Six components of a solid training regimen that highlights the basic needed perspective modifications for international success.
By Valerie Berset-Price
Based on recent articles published in The Economist (The Future of Jobs, September 10, 2011), the professional skills needed for tomorrow are no longer technical. Algorithms soon will replace the need for engineers, mathematicians, and financiers. But what computers will never replace is the ability to facilitate dialog across cultures. Developing a global mindset and leading with cultural intelligence are two phrases that are used more and more often by management teams, and that can be defined as making oneself understood where cultural differences are at play.
Professionals who lived abroad for several years have learned to develop a global mindset the hard way, often experiencing painful failures, being forced to re-evaluate the way they approach foreign markets. While there is merit in learning the hard way, failure can have a steep price tag and a demoralizing effect. Training employees and giving them the tools needed to develop the global mindset needed to succeed prior to engaging in international endeavors is by far the most effective way to conduct international business and retain employees.
To reuse the analogy coined by David Livermore, author of “The Cultural Intelligence Difference,” culture should be experienced as when driving on the left side of the road for the first time: with acute attention, with cell phone and the radio off. While too many American companies tend to conduct international business while on cruise control, leading to major misunderstandings that translate into lost business and career opportunities, investing in developing a global mindset is, without a doubt, the highway to success.
So how should one train to develop a global mindset? Here are a few components of a solid training regimen that highlights the basic needed perspective modifications for international success:
Define your own cultural DNA: Learn what you are made of and what your cultural inclination is as far as time management; team playing vs. individualism; relationship vs. business driven transactions; separation between professional life and personal life; equality vs. hierarchical layers. By being effectively trained on how culture influences behaviors, Karen, a trained HR director at a global company in Santa Clara, CA, is able to motivate her French employees in reaching higher professional accomplishments by presenting them with something aligned with their cultural values: added vacation time rather than just a wage and bonus increase, which would be more appealing to most Americans.
Recognize that speaking English fluently may not mean non-Americans embrace and respect American cultural values. Don’t assume that people understand what you mean and understand your context for professional behavior. Take how language shapes culture, for example, in the degree of irony and sarcasm and the type of metaphors Americans use. Training allows people who have never had access to learning a foreign language or the opportunity to live abroad to develop the capacity to see their own speech patterns through the eyes of a non-native English speaker. Prior to training, James constantly used sports analogies in speaking to international colleagues. James would say to Ingrid from Karlsbad, Austria, that he expected her to “go the full nine yards on this project.” But Ingrid counts in the metric system and, thus, does not know what a yard is; she is also unaware of American football rules. She never understood that her boss expected her to engage fully in that project and treated it as a regular one, giving it a less-than-high priority for too long. Taking a class that highlighted cross-cultural communication pitfalls and how sports analogies can get in the way of clear comprehension between people helped James realize he immediately should remove sports analogies from his speech.
Expect the difference and learn how to compromise: Jennifer felt highly offended when interviewing Goce for a job opening in Macedonia. He kept interrupting her and even finishing her sentences for her. She assumed Goce was sexist toward a female manager and decided to not hire him. Had she received adequate cross-cultural training, she would have had the capacity to step away from her irritation and realize that Goce’s speech pattern is typical of males and females in Mediterranean countries and should not be interpreted as disrespectful of her. She would have been able to see him as the ideal candidate to develop that region, positioning her company for success.
Think on global terms: An international team does not always operate on Los Angeles time. It takes turns in experiencing the pain of working within the 24 time zones we have throughout the world by moving the noon conference call from one location to the next. Noon in Bangalore one week, noon in Buenos Aires one week, etc. Training gives you the tactical tools to be productive and welcome globally, and avoid leaving the impression that you put Americans’ needs first. It helps you create plans and programs that are culturally aware and relevant, including with basic things such as when to host conference calls.
Treat people’s cultural values with respect: It is regarded as naïve and unseasoned by foreigners, who take deep pride in the antiquity of their cultures and what they have given civilization, to have their perspective disregarded. In fact, in today’s global village, their point of view is as important as what has been empirically proven in a company laboratory or approved by an American Ph.D. holder running the company. Training provides the awareness that many cultures have preferences for solutions or remedies that are based on different beliefs and experiences That awareness make foreigners feel valued and respected as whole contributors to the company instead of employees who are solely technically competent or, even worse, affordable labor.
Learn your history: Some countries have a troubled past—genocide, violence against women, disappearance of people, labor camps, personal or family histories marked by wars, economic collapse, and political extremism. Had the marketing team of the GAP been trained on leading with cultural intelligence, they would have realized that 1969 was not a year to link to a Chinese marketing campaign that plastered Shanghai with billboards. They would have been made aware that any marketing efforts start with some thorough fact checking and a campaign that translates appropriately from one culture to another.
The biggest challenge domestic companies encounter with regard to leading their operation with cultural intelligence is that few managers are innately aware of the components and subtleties of cross-cultural communication. Thus, it is only by being proactive and exposing employees and executives alike to cultural intelligence training that the internationalization of companies will take place.
In my next article posting April 12, I will talk about how a global mindset prepares you for your first international business trip.
Valérie Berset-Price was born and reared in Geneva, Switzerland. After attending International Business School in Switzerland, she pursued her education in Santiago, Chile, where she obtained a certificate of Spanish proficiency. She then attended the Monterey Institute of International Studies, a prominent American school forming future international delegates, graduating with a degree in International Relations. She brings more than 15 years of experience on the international business stage to bear in assessing overseas opportunities, educating staff on the cultural mores of foreign markets, and providing discreet consultations on panache and personal styling. She is fluent in French, English, and Spanish, as well as conversant in German and Portuguese. Berset-Price also is a certified image consultant with the Association of Image Consultants International, providing in-depth knowledge of business etiquette and image management for today’s professionals. Her company, Valérie Antoinette, is a full-service business etiquette firm that specializes in international business practices. For more information, visit http://www.valerie-antoinette.com and http://www.valerie-antoinette.com/aboutpg.