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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.


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.



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.

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!


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."


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)


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.


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

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.

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.


The situation:

Changes were made in a large department store regarding how cosmetic counter employees were to sell products.

Before the changes, if a customer asked for a particular product in a particular shade, and it was unavailable, the cosmetics employees simply said "I'm sorry, we're out of stock at the moment.  Please check back with us at X time."

The new policy was to recommend an alternative product or shade:  "I'm sorry, we're out of stock at the moment.  However, you may find that this brand/product may be a good alternative."  The goal was to encourage the customer to make a purchase, rather than losing them to a competitor.

One of the long-time employees - who had been considered a good worker - flatly refused to follow the new policy, and in fact was heard to say that she would never change the way she worked.  This was causing problems with other cosmetics employees who had made the change, and there were rumblings that they, too, would stop referring customers to alternative product lines.

My recommendation:

The first and most important step in resolving an issue like this is to understand the employee and their motivations.  Maybe the employee isn't convinced the new policy is a good one because they don't clearly understand the benefits for themselves (i.e. more sales and therefore more commissions) or for the store (i.e. more sales and therefore better wages and job security).  Maybe, as a long-term employee who is highly loyal to the organization, s/he needs to understand there was a solid rationale for the change.

An employee who understands the benefits but still flatly refuses to comply with a change is usually struggling with a sense (real or perceived) of loss.  It's important to understand what the cosmetic counter employee feels they are losing as a result of the change:  Do they feel they're losing control of the sales process?  Do they feel they'll lose a customer by referring them to a colleague's cosmetics counter?  In many cases, simply identifying this sense of loss can help move an individual through it.

However, if the employee still refuses to make the change, it's time to help them understand that the change is a job requirement.  They may have been a loyal, productive long-term employee, but if they refuse to meet the job requirements as stated, then they'll need to move on, one way or another.  This doesn't have to be communicated in a bullying or threatening way - simply that you'll be sorry to lose them but will support whichever decision they make.


Understanding the source of change resistance and making efforts to work with long-term employees to resolve their issues is a good way to demonstrate that you appreciate long and productive service.  But organizations are in business to make money, and when employees choose to refuse to comply with changes which clearly benefit the bottom line, it may be time for that employee to find another organization at which to add value.

A word about unions:

In a Union environment, no changes to work guidelines should be made without input from the Union.  It's critical to involve the Union with any issues that arise from implementing new work guidelines such as the scenario above.



Sunday, 27 January 2013 06:43

It's Okay to Need a Coach, Part 1

It's like a personal trainer for your career

It's funny:  We know that successful athletes rely on coaches (sometimes a whole team of them) in order to become good enough to compete at the Olympics - heck, many of us engage personal trainers or nutritionists in order to improve our physical health or bolster our motivation.  But when it comes to our professional health, we often reject - or don't even consider - engaging a coach to help us improve our performance at work.

personal trainer for your career

But here's the truth:  Ask anyone who's been really successful in their work lives and they'll tell you that, somewhere along the way, they asked for help.  Maybe they had a mentor to work closely with; maybe they hired a media trainer; maybe they went to Toastmasters to learn how to speak confidently in front of a group.  What none of them did was assume that they could reach the top all on their own.

So why don't more of us think of engaging a coach when we're ready to take the next step in our careers, or when we're concerned our career growth is stalling and don't know why?

Because we tend to think that asking for help with our professional performance means that we aren't working hard enough or smart enough; we see other people making it look easy and we think that if we just come in a little earlier or stay a little later, maybe we'll finally be recognized for the geniuses we really are.

Sure, working smarter and harder can make you stand out from the crowd.  But it's not enough.

For many people, the biggest barrier to the success they crave lies in the 'perception gap' - the gap between how they see themselves and how they are perceived by their colleagues and managers.  For example, a director-level employee may think s/he is overachieving because s/he has exceeded sales targets for the past 3 years in a row, and is understandably confused as to why a promotion hasn't yet been forthcoming; his/her managers, however, may be reluctant to grant the promotion because they have concerns over the director's ability to manage a larger team effectively.

This is where engaging a professional coach can make a big difference.  The right coach can:

  1. Help identify perception gaps, and offer solutions on how those gaps might be closed
  2. Provide more objective (and possibly honest) feedback than a person might get from a direct report, co-worker, or even a manager
  3. Offer a sounding board - don't underestimate the value of having someone with whom to talk through some of your career goals, concerns and frustrations
  4. Offer suggestions around books to read, exercises to do, and professional development opportunities which can either provide new skills, new perspectives or new horizons
  5. Help you understand whether your current job will in fact provide you with the career path you really want - or whether you need to make a move

And remember:  Just like no one had to know you hired a golf pro to help you brush up before the big corporate tournament, no one has to know you hired a coach to help you be a superstar at work!


As some of you know, I'm the featured speaker at HBA Metro's Flagship Event on January 31, 2013.  The session, 'Communicating for Change', addresses the role of leaders in communicating the change process, effective communication strategies, and case studies from real-world change initiatives.

HBA net metro


I've attended - and spoken at - HBA events before, and I always find them interesting and useful - and I especially like the opportunity to connect with other women in the healthcare field.

I understand that the event is sold out, but if you're really interested in attending you might try emailing the event organizers to see if they've had a cancellation.

If you've already got your ticket, I look forward to seeing you there!

TWITTER HASHTAG for the event:  #changecomm


When a business needs to change dramatically, in order to stay in business or stay competitive in a changing marketplace, it can wreak havoc on employees.  Even the best top performers can find themselves struggling to keep pace with the change and return to a state of equilibrium.  However, the quicker that employees can return to that equilibrium, the quicker the organization will see the positive results of the change.

Many people think that the best way to encourage employees to return to business as usual is to ignore the 'feelings' around a dramatic change and focus strictly on the tasks at hand.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  Change always raises emotional issues, whether in our professional or personal lives, and companies which acknowledge this will find employees much more receptive to - and better equipped to deal with - even the most dramatic changes.

By injecting change efforts with a little empathy for employees, leaders have an opportunity to positively influence the movement of individuals through the change process.  In their book, Aftershock, Harry Woodward and Steve Buchholz present an effective 3-part model for helping individuals through change:  Clarify; Share; Engage.

Clarify:  The first step toward empthy is to Clarify the issues and concerns an individual may have with the changes taking place.  It starts with listening - both to what's said and what's not said.  At this stage, it's not about refuting concerns, but to clarify that you understand them.  Most people's concerns about change stem from a fear of the unknown, and simply listening and clarifying those concerns by using active listening questions like "What do you fear losing?" and "What would you like to gain?" can help them move past their fears.  This is the beginning of empathy: When you engage in active listening and demonstrate you've heard and understand their concerns, individuals begin to feel they're not alone - which makes it easier for them to move forward into unknown or changing territory.

Share:  In the second stage of this model, you can focus on sharing your understanding of what's happening with the organization.  The key is to relate what you're sharing back to the concerns expressed in the 'Clarify' stage - don't just repeat the company 'party line' about the changes in a generic way, but make it specific and personal.  Even if you can't directly dispel every individual concern (you may not be able to guarantee their job, position or responsibilities), the fact that you're being honest and straightforward will make a big difference.

Engage:  Once you've clarified and shared - and hopefully calmed some of the individual's worst fears by demonstrating empathy for them - you're in a position to gain their commitment to move forward with you (and the organization) through the changes.  Engagement is the root of ownership:  when an individual engages in the process, they can take ownership of their role in the success of the change - and this helps them feel more in control of the process.  Ask them for ideas on how to successfully implement change; create an individual action plan, together; come up with ways to implement their ideas.  The more the individual feels like a valued, crucial part of the change, the more they can focus on what they'll gain rather than what they'll lose.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that business change management has to start with weekly therapy sessions for employees in order to be successful.  However, providing a little empathy - especially at the beginning of the change process - can significantly reduce change resistance while encouraging rapid adoption of change.  In fact, in my experience empathy can actually reduce implementation time and cost by as much as 25% over the change cycle.  And that's a 'business result' everyone can appreciate.


Page 6 of 11


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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