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The Global Boardroom

As you look forward, it is always helpful to look back and gain perspective. Today’s organizations are more global, aligned and proactive than even just five years ago. The rapid pace of globalization and the growing number of collaborative technology solutions has enabled virtual work practices to accelerate – while recent current events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, demand that organizations worldwide change the way they engage customers. No longer is it viable for global customer teams to work in a microcosm and expect global customer objectives to be met. The demand for cross-functional, cross-cultural skills from around the world has made working across boundaries and borders a necessity when partnering with global customers. However, collaborative teamwork in global environments typically is not intuitive. It’s far more than dealing with technology and time zones – it is about people and the value that integrated intelligence can bring to the organization.

Post COVID, we see increasing customer challenges as people are getting back to work in hybrid and virtual environments – however, from challenge comes opportunity. As developing strategies for mitigating the risk of customer destabilization overtakes economizing, organizations will increasingly need to leverage strong value chains while stringently considering the bottom line. That balance will drive the success (or failure) of global companies moving forward. Although technology and the digital value chain are on the rise, without the comprehensive knowledge and collaboration of people interacting with global customers, we will continue to struggle to find that critical balance…and global customer opportunities will suffer.

Often, even though organizations may be consolidating for cost management and scalability purposes, the walls of the individual functions, channels and regions have become even thicker. As a direct result, it is harder for you, as a leader, to build end-to-end value chain functionality in an ever-changing global marketplace. It has become increasingly difficult to gain agreement on specific, customer focused initiatives or broader organizational change.

This is not a technology, process or policy problem – it is a people problem:

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All Roads Lead To Rome

November 9, 2021 — Leave a comment

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, you (as a global leader) can acquire insight into the diverse cultures within which you interact – making it possible to adopt a cultural perspective toward teams, colleagues and clients that empathizes and is designed to align to the orientations of others.

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 that has globalized rapidly, the ability to interact successfully with colleagues from disparate cultures is seen not as optional, but as essential.

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Who’s The Barbarian?

November 2, 2021 — Leave a comment

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.

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Past.Present. Future.

October 26, 2021 — Leave a comment

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 that are reflected in culture.

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As a global leader, time is not only invaluable, it is an essential concept to understand and leverage as you work across boundaries & borders. Worldviews, or orientations, held across a geographically diverse workforce varies widely. While time is an essentially universal concept, 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.

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As we begin to explore and understand how cultural orientations affect our assumptions and perspectives, it is important to understand what a cultural orientation is and how it affects worldviews. Everyone has specific orientations, or ways of perceiving the world around them, primarily derived from our cultural background and the way we were raised.  These orientations, or world-views, combine to determine who we are and how we see the world around us. From that basis, we will begin to look at several layers of cultural orientation that specifically affect the way people view the world and the assumptions that are placed on interpretations in communication.

If we can leverage orientations to better understand our own perceptions, as well as help us to understand the complex network of cultures surrounding us in our work and in our lives, we can then begin to leverage cultural orientations as a communication tool for discovering creative solutions to problems – increasing the human potential of everyone involved, from every culture, and achieving success on a journey toward high performance and fulfillment that will far exceed everyone’s expectations. Let’s get started with the first set of cultural orientations…Power/Responsibility.

There are three critical elements to establishing how an individual or group may view where they, themselves, as well as others, belong on the Power/Responsibility continuum:

1) Humility: People should accept inevitable natural limitations and are not in control

2) Harmony: People should strive for balance with nature, having a clear understanding of what one can control and what one can not control… or

3) Control: People have determinant power and responsibility to forge the life they want, and are in complete control of every aspect of life

Humility recognizes that most things are out of our control. Success is viewed as a combination of effort and good fortune, but is never of one’s own doing. Humility teaches us to gracefully accept our limitations, however humility becomes ineffective when it leads to passive acceptance of fate and prevents individuals from taking proactive steps toward positive change. It can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies perpetuating the status quo and causing missed opportunities. On the other hand, humility can teach wisdom: we can learn to accept what life has for us (gratefully or with a grain of salt), relieving us of the burdens of feeling responsible for what happens –  everything is beyond our control.

Harmony is the center-point of the continuum between Humility and Control, and is all about balance – knowing when to act and when to let go; maintaining balance between opposite forces. Those who strive for harmony tend to create an atmosphere of consideration and mutual respect.  There is a clear sense of when to take control and when to fall back and accepts that there are limitations. This approach fosters an atmosphere of unity and collaborative processes that lead to global success. The leader who knows when to listen, when to act, and when to withdraw can achieve anything.

Control-oriented individuals feel they are in charge of their own destiny – a belief in man’s will over nature, relationships, and happiness, as well as academic or business success. The positive side of control is that it often leads to productivity and strong self-fulfilling prophecies – one can achieve anything one puts his/her mind to.  It exudes a sense of optimism and an ability to attain extraordinary goals. The ugly side of control is arrogance and the potential for guilt and frustration when things do not happen as planned. After all, if you believe you are in complete control, it is also your fault when success is eluded. In addition, it is a high-risk proposition to try and control your environment and relationships – you may find in others an unwillingness to comply that ultimately impedes your goals, and thus your success.

Now, imagine the difference if you could begin to leverage the richness in each orientation, while being aware of, and watching for their downsides amongst your diverse global counterparts. If you understand that your own sense of Power/Responsibility may lie toward the control orientation on the continuum (for example), but you need to successfully establish annual goals with your staff in Asia, which are likely to lean more toward a humility driven orientation, how might you shift your approach to communicate in a way that may result in better cultural understanding and buy-in? If you need to change a process, how might you leverage your knowledge of Power/Responsibility and the associated orientations to alter your communications between geographies to facilitate excitement and buy-in to change across various regions? Your understanding and use of cultural orientations communicates a sensitivity that will facilitate faster, more effective results in a fraction of the time that a “one size fits all” communication approach can ever hope to achieve.

If leveraged correctly, this concept will allow you to discover new options, shift perspectives, and quite possibly, to leverage differing orientations as you move between and amongst different geographical locations and cultural orientations. My theory…Acting Local is Acting Global.

As a global leader, how will you balance differing cultural orientations across your diverse organization?

For the next several weeks, I will be discussing specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results across cultures.  You can contact me at sherilmackey@gmail.com. Check back next week for the second in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders, Time Management Orientations.