Monday, August 18, 2014

Leading and Motivating across Cultures - are leaders ready to deliver?

A topnotch HR Survey reports that only 1/3 of leaders reported
being effective in leading across countries and cultures. Despite this
being one of two skills ranked by HR professionals as most critical for the future,
organizations are not focusing on it in current leadership development programmes. 

In fact, only 1 in 5 organizations emphasize development in global leadership.
Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015

A serious situation given that those that invest in building leaders’ skills in
the critical areas and whose leaders are more effective as a result, are 3 times 
more likely to rank in the top 20 percent for financial performance.

In order to lead, a person must be able to understand the basic motivation
of those being led – their willingness to exert effort towards a goal. Patterns
of motivation vary both between individuals and across cultures.  

A case study (adapted from HBR)

Akito, a Japanese teacher with an outstanding track record of teaching
in a Japanese primary school, won a scholarship to study at a well-known
university in New York. This included the opportunity to teach part-time,
at a local high school, conducting conversational Japanese lessons with
a tenth-grade class of American students.

Being well educated in Japanese culture and fluent in English, he reasoned
that he would be able to get on the same wavelength as the American teenagers.
However on his first day of teaching, he had difficulty maintaining discipline
and getting their attention when communicating clearly structured class objectives.
Transferring his Japanese teaching experience to the American classroom,
he noticed that the teenagers seemed bored and unwilling to participate.
On the way out of class, he heard one student remark: “Boy, is he uptight!
He ought to chill out.”

The problem Akito faces is one of leadership. Leadership is the ability to
influence other people to strive willingly to reach common goals.
Akito as the teacher of the class, is also its leader. It is his job to get the class
interested in the common goal of learning Japanese and influence them to
“strive willingly” toward the goal. To do this, he needs to show them that
he cares about and understands them, that their success will also be his.

Why hasn’t he succeeded? It seems most likely that his style of leadership
was too Japanese to achieve a good fit with the culture and expectations
of his American students. Japanese have a higher level of power distance
than Americans and Japanese teachers very naturally exercise authority over
students. Japanese children are much more respectful of their teachers
and more willing to pay attention without questioning. American children
expect their teachers to earn respect through their actions. Akito might have
succeeded better with them had he been less formal and taken time to get to
know them before launching into his firmly-fixed class agenda.

In the multicultural workplace, more and more managers find themselves
dealing with followers who are culturally different from themselves (and often
culturally different from each other).

Using a structured framework designed to support international teamwork step-by-step, I help managers to develop the mindfulness and adaptability skills needed to delegate tasks, taking into account the diverse characteristics of their followers. By varying their leadership styles accordingly, they will in the process acquire the cultural intelligence necessary to drive and motivate high-performing teams.

If you would like me to review how your team works, please feel free to
contact me. We will walk through some of the current challenges you may be facing in leading your international teams and I will try to give you my best tips and ideas.

Christina Kwok

Monday, August 11, 2014

Getting dysfunctional teams back on track

.......................... here's what you can do

In business just as in football, great teams know that their performance is not only the result of the individual talents of each team member but is also down to the team captain’s ability to harness the combined skills of the team and to motivate each and every player to capitalize on their strengths while managing their weaknesses. Brazil’s humiliating defeat in the 2014 World Cup Semi-final against Germany is a serious reminder of the havoc that dysfunctional teams can wreak.

Star attacker Neymar’s inspiration may have been lacking but what hurt even more was the absence of Thiago Silva their captain, without whom the team acted like a ship adrift without a compass with no sense of purpose or direction, mercilessly thrashed around by the wind and waves of unrelenting assault and precision from the German team who with their clear and persistent game plan simply took advantage of the Brazilians as their defense started to crack ...................... In the words of the BBC commentator, “Thiago is the glue that keeps everyone together..................”

How do your teams measure up when it comes to delivering on and exceeding customer expectations? Do you have the 'glue' it takes to get everyone pulling on the same rope? If you have a dysfunctional team, here’s what you need to think about to get your team back on track:

Friday, June 13, 2014

High Context (Western) versus Low Context (Asian) communication Part 2

High Context (Western) versus Low Context (Asian) communication Part 2

Implicit communication occurs often in what the anthropologist Edward Hall 
referred to as high-context cultures. In such cultures, people leave many things unsaid.
The context, made up of the environment, the situation, and the parties involved, itself
carries messages that complement the spoken word and make up for the things that are left
unsaid. Malaysian culture is a high-context culture, as are the cultures of many Asian and
Arab nations.

In low-context cultures, such as Switzerland and much of Europe, communication is
more explicit. Expectations, relationships, and knowledge are typically made more explicit
in such cultures. There is less that is assumed to have been communicated in low-context
cultures. Thus, an inverse relationship exists between the level of context and the level
of verbalized communication.

The response of the Malaysian government to the present MH370 missing plane crisis is a case in point. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott chose to come forward with
information about satellite imagery of debris almost immediately, even before it was confirmed to be relevant to the missing plane. This alacrity and transparency of response associated with ‘low context’ stood in contrast to Malaysia’s actions which invited criticism.

The way the Malaysian authorities have handled the communication crisis is in no small
part the result of long standing political, social as well as cultural factors. Typically print
and broadcast media channels are tightly controlled  and the need to ‘maintain face’ did
not allow Malaysia to admit how little information it had and its inability to handle such
an unprecedented situation. Malaysian Airlines has been accused of lack of transparency
on various counts: withholding of critical information about the plane’s course deviation
in a timely and relevant manner amongst others.  

In the global business arena, communication differences also come to the fore. Business 
practices are shaped by deeply-held cultural attitudes toward work, power, trust, wealth and
communication. Business collaboration on complex product specifications and production
schedules must be mutually understood and intricate deals between trading partners must be
negotiated. To overcome the staggering variety of business styles and conduct successful
business requires that all parties recognize the importance on intercultural communication
skills as we conduct business in an increasingly multi-polar world economy.

If you would like to know more about how I can help your company overcome 
hurdles in intercultural communication with your key Asian business partners,

please feel free to contact me for a free non-obligatory consultation.

High Context (Western) versus Low Context (Asian) communication Part 1

In a global economy, understanding and embracing cultural differences is
more than a good idea. It’s a competitive advantage. From sales to
manufacturing and customer service, it’s no secret that better communication
equals better business.

People of  western heritage tend to believe that words are the most
important part of a communication process and are said to belong to a
‘low context’ culture where the mass of information is vested in the
explicit code or the actual spoken words. But in a ‘high context’ culture,
words alone do not convey the whole meaning to a spoken message,
most of the information is embedded in the speaker or the circumstances
(context) of the situation and remain implicit or unspoken.

Example dialogue:

Four weeks ago, I talked to my brother, living in Penang, Malaysia
on the phone and we discussed puzzling aspects of the missing
Malaysian Airlines plane MH 370. Naturally, I checked with him to see
if anyone we knew (relatives, friends, acquaintances) might have been
on that fateful plane.

Me: So do you know if anyone we know was on that flight?
Brother: No.
Me: You don’t know?
Brother: None, no one we know.
Me: And how can you be sure of that?
Brother (surprised at this question): What ………the newspapers are full of it.
Me: Oh, you mean  the airline has released the names of people on that plane?
Brother: Of course. All the names of passengers have been published.
I’ve looked through the full list. No one we know.
Me: I see ……………..good that they’ve done that. Watching it on CNN,
I had no idea the local papers had released the names of the passengers.
I’m relieved to hear you say that.

My brother being typically ‘high context’ didn’t offer complete information up
front  until he was prodded to do so. He seemed to assume that the plane’s list
of passengers would have been released around the world. It was up to me to
elicit the additional information with a couple of extra questions. 

Cross-Cultural Synergies combines global cultural awareness of communication
differences such as described above, with proven adult learning methods to
deliver immediate results in the workplace. There is a growing body of data to
support what we see time and time again: diversity training has the potential to
increase productivity, sales, retention and customer satisfaction. And these
benefits ultimately translate into a stronger top and bottom line.

Intercultural competence - an integral component of global leadership skills

“In addition to extraordinary business leadership skills, a leader now needs cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence requires transcending one's own cultural background to interact with diverse and unknown intelligences” 

(E. S. Wibbeke, leader of Fortune 500 firms, in Global Business Leadership, 2009)


As an intercultural trainer targeting Swiss multinationals active in China,helping to bridge gaps in communication styles and values, I occasionallyrun into senior managers who say: "Leadership training is our top priorityat the moment, come back to us later".

Become a better leader through cross-cultural awareness

Our world is changing rapidly. You can choose to watch from the sidelines, 

let your competition steal the march on you or you can decide to actively shape what will be. To meet the unique challenges of the 21st century workplace and remain competitive, managers need to have the skills necessary to leverage diversity as a strength.

In making the change from a functional leadership to a business leadership position, managers will need to:
Þ       develop and implement business strategies 
Þ       integrate the work of multiple functions to achieve superior business results
Þ       design and structure business units and build cross-functional teams to deliver results.

The majority of these teams are likely to be cross-cultural in nature given the increasingly diverse workforce, and the fact that diversity brings innovation, fresh perspective and creative problem-solving to a dynamic workplace.

In order to take advantage of these cultural synergies, managers need to examine their own frame of reference through which they view the world and actively seek to broaden it in order to build effective work groups and create an inclusive work environment. This contributes to better employee relations and happier employees.

Ability to assess the competitive environment and take account of multiple stakeholders 
(governments, regulators, customers, suppliers, employees) of necessarily different cultural backgrounds and value systems, is necessary to create a vision and strategy for a complete business. Benefits to customers and stakeholders ultimately spill over into top as well as bottom line results for your organization.

As a CEO, leading change in your organization and developing capabilities to influence, negotiate, communicate and manage conflict can only be effective if employees and stakeholders feel listened to, respected and valued for their diverse contributions. This is all part and parcel of developing your strengths in personal leadership and becoming a 21st century business leader that inspires change in others.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Task before relationship or relationship before task?

Task before relationship or relationship before task?

In the era of global business, cultural insensitivity is not only foolish, it’s expensive. We may hide behind the notion that “business is business” the world over but in an increasingly crowded marketplace, the seller who doesn’t understand how his or her customers think doesn’t stand a chance.

A tight schedule

Mr. Abu Bakar: Mr. Müller, how good to see you.
Mr. Müller:        Nice to see you again, Hassan.

Mr. Abu Bakar: Tell me, how have you been?
Mr. Müller:        Very well, thank you. And you?

Mr. Abu Bakar:  Fine, fine. Allah be praised.
Mr. Müller:         I really appreciate your agreeing to see me about these
                         distribution arrangements.
Mr. Abu Bakar:  My pleasure. So tell me: how was your trip? Did you
                         come direct or did you have a stopover?
Mr. Müller:         No stopover this time. I’m on a tight schedule. That’s why I’m so grateful you could see me on such short notice.

Mr. Abu Bakar:  Not at all. How is my good friend, Mr. Wilson?
Mr. Müller:        Oh, fine, fine. He’s been very busy with this distribution
                         problem also.
Mr. Abu Bakar: You know, you have come at an excellent time. Tomorrow
                         Is the Prophet’s birthday – blessings and peace be upon Him –
                         and we’re having a special feast at my home. I’d like you to be
                         our guest.
Mr. Müller:        Thank you very much. Now about these plans ……. ?

Mr. Müller has a rather narrow notion of what one talks about at a “business meeting”. He tries to come right to the point – the question of the distribution arrangements. Mr. Abu Bakar seems to be more interested in the social side of things  - there’s more to meetings than doing business. For him, after all, building strong personal rapport with partners is the essential foundation for a successful business undertaking.

From Mr. Müller’s point of view, business is business and should not be mixed with socializing activities. From the Arab point of view though, a firm distinction between the professional and the personal is unnatural. An increase in cultural sensitivity and change in attitudes on both sides will certainly help to alleviate a potential conflict from further escalating.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pedestrian crossings in Shanghai are not for the fainthearted …….

There are lots of zebra crossings on busy roads in Shanghai and it was an experience in itself, crossing them safely. Legally, pedestrians have the right of way on crossing, however few drivers will actually go the mile and stop for them. As a pedestrian, I am outraged that traffic police are remiss in reminding inconsiderate motorists that people have right of way at the crossings, not cars!! That they are supposed to slow down, yield and avoid us, not us them. Establish a regime of severe fines and tough penalties, I say, to make the roads safe for us all and to make drivers think twice about their selfish and reckless behavior that puts us all at risk. 
Mustering up my courage one afternoon, I decided to put what I believed into practice: just like any well-trained citizen in Switzerland, I was going to put first one foot on the crossing, then the other foot to signal to oncoming motorists of my intention to cross and expect that they would slow down and stop for me. I told myself it’s my right to adopt a leisurely pace of crossing without cowering in fear as to whether they would actually stop nor should I be racing across to the other side worrying about being run over by cars that didn’t slow down.

Well …………I survived to tell the tale but the truth is that, they didn’t stop, they barely noticeably braked ………  they would have run me right over if my sister, a 3-year resident, hadn’t simply grabbed my arm and dragged me across the road with her each time I chose to linger …………

It is no wonder that road accidents are the highest cause of death in China!


Admittedly the above image is showing something a bit different from what I described, it seems to suggest that pedestrians themselves are breaking the law crossing against a red light (which does happen too often enough) but actually there are not always traffic lights at crossings in Shanghai or if there are, motorists ignore them at the expense of pedestrians crossing on green. 

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