Sunday, March 13, 2011

Five Principles of Effective Cross-Cultural Management - Elizabeth Bernhard & Joseph A.Cook

Published March 2011

I came across a useful article on Cross-cultural Management, another one of the issues that I like and wish everyone could take a course in this - as we are a really globalised workforce and need to work across cultures on a daily basis.

How do you prepare an organization, its leaders, the employees and the transported executives for cross-cultural management? If not approached in a thoughtful manner, cultural subtleties can limit communication, trust and the necessary mutual cooperation needed to drive an organization forward. But with careful planning and proven techniques, effectiveness can be accelerated and the chances of success enhanced.

Consider the following:

Awareness. Leaders who are considering bringing in talent from another part of the world to take a place on the senior executive team have already reached the first milestone. They have an awareness of the full global talent pool. While many Western business concerns have already developed an appreciation for the full range of talent available worldwide, some are lagging behind or don’t even have it on their radar. These businesses don’t know what they don’t know — and what they don’t know is that they’re missing out on opportunities.

Development. Once aware of the concept of the full global talent pool, the next step is to create a program for building the global executive bench. Expanding one’s horizons doesn’t mean neglecting the people right under one’s nose. Progressive companies have complete executive-advancement programs that develop talent for local opportunities and look abroad for talented individuals who are ready to cross borders for the next step in their development.

Executive Selection and Integration. Any selection process for global managers should begin with a clear understanding of the factors necessary to the assignment’s success. This includes both global management competencies — such as adaptability, flexibility, comfort with ambiguity, inquisitiveness, etc. — as well as role imperatives related to the particular assignment. Because home and host country expectations may vary considerably, these will frequently need to be aligned. Often an external assessment by a trained professional can be helpful.

Once the executive is in place, a strong focus on integration can reduce the time it takes for him or her to get up to speed and deliver results. Equally important is the positive impact an effective integration program has on long-term retention. This is especially significant with cross-cultural transitions, where “derailing” episodes can occur even more frequently than usual.

Acknowledging the Challenges. Once the right executive has been selected for a global management position, special attention must be paid to the difficulties of working in a new cultural environment. To optimize talent in the multinational corporation, talent must be sourced both locally and from around the world. However, as seen in both the experience of the colonial and expatriate phases of history, talent can be squandered and positive contributions minimized because of limited respect for local cultural norms and practices, poor communication and misunderstandings among individuals with different cultural orientations. Cultural habits that are deeply ingrained and respected in one country can raise the ire of individuals in another. This can create strained working conditions that undermine collaboration and the drive toward organizational goals.

While cultural communication differences and norms can start as simple style differences, they typically grow and fester, creating significant ill will within organizations. While stories of miscommunications regarding issues like hierarchy, negotiation style and directness are commonplace within multinational companies, the animosity, mistrust and team dysfunction they create are rarely addressed. People often aren’t even aware that they’re falling prey to culture clashes and misconstrue them as negative measures of others’ true talent and trustworthiness. This ill will, which often goes unrecognized as such, can be the root of multicultural team breakdown. Accusations fly, with little recognition that the players are both uncomfortable with foreign behavior and unsure how to negotiate it.

Multicultural Team Building. Multicultural team building is an approach that addresses the needs of the global team. Respecting that organizations cross borders and their members may hail from anywhere on the planet, the need to balance local custom with global leadership characteristics is vital. This approach can enhance understanding among team members and optimize team member communication and functioning.

Using a variety of interactive processes, team members learn about themselves, the culturally based assumptions that drive their day-to-day behavior and judgments of others, and their team members’ corresponding views. By highlighting and clarifying these differences and helping team members learn their own culturally derived hot buttons, teams are able to create their own norms for communication and grow greater awareness on how their behavior is impacting those around them. In doing so, executives learn to anticipate and correct problems before they grow, appropriately adjust their style by audience and quickly separate intercultural stress from other organizational issues. In the best cases, the team builds its own highly functional culture, complete with its own norms, behaviors and language, where collaboration and trust are foundation.

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