how to avoid cultural pitfalls

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  • Australian chief executives andfound only 9 per cent had dealingswith our closest Asian neighbours.

    In the year since the report,McCarthy says little has changed.

    Australians have been inde-pendent for too long and theyvebecome complacent, she says.

    The Melbourne-based con-sultant says many business own-ers are unaware of howAustralians are perceived and canbe too relaxed and informal whendealing with international busi-nesses where protocols, hierarch-ies and relationship building areessential. The shell be right atti-tude can also be damaging.

    People assume the Australianreputation for being laid-back iswhat everybody likes, but noteverybody does; when youredealing with a hierarchical coun-try, they dont like being called bytheir first names. Some culturesdont want to be treated asfriends.

    In many Asian countries Mc-

    Carthy says chief executives areoften figureheads and prefer to beaddressed before referring inquir-ies to a junior colleague.

    In other countries manage-ment can be more hands-on andstaff are rewarded for doing whatthey are told, rather than using in-itiative, as in Australia.

    In some countries senior man-agement will ensure their Austra-lian counterparts are entertainedin the evenings, but in AustraliaMcCarthy says managers willoften go home and leave theircounterparts to their own devices which may be insulting.

    Courtesy and cultural under-standing can be the difference be-tween signing a deal or watching itfall through because of ignorance.

    If there were two people sell-ing the same widget and one ofthem sold it to you in the way thatyou like and one doesnt, youregoing to buy from the person whounderstands you, she says.

    If you want to sell your widg-

    ets you have to think about howthey want to buy them, not justhow you want to sell them.

    Michel van Maanen, who is theperformance director at the inter-national transport services com-pany Transdev, moved toAustralia from Europe 18 monthsago and struggled to adapt to cul-tural differences.

    Van Maanen, 46, was born inHolland and has worked in Portu-gal, Belgium and Germany. Hehas found the Australian way ofdoing business and the culturaldifferences significant, noting analignment to Britain rather thanEurope. If you go around Europetheres more of a standard workethic, there are standard ap-proaches on how you run a busi-ness, van Maanen says.

    Maybe there are differencesbetween countries in educationand the politics might be different,but the approach to contracts andIT and modernisation and im-plementation are mostly alike.

    Australia is quite different toEurope and its isolated anddoesnt have a lot of businessharmony and synchronisation.

    Van Maanen regrets notundertaking cultural training inhis first six months in Australiaand found it quite difficult andlonely at times because he did notunderstand why people acted cer-tain ways. Its different, the way ofthinking, the way of talking, itsmore superficial when you askhow someone is, but you dont re-ally care, he says.

    Were Dutch, we say what wethink, but you dont do that inAustralia; you be nice. You have toadapt to the way of the people.

    He says the business culture isalso more hierarchical, and he istrying to ensure his companycatches up to Europe and South-east Asia by innovating and im-proving IT processes.

    Van Maanen now ensures allrecruits from overseas have cul-tural training before arriving.

    It can be as simple as failing tooffer a gift, not seating a visitinginternational guest at the head ofthe table, or handing over a busi-ness card without bowing, withcross-cultural faux pas detrimen-tal when establishing relation-ships and signing deals.

    Cultural Chemistry founderPatti McCarthy says Australianbusinesses and white-collar em-ployees who move overseas forwork or those who relocate toAustralia most often fail to pre-pare staff for what lies ahead and itcan have significant consequen-ces. When you have cross-cul-tural training youre three to fourtimes more likely to have a suc-cessful outcome, McCarthy says.

    When youre getting a$300,000 or $400,000 salarypackage in Singapore includingprivate school fees and accommo-dation, why are people putting upwith a 40 per cent chance of fail-ure? It doesnt make sense.

    McCarthy has been worked incultural training for more than adecade and knows what it can belike to move to a different countryafter having relocated to Australiawith her husband 20 years ago.

    She is certified to deliver theCultural Intelligence Assessmentprogram, which was developed in

    Avoiding cultural pitfallsTrainer Patti McCarthy has tips to make you tick


    the US and is used to assess thecultural intelligence of individualsand teams and identify gaps. Thetool is widely used at Google, Uni-lever and Coca-Cola Amatil.

    It may seem like moving be-tween English-speaking countrieswould be easy, but McCarthy saysthere are few support networkscompared to those established forFrench or German speakers, oreven asylum-seekers, leading to asense of isolation.

    She estimates the expat failurerate at between 39 and 42 per cent,and the divorce rate among expatsto be 50 per cent higher than nor-mal, particularly for coupleswhere one person is not working.

    When one partner stays homeit can lead to low self-esteem,loneliness and loss of confidence.It can place unprecedented strainon a relationship, and McCarthysays it can be pronounced if onepartner cannot find a job.

    People have no idea. Theythink once they get to their newhouse its all going to be lovely, butunless youve got connections andfriends to come to your house, youmight not want to stay, she says.People are not prepared emo-tionally and professionally andthat naivety is very expensive.

    McCarthy says people need tobe prepared for the existence theywill lead, and not just excitedabout moving. Training also in-cludes work expectations, how of-fices operate in differentcountries, and how to work withcolleagues, particularly in South-east Asia.

    In 2014 PwC interviewed 1000

    Action plan to ensure youre meeting needs of 21st century business

    Is there one feature of your com-panys meetings that frustratesyou the most?

    Perhaps youll find it amongthis top five list compiled at an off-site conference by one of Austra-lias largest infrastructure

    companies. The top five frustrat-ions included people being poorlyorganised, meetings held back-to-back, going for too long, peoplesending emails and texts, and nooutcomes.

    When presented with this listthe facilitator of the offsite asked aprovocative question Do youcontrol these meetings or do theycontrol you?

    Fortunately the chief executivewas attending and encouraged arobust conversation that led tocommitment by all the leaders to a90-day action learning projectthat has transformed the meetingculture.

    If any of those top five frustrat-ions are alive and well in yourmeetings, then the lessons fromthose 90 days, particularly thethree root causes, might be rel-

    evant. The leaders identified thefirst cause of poorly organised andineffective meetings was lack ofownership and accountability.

    For some reason the usual cul-ture of individual accountability which worked well on financialand operational issues justdidnt extend to the way thatmeetings were planned and exe-cuted.

    The first action in the 90-dayproject was therefore to give everymeeting an owner with account-ability to spend the investment oftime and resources wisely.

    The impact was immediate andprofound because the accountableleader created the sense of pur-pose and structure that had beenmissing.

    The second cause was the lackof a disciplined and consistent

    approach to meetings that meantthat agendas, decision-makingprocesses and action planningwere often done on the run.

    A small cross-functional teamvolunteered to create a meetingtoolkit with a set of simple rulesand protocols.

    Examples of the simple rulesincluded circulating the purposeand agenda in advance; no email-ing or texting; starting on time;and finishing with a three-minutedebrief of meetings.

    The three-minute debriefingusing a simple online tool revealeda 35 per cent improvement inmeeting process and outcomesacross the company, which equat-ed to an amazing $3 million-pluslift in productivity based on hourlyrates of attendees.

    The third root cause was silo

    thinking, which emerged as twoseparate issues. The first was thelack of breakthrough ideas frommeetings.

    The culture didnt encouragepeople to challenge the thinkingof experts and that needed ad-dressing, along with the habit ofonly inviting people with similarperspectives.

    Senior leaders committed toinviting people into meetings tobring fresh perspectives and this,together with human resourcesintroducing constructive conver-sation techniques, created betterquality discussions and decisions.

    The second issue involvedwaiting for a meeting before mak-ing decisions.

    In a business going throughtransformation this was too slow,so an online collaboration space

    was configured to enable issues tobe explored and resolved withoutface-to-face meetings.

    People no longer waited for ameeting to discuss ideas and getapproval. Issues were actionedweeks faster than had happenedpreviously.

    The world is going too fast andthe opportunities too abundant torely on 20th century meetingmethods and practices.

    This case shows a nice combin-ation of common sense, disci-plines-without-bureaucracy andleveraging the link between peo-ple and technology.

    Perhaps its time to purge a fewmillion dollars of wasted moneyfrom your meetings.

    Graham Winter is the author of Think One Team.

    Are you in control of your meetings, or do they control you?