Friday, September 21, 2007

Everything we say is influenced by our culture

Culture totally affects the way we communicate, even though, more often than not, as Edgar T Hall the noted anthropologist points out, it is hidden. We operate with a set of mostly invisible beliefs, values, and assumptions that become apparent to other people through our behavior. In the much used “iceberg model” of culture, “behavior” is what we see as the tip of the iceberg protruding above the water. Below the water, hidden, lie the “deep drivers” of our culture – what we believe value and take for granted as a group. These hidden drivers shape the behavior of a group which results in a “characteristic behavior”. To understand other cultures, we need to understand the values, beliefs and assumptions that drive our own “taken for granted” culture. If were ambassadors to a totally alien culture, how would we explain the values, beliefs and assumptions that shape our behavior as a group? More on culture and how it affects us....

One way to acquire a broader view of world events is to check out "World News" . A good place to start is the BBC, CNN International, International News and Newspapers online and etc. To jump start your quest, browse the up-to-date world news clips at the bottom of this blog!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Generational Differences

Generational differences need to be added to the cultural mix. Each one has its own “hidden drivers” of deep culture.

The Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, got their experience in command and control type organizations. For them (me!), working hard, long hours and putting the business first is how they learned to succeed by creating value. The newer generations are different. For them, part of their “taken for granted” culture is technology. They also grew up with far more personal independence, in a more overtly global environment where they focus more on output than input. Just like the long summer vacations of the Europeans, the new Generations are actually living what my generation only dreamed of! They want to be measured on the quality of their work rather than the hours they put in or their prowess on the corporate ladder. They want to be mentored, not talked down to. When it comes to working, managing or selling across the generational divides, cross-cultural communication skills will pay big dividends. This is true, whether we run a small business, manage HR for a multinational or we are involved in direct sales in our local market.

According to the US Census Bureau, 2000, racial and ethnic diversity is increasing:

  • Baby boomers: White (74%), Hispanic (10%) African/American (11%)
  • Mature: White (81%), Hispanic (6%) African/American (9%)
  • Gen X: White (66%), Hispanic (14%) African/American (14%)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sense of Self

Sense of self Is a short, entertaining video. It certainly relates to Global Mindset! It's fun and well worth a look. I found it at

The author of the video, Kenji Williams, is an award winning filmmaker, electronic music producer, theatrical show director, and classically trained violinist. Combining unique skills in film and music, Williams has earned international film awards from the CSC to Sundance. He is the composer and producer of 6 music albums, director of 15 films and music videos, 3 feature length projects, and 2 multimedia theatrical live shows. Williams is internationally respected for pushing the boundaries of audio visual art and performance.

Survival of the fittest

The globalization of business through the advances in technology is parallel to a whole new world of personal interconnectedness. The new interpersonal connectedness has come about through cheap air travel, T.V., global media, the internet, Voip, Skype, Blogging, Instant Messaging, Podcasts, Wikis, and etc. Little by little it seems that our micro-cultures (family, education, work, church, fashion, nation, sense of “what is cool”) are being slowly absorbed into a more diffuse global macro-culture. The pace of change is accelerating; it’s difficult and, sometimes, unsettling, to constantly have to adjust and adapt. It’s useful to remind ourselves that ‘survival of the fittest’ is all about our ability to adapt. So we don’t have too much choice.
To remain – or become - a productive and successful contributor in the global environment in which we now live and breathe means that we need updated skills to be able to understand the global phenomenon in terms of how we communicate with those who at first blush seem so different. We get to make choices. And, of course, all choices have consequences for better or worse. Read more...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Specific challenges for international HR

Global organizations are focused on human capital issues. There seems to be an almost global consensus that people issues are vital to company success. As the "war for talent" intensifies, the acceptance of the importance of human capital will continue to grow. Among the people challenges, there is a broad consensus, across international regions, on what the important challenges are. They include:
  • The development of "global" leaders
  • The creation of a high-performance global corporate culture & high-performing teams
  • Managing talent (recruitment, retention, training, compensation & incentives)
If HR professionals are to be seen to play a crucial role in strategy and operational results they need to pick up the gauntlet on these people issues and act as "functional leaders". This means more time spent focusing on the business drivers and less on HR "programs and services". Adopting the role of global, functional leadership is the great opportunity for HR professionals. They need to be perceived as being totally committed to improving the business - which they must understand as well as any other leader - by their expertise in "people issues". For many years now, I have believed that the globalization of business presents an incredible opportunity to the HR profession. To succeed they absolutely need a "global mindset". See "Strategic Opportunity for HR Professionals"

Monday, September 17, 2007

China, culture and the "war for talent"

A comment to an earlier post suggests that “The small investment up front to embrace the dynamics of other societies is key to successful global operations”. I appreciate the use of the word “investment” in the context of training and global mindset development. So often “global” initiatives are canned because of the myopic way in which they are presented and perceived as “costs”. Not a bad example of the lack of a global mindset!

Another example comes to mind: the “war for talent”. Despite common misunderstandings, the war for talent is raging in China. How do I attract and retain the best and the brightest in a "group" oriented society which is quite contrary to the Western cultural focus on the "individual"? Will special benefits Western style benefits - like hiring bonuses or increased individual compensation - work in the Chinese cultural context? The generic answer is “no”, or, at least, not as well as in cultures that favor the individual as opposed to the group.

My experience in the China marketplace (mostly Shanghai) suggests the need for more innovative approaches. The Chinese are brought up to expect equal treatment in all aspects of their lives (a cultural expectation reinforced by their experience of Communism). This is less of a factor in hiring the younger generations. Their experience of capitalism, in the big cities, has encouraged them to be more open to career competition and individual rewards. However, because deep culture changes exceedingly slowly, a culturally savvy recruitment program must ensure that the reward systems must be clearly communicated and be perceived as being fair. Otherwise the program will be sabotaged by jealousy and feelings of being treated unjustly between the workforce and the new recruits.

To win the war for talent in China requires an educated global mindset in the corporate leadership. Otherwise, how do they design and promote a culturally effective hiring program? How do they communicate the program elements so that they won’t run in to cultural roadblocks? A relatively small investment in cross-cultural development will yield measurable results on ROI… saving untold avoidable “costs” caused by ethnocentric approaches. And the "war for talent" is just one example...