As those of you who read my posts frequently know, I travel internationally a lot and I truly love experiencing other cultures and different ways of life! This past spring I had the opportunity to return to Turkey for pleasure instead of business… Here is what I was thinking about:

I returned to a city with an ever-evolving modern character that is still, at its core, bound by tradition. As I was observing the frenzy of activity going on around me in the only city in the world that resides on two continents,  I began to think (once again) about how there are unique leadership lessons in every environment.  It is easy to overlook the reminders that abound and think to yourself, “what can I learn from a country that has been riddled with unrest, struggles with human rights issues and is in a constant state of flux?” Yes, these things are true… but it does not negate the fact that Turkey is a beautiful country with beautiful people and there are some important reminders (lessons) that impact how we interact with people as leaders and how our views, as leaders, affect those around us. I have found that often, a change in scenery offers a valuable change in perspective.  Here are just a few of the things that came to my mind as I experienced, once again, one of the most amazing cities in the world:

  1. Business and personal relationships do not have to be mutually exclusive…

Living and visiting countries all over the world on a regular basis throughout most of my life, I remain very aware of how unique one location is from another. However, it also reminds me that despite the differences, there are some core foundations that we should all observe and deploy. In the western culture, we tend to believe that work and life are separate. However in Istanbul, where East meets West, business and personal relationships are heavily intertwined.  The diversity and complexity of individuals is shaped not only by their culture, but through relationships that are consistently valued and continually evolve throughout a lifetime. As I attend client meetings that are focused solely on getting know one another better, I am always reminded how the Turkish people, in general, only do business with people they know, like and respect.  In Turkey, business will only materialize if effective personal relationships are built. This is not only important in the moment, but throughout a lifetime. Later, as I made a visit to the world famous Spice Bazaar, I was reminded once again how relationships can thread through our lives –  both as people and leaders – as I stopped to chat with a shopkeeper and was invited in… not just for a sale, but to build a relationship. We chatted for twenty minutes, shared some delicious apple tea (a hospitality must in Turkey), and exchanged contact information. On my next visit will I stop in and purchase from Iskandar? Of course, but I will also recommend this particular shopkeeper to anyone I know visiting Istanbul!  As leaders, it seems to me that we could be infinitely more effective if we slowed down (both in our personal and professional lives), borrowed a page from the Turkish playbook, and took the time to get to know our colleagues on a more personal level – facilitating an extensive and priceless network of not only colleagues, but friends, that will benefit us for a lifetime.

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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 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.

Please feel free to contact me at Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website atwww.LuminosityGlobal.com. Be sure and check in next Thursday as we begin a series on Leadership Lessons From Around The World!

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.

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“Think Global/Act Local”  was based on acculturation: Customizing products and services for regional consumption in accordance with the local language, currency, culture and regulatory climate. Not surprisingly, localization encouraged each country of operation to develop its own customized solutions and operational procedures. This has resulted in data silos around the world and companies operating with huge information blind spots across the spectrum. It can take weeks, even months, to collect, reconcile, translate and analyze regional performance – much less consolidate a global view of the corporate picture.

In addition to the above issues, business today is facing new challenges, and I do not believe the statement “Think Global, Act Local” actually holds true anymore. There is an under-acknowledged reality in global organizations today: easier access to international markets is creating limitless sales opportunities on a worldwide basis, but is also creating numerous challenges in how those products and services are presented in local markets. Escalating costs and increased competition are also placing companies under increasing pressure to improve innovation and raise shareholder value – on both the global and local levels. The new reality is that companies must think and act both global and local simultaneously.

Globalization requires common business practices and processes across the enterprise. The challenge is to reengineer processes to be globally efficient, yet locally accountable. A multinational company may have global processes, policies, and procedures, however they must still adhere to in-country requirements set by foreign governments, as well as honor the business traditions, etiquette and customs which are the underpinning of successful and long-term relationships in the local markets. The goal, therefore, is to establish shared services and global practices, which simultaneously have the flexibility and robustness to meet local market criteria, while leveraging the power of the global market.

However stringently a global corporate culture is imposed, to gain a true competitive edge it is critical to be able to implement effective global solutions with the flexibility of a local interpretation. However, determining the local subset of required functionality is not for the faint-hearted. In-country offices will defend every aspect of their local operation as essential. In reality, it will be a mix of real and manufactured needs that the discerning global leader will be required to effectively evaluate and strategically calculate in order to determine the method of change to be employed.

If put into perspective, global is about the size and strength of a business. Local is about the people the business touches – where they live and work, how they think, what they value, and what moves them to action. Acting local demonstrates a respect for local perspectives, priorities and traditions and demonstrates an understanding of how to compromise to bridge the gap and create an environment where both global and local thinking are simultaneously integrated into the fabric of the global organization.

Locally effective global businesses take into consideration how local attitudes and behaviors differ from those of the company’s home country and other local markets and create a puzzle that fits nicely together – all the pieces are different, but interconnected. Something as simple as observing local seasonal or religious holidays when timing the launch of a new global product can have a direct impact on the success or failure of the campaign.

If global is seeing the forest, then local is tending the trees. With only a view of the forest as a whole, it is possible to overlook the trees that need attention. Up close, it is easy to focus on the detailed care of each tree, but lose sight of its place in the overall forest. Balancing both viewpoints is critical to keeping both the trees and forest healthy. Global Corporations are like a forest – a sum of its parts – consistent, meaningful and effective local practices must contribute to the success of the whole.

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.