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Last time, we talked about how cultural blind spots associated with country of origin can cause real difficulties when organizations need to bring together teams from different countries to solve problems.  We discussed how individuals from some countries tend to focus on completing tasks and value achievement, while individuals from other countries tend to focus on building relationships and value reflection in the decision-making process. 

Today, I want to focus on another key potential cultural blind spot:  Communication.

COMMUNICATION

In the Cultural Orientation Index, communication is broken down into four categories:

  1. High/Low Context:  A High Context orientation values behavior over words, relying heavily on non-verbal cues, while a Low Context orientation values explicit communication, relying on the literal meanings of words.
  2. Direct/Indirect:  A Direct orientation values direct and explicit conflict management, while an Indirect orientation values indirect and implicit conflict management.
  3. Expressive/Instrumental:  People with an Expressive orientation are comfortable with emotions at work and are comfortable using them, while individuals with an Instrumental orientation value accuracy and objectivity in communication.
  4. Formal/Informal:  A Formal orientation values observing the rules of etiquette and protocol to establish credibility and respect, while an Informal orientation values the dispensing with such rules in order to create a friendly, casual environment.l

In our example in the previous post, we had huge differences in the Communication orienation.  Both China and India tend to have a High Context orientation, while the US tends to a Low Context orientation.  The result?  The US team members communicated in what they thought was ‘crystal clear’ language, while the team members from China and India were more oblique and relied more heavily on implication.  While US team members took the words they heard at face value, the team members from China and India were focusing more closely on non-verbal cues than on specific words. 

This difference in communication style and comprehension can easily derail cross-cultural meetings:  The differences in how conflict is approached and resolved, the differences in how emotion is expressed (or not), the reactions to being on the receiving end of conflict and emotion - all of this can lead to misunderstandings and difficulty in moving the team to successful completion of their mandate.

It’s easier to achieve productivity when individuals become aware of, and take responsibility for, their own orientations - and to recognize those of others at the gtable.  For example, someone with a strong Expressive Communication orientation can remind themselves that not everyone is as comfortable with expressing emotions as they are, and can take steps to temper their conversation accordingly.  At the same time, someone with an Indirect approach to conflict management can make more of an effort, when working with people who have a Direct approach, to express their concerns more straightforwardly or clearly identify the conflict and call for resolution.

 

Conclusion

Understanding culture can be both overwhelming and (seemingly) time-consuming for individuals and organizations.  However, it also has the potential to deliver great rewards and real dividends on the time and money invested. 

My advice?  Don’t go it alone.  If you’re going global and know you’re going to be relying on cross-cultural teams, invest in training for employees - particularly for global team leaders, who have the potential for the most influence.  Recognizing cultural differences across countries of origin is the first step to successfully participating in new markets.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

First professional coaching system for manager-level employees

 

NEW JERSEY, March 5, 2013:  ADRA TLC Advantage, the first professional coaching program designed specifically for high-potential, manager-level employees, was launched today by leading change management consultancy, ADRA Change Architects.

"High-performing manager-level employees and their employers can reap huge benefits from professional coaching in the workplace, but it's often seen as too expensive," says Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA.  "We've created the ADRA TLC Advantage as a way to give these high-potential employees access to professinoal coaching - but in a more affordable way."

ADRA's Technology Leveraged Coaching (TM) uses a proprietary online system to help manager-level professionals establish goals, solicit feedback from peers and experts, and understand how to integrate key learnings and feedback into their day-to-day activities and long-term career goals.  Programs are personalized and provide online and real-time access to professinoal coaches - all at about one-fifth the cost of traditional high-level 'executive' coaching.

"ADRA has been providing coaching services to senior executives at Fortune 500 companies for more than 20 years, and we know that coaching delivers tremendous benefits to both individuals and the organizations in which they work," says Cohn, author of ChangeSmart and Taking the Leap.  "We knew that providing coaching to manager-level employees could deliver similar benefits - it was just a matter of finding a cost-effective way to provide it."

The ADRA TLC (TM) Advantage system offers two tiers of coaching so clients can choose the one most suitable for them.  As Cohn says:  "We see this as being something an individual can pursue on their own as a career investment, or that companies can provide to groups of top performers as a way of investing in their workforce in the long term.  In either case, it's a great way for managers to move to the next level."

ABOUT ADRA CHANGE ARCHITECTS:

For over 20 years, ADRA Change Architects has delivered executive coaching, leadership and management consulting to Fortune 500 organizations across the US.  Practice areas include strategic change planning, implementation and communication, coaching, presentations and training, all designed to facilitate business transformation that has a real impact on the bottom line.

For more information, contact:

Beth Banks Cohn, President

beth (at) adrachangearchitects.com

732.786.8223

A few years ago, I found myself in a team meeting which involved people from China, India and the United States.  We were discussing a change strategy, and - inevitably - emotions began to creep into the conversation.  It was interesting:  The US team members were clearly trying to drive the discussion to a conclusion, while the Indian team members argued their points increasingly vigorously and the Chinese team members became increasingly silent.

As the meeting wore on, I felt like I was participating in a real-life Tower of Babel:  Everyone was talking, few were really listening, and almost everyone was focused on their own point of view and needs rather than that of the team.  We've all been in meetings liket his, but it's particularly pronounced in situations where team members have different countries of origin.

As more and more businesses 'go global' and the world gets smaller and smaller, it's becoming more important for businesses - and individuals - to understand their cultural orientations and recognize potential cultural blind spots.

Over the years, I've found the Cultural Orientation Index (COI) from Training Management Corporation to be a helpful resource in these situations.  The COI has several components, but I'd like to focus on one, Action.

ACTION

The Action dimension focuses on how "individuals conceptualize actions and interactions with people and objects in their environment", with two orientations, 'Being' and 'Doing'.

People with a 'being' orientation focus on building relationships with others and value reflection in making decisions, while those with a 'doing' orientation focus on completing tasks, and they value achievement.

It will come as no surprise to discover that the US has a 'doing' orientation while China has a 'being' orientation.  India, on the other hand, falls squarely in the middle with a hybrid 'being/doing' orientation.  (It goes without saying, of course, that not everyone from a given country will conform to these orientations, but it does provide a useful starting point.)

If the meeting participants had been more aware of these orientations, the meeting might have proceeded more productively.  Someone could have said to the US team members:  "We recognize you're focused on concluding this meeting and walking away with firm decisions, but some of us need to contemplate our findings so far.  Can we take a break and resume our discussions in 30 minutes?  That will give us time to think through our concerns."  Or, knowing they would likely need time for reflection, the team members from China could have pre-scheduled a mid-meeting break.

The blind spot?  No one at the table appeared to have considered these different styles prior to the meeting.  Instead, the cultural gaps manifested themselves during the meeting as silence, acquiescence, excessive arguing, frustration, and, ultimately, a lack of resolution.

NEXT:  Cultural Blind Spots:  Country of Origin, PART 2 - COMMUNICATION

Monday, 25 February 2013 17:26

More about ADRA TLC Advantage

Looking for professional coaching services for high-potential managers, but don't have tens of thousands of dollars in the budget?  It's time to think about ADRA TLC (TM) Advantage!

It's true that sometimes a change initiative means losing employees due to restructuring or reallocation of responsibilities.  However, the last thing you want is to lose your top performers as a result of change - after all, it's your A-list employees who are likely to be the most resilient, adaptable, and ultimately deliver the most benefits of a change initiative.

But even A-listers can get spooked by a poorly-communicated or -executed change - and when one of them stops ignoring those calls from recruiters and starts thinking about pastures new, you can end up with an exodus on your hands.

Not worried?  Here are 5 ways to virtually ensure your top talent won't stick around to help you reap the benefits of your change initiative:

  1. Keep them guessing about the effects of change on their career.  The worst thing you can do to your top performers is to leave them in the dark about what's coming down the pipe for them.  Your best employees are also your most ambitious, and if you leave them wondering how their career path is going to be affected by the change, they're almost guaranteed to look around for opportunities which will give them more certainty about their upward trajectory.
  2. Withold information.  One of the reasons you like your top performers so much is that they work hard to earn - and keep - your respect.  However, they also want to be respected in return.  When you aren't forthright about the reasons for, strategy behind, and tactics involved in a change initiative, they can interpret it as a sign of disrespect - and they start to think about finding an organization where their contribution will be more appreciated.
  3. Leave them out of the process.  Your best employees are also your most engaged employees - which means that if you don't allow them to have input into the change process from the beginning, you risk alienating them and making them a prime target for your competitors.  Ensuring top talent has a voice at the table will keep them engaged and positive about changes.
  4. Have third parties tell them how to do their jobs.  There's nothing more frustrating for A-listers - who take pride in doing a great job - than to have third-party 'consultants' arrive and start telling them they've been doing it all wrong.  Or worse, for those consultants to start imposing cumbersome process-monitoring bureaucracy which employees know is ridiculous.  Yes, the change may require people to do their jobs differently going forward, but it's better if you can work with top performers to find the most productive methods, rather than saddling them with a whole bunch of new rules and checklists.
  5. Be critical and dismissive.  Your best employees know the company isn't perfect, and most of them will understand that change is necessary (especially if you take the time to explain it to them).  However, spending too much time that everything they've been doing up to now has been wrong, or a waste of time, or just plain stupid, is not the way to get them on-side.  After all, they've probably spent some late nights working on all that 'stupid' stuff.  So minimize the criticism of the past and focus on the future benefits of the change.

The bottom line?  Treating your top performers with the respect and open communication they deserve will help ensure they're still around to help you realize the value of your change initiative.

 

(...and how do you prevent an employee mutiny?)

It's a tough economy, and you've had to make some tough decisions about downsizing.  The process has been stressful for everyone, and now senior management is hoping they'll see real results reflected on the bottom line - and soon.

But what about all the employees left standing?  They know it's been a difficult few years, and they know that you had to make some difficult choices.  But they also know that their work environment has changed - and that they're probably going to have to do more work wtih fewer resources.

alt

(Your workplace, or Mutiny on the Bounty?)

After a downsizing, it's not unusual for an organization to experience low morale, high stress levels, and some general digruntlement among workers.  They're struggling to handle an increased workoload, but the recent changes have them worried about their future - and that can be a productivity-sapping combination.

It's easy for employers to dismiss these concerns, with a "They should be thankful they still have a job" attitude and a "Stop complaining and get back to work" approach.  This is a mistake.

The people who survived the downsizing are very likely your top performers - that's why you kept them.  When you engage and support them through a difficult transitional period, you'll not only keep them from looking for new opportunities elsewhere, but you'll also encourage them to work more productively, which will get you the healthier bottom line you're looking for.

You want these layoff survivors to take on new responsibilities and a faster, more efficient pace of work.  Giving them the resources to do that is critical to the ongoing success of each department and, ultimately, the organization.  Help the workers left behind by guiding them through a process to streamline their current workload.  Getting rid of excess, non-productive work is a win-win:  It focuses your team on doing only what delivers the best ROI, and it helps prevent burnout.

Practical strategies for making the workload fit the work - and the workers:

Identify key business imperatives: You already did a cost and efficiency audit as part of your downsizing process.  Go back to this data and identify 5-7 key business imperatives for your company.

Align tasks with key imperatives:  Challenge your team to streamline their work, focusing only on what supports the established business imperatives. Engage stakeholders and solicit input - you might be surprised at how enthusiastic your people are to implement change that will drive demonstrable results more efficiently.

Provide support:  Ensure all your internal business partners know the situation and provide alternatives for getting necessary work done by the established deadlines (such as funding temp resources, outsourcing IT or other time-consuming work, providing additional training, or creating new cross-disciplinary teams).

Institute a 24-hour time-off rule:  Inform employees that no work will be done and no emails will be sent from midnight Friday to midnight Saturday.  This gives overworked employees 'official permission' to take some downtime to recharge and reenergize.  (If you need 24/7 coverage, institute a rotating on-call system so everyone gets some officially sanctioned time off.)

Be the best example:  As the boss, your employees and peers are looking to you to set an example. Show them with your actions, attitude and demeanor that a leaner workforce doesn't mean a burned-out, overworked, depressed workforce. Demonstrate a balance between your work and personal life, and your employees will feel more comfortable doing the same - and they'll appreciate you for it. Setting a good example can, by itself, raise morale and productivity, which is a win-win for everyone.

Helping employees to streamline their workload - and feel more positive about their changed situation - not only results in improved productivity but will also give your business the edge it needs to survive in the new economy.  A valued, engaged and energized workforce will give 120% to their work - which is key to positioning the organization for long-term success.

Thursday, 14 February 2013 04:43

It's Okay to Need a Coach, Part 2

Coaching isn't just for senior executives: 

Last time, we talked about how engaging a coach to help improve professional performance isn't a sign of weakness, and that all super-successful people use coaches to help them excel, whether at work or at the Olympics.

But you don't have to be an Olympic-level player to benefit from professional coaching.

Many of us think that 'executive coaching' is only for very senior executives who need to be groomed for top positions.  In fact, almost everyone can benefit from coaching - as long as it's tailored to your career stage and level.

You know that if you want to move to each 'next level' in your profession, you're going to have to commit to ongoing learning:  You may need to take courses, update certifications, participate in seminars or workshops, or take on new challenges that force you to learn all kinds of new things.

Coaching can be a helpful part of this process.  For example:

  • If you're in your mid-to-late 20s and are transitioning from junior management to middle management, coaching can help you project a more confident demeanor that reduces concerns that you're 'too young' for a promotion
  • If you're at a middle-management level, coaching can help address the gaps that may be preventing a move to the next level (i.e. if you haven't yet had hands-on experience with managing a large, diverse team or if you're better known for implementation than strategic planning)
  • If you find yourself stalled at midlevel within an organization, coaching can help you reboot or reposition in order to drive momentum

In other words, you may engage a coach in your 20s to help you formulagte a plan for the next 3-5 years; engage a coach in your early 30s to help take you to the next level; then engage a coach in your late 30s to give your career another boost.

The idea isn't to have to engage a coach for 20 years straight, but to access coaching just as you would any other professional development or learning opportunity.

 

Page 9 of 10
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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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