My methods can be untraditional — talking to one large financial services firm’s 1200 partners, I gave one-hour presentations on three successive days. The first day was a classic presentation of data specific to the firm, and discussion of it. On the second, I brought in 10 colleagues to facilitate role plays of cultural difference, with all 1200 attendees taking part. This was a huge learning experience for the audience. On the third day I summarized the previous two days’ work, with mimes playing out his presentation — it was great fun.
The seminar resulted in numerous cultural connections within the company. It put this topic high on the company’s agenda — later on, the people attending could easily connect to one another around this topic, drawing on each other’s experience and networks, ensuring that the seminar had long-term benefits for how they worked together.
With 30 years into globalization, business people in the 21st century have become a little overconfident about working internationally. But given recent economic and political events — conflicts around the world, tensions between nation states and regions — people tend to revert back to their own values, so the challenge has become different.
In some organizations — be it companies, universities, or government departments — the attitude is ‘We will hire talented people, but our culture is our culture: they either fit in our organization, and are able to do a good job, or not.’ These organizations focus on the ideal employee’s typical background, technical training, universities attended, how well he or she will adjust to the organization’s internal culture.
Another type of organization invests into understanding the cultural environment it is operating in, and in hiring the people who can connect the organization to this environment.
Over the past decades, cultural competence has grown in importance, the challenges have become greater. In the 90ies, people believed we were converging, cultures were becoming more and more the same, and overall we would overcome our differences.
Now that belief is less prevalent. What is far more important now is your ability to be a good negotiator, to be a bridge-builder and a diplomat between these different cultural worlds — to lead with a clear vision of how to have your team, and your company benefit from cultural diversity.
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