Global training session fails

Esti (f) is Global Training Manager for a Israel based global firm with 8000 people employed worldwide. Well, to be more accurate, Esti had this position. She was “let go” after a two week long global training program (held in Singapore) for two levels of mid level management failed miserably.

5 things happened that caused the session to fail:

1) The folks who came from Asia (34%)  felt totally overpowered by the Dutch, Israelis and Americans who were constantly asking questions and not respecting the lecturer.

Lesson: Not all people learn the same way.

2) Lots of “fun” was factored into the two week session  (like swimming, hiking); the resistance to take part of the 7 folks from more conservative cultures (Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia) was not expected and caused a unspoken row.

Lesson: Going into a pool to have a dip is not shared by all as being fun.

3) Many of the US and Canadian lecturers asked the audience questions directly, and caused a huge loss of face in 3 cases when 2 of the more senior people who were asked did not know the answers.

Lesson: No learning can occur when people lose face.

4) It was “suggested” that cell phones be turned off, not required. The Indians and Israelis were constantly texting and taking calls.

Lesson: No mobile phones is a must. Not on mute-no phones at all.

5) One very important session given by a leading  Israeli scientist had “required reading”. When the lecturer discovered that 4 (out of 30) people had not prepared, he said, “Well you SHOULD have prepared”. And then he gave a 20 minute break for participants to do the reading, which caused many folks to “check out” and not return after the time which had been allotted for reading.

Lesson: Castigating people, and then showing consideration (a very Israeli characteristic) is not a universally shared trait.

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4 tips to avoid frustration when communicating with people from a more aggressive culture

1. Type up your main talking points, and ensure that the other party has this in front of him. Start the discussion, and say: “this time we are discussing my issues.” It may also help if the points you wish to discuss are written on the whiteboard, or backed up up with an email.

2. Show zero tolerance for deviation from your agenda. Deviation may be seen as weakness. Over time you can be flexible, but not until respect is established.

3. During the discussion, when the other side goes off on a tangent, tries to dominate or goes on and on, walk out the room or hang up. The other side will reconnect and upon doing so, you can say “this is time for my issues and you are overpowering me”. For YOU this may be rude behaviour but the other side will respect your behaviour.

4. If  the above do not work, insist that a 3rd party be present  in the discussion to facilitate. This is often extremely effective. Choose a party that both of you trust.

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Mr Gwak will not work with Ram-Of

Mr. Gwak is on his way to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to catch a flight back to Seoul after his visit to Ram-Of, an Israeli start-up which develops state of the art software for the security business.Gwak came to Israel to see Ram-Of first hand; Ram-Of’s algorithms could provide a phenomenal technological advantage to Gwak’s multi- million dollar security empire.

Mr. Gwak came for a day.  In the morning, he met with Ram-Of’s President and CEO Ami Amami in the lobby of the luxurious Dan Hotel, and then, they travelled by car to the offices of Ram-Of in Neveh Tsedek, Tel Aviv’s Greenwich Village.

Gwak was very, very impressed with the team, the average engineer “shelf time” of 7 years, the phenomenal  innovation and the “lets do what it takes to get the job done” attitude which so characterise Israeli high tech. Gwak was less impressed by the organization.

Ami’s team “voted” on whether or not to “dress up” for Gwak’s visit and the vote was 50 against dressing up and 5 in favour. Folks wore shorts and sandals; many went barefoot.

Worse, Ami’s team had voted whether or not a CEO office should be built for Gwak’s visit, or whether Gwak should see that Ami sits in a cubicle like everyone else. 55 people opposed any change to “equal conditions for all” layout of the office.

After touring Ram-Of, Gwak said, “where is your office” and Ami said “I have none”

Gwak will not work with Ram-Of. In his email of explanation he said that technical innovation and product maturity must  go hand in hand with organizational maturity.


Amami is a play on words-it means plebeian.

Thanks to my friend O.R. for the idea

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Examples of face saving in the west help explain”face saving” to western executives

The concept of “face” and “face saving” does exist in Western Cultures, although it is far less prominent, salient and discernible in the business domain than it is in Asia.

When I consult executives who are about to/have just assumed a role in Asia, one of the first things I deal with is the need to understand the concept of face. Unlike many, I start with giving examples of face in the Western world.

For example-

1) Your aging father calls you in the morning and ask you, “how are you feeling, sonny boy?” The “truth” is that you are very worried about an income tax issue, and you have a severe headache. Yet you answer “fine Dad, and how are you”. You want to save your father from feeling uncomfortable.

Preventing people from feeling uncomfortable is a key aspect of face saving; the Thais call this type of face saving “kleng jai” (deferential heart).

2) Your partner asks you “how do I look in this new dress”. The “truth” is that you are very busy with other issues and clothes are not your thing. “Great, darling”, is your answer. You prefer harmony to telling her “I am not the person to ask, and this is not the right moment”.

The preference of harmony to conflict is another component of face saving.

3) You tell a visiting colleague, Igor, from Russia, “Why don’t you come by and visit next time you are in the States?” You have no intention to ever follow through on that, but you want to make Igor feel good.

Imparting a good feeling without any intent to follow through with action is another element of face saving.

4) You compete for a tender and loose. You pick up the phone, call your lost potential client, and “thank” him for giving you and chance and wish him “success”. You avoid telling “truth” because civility, not truth, serves the relationship.

Civility at all costs is another major component of face saving.

All of the above constitute face in the Western world. In Asia, the use of these behaviours is overwhelming, but there is nothing that does exist, mutatis mutandis, in the west.


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Boss Kevin proposes an idea, and 4 of his direct reports “may” disagree

Kevin wants the new software release moved out by two weeks for the sake of simplicity and serviceability.

“What do you all think?”, asked Kevin in the quarterly meeting in Vancouver.

Adi from Jerusalem said, “Bad idea; you are waiting for a state of stability which is never achievable. I am for staying the present release day and cleaning up the ensuing mess”. Adi has no unspoken message.

Som from Bangkok said, “Interesting idea, Khun Kevin. If the new release is more robust, then it could be a good idea. Her unspoken message wascould be, but is NOT”.

Watanabe from Japan spoke about the need to fully satisfy the customers needs yet  stick to  promises and suggested lots of hard work. He rambled on and on and his position sounded  totally ambiguous. His unspoken message was “be tougher on the troops and force people to work 24 hours a day”.

Laura from Manila said she supports the idea. Her unspoken message was “This is not the forum for me to tell the boss that he is wrong”.

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Intolerance and culture

The perception of what triggers intolerance is highly impacted by culture.

Don from Amsterdam is very intolerant about beating around the bush when there is a problem that is on the table. His Asia colleagues’ face-saving “tricks” drive Don to distraction; he even finds American “politeness” as “forcing me to guess what they mean”.

Steve from Albany is intolerant of deviation from planning methodology, just because of an opportunity which “floats by”. Steve loses it when opportunism subjugates due process.

Pierre from Paris is intolerant of initially looking at new ideas from a positive angle. He believes this positivism blinds the quality of appropriate in-depth analysis. When his US colleagues start “wow wowing”, Pierre loses it.

Manfred from Munich is intolerant of discussion without appropriate facts. Manfred views a “low-fact discussion” as a waste of his time. When his British, Canadian and US colleagues start “what-ifing” and ignore constraints, Manfred loses it.

Adi from Jerusalem is intolerant of too much of a detailed explanation. Since speed is her default survival strategy, Adi gets intolerant when people don’t get right to the point. She wants to hear the conclusion first and then the facts!

Som from Bangkok is intolerant of people who overly emphasis  products’ capabilities with superlatives. Hailing from a soft spoken, toned down and mild culture, Som views North American marketing pitches with huge intolerance.


Understanding what hits your “intolerant” button and that of your colleague is an important global skill.

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Serious staffing errors in global organizations

Global companies establish offshore operations in many configurations.This post relates to Sales and Service Organizations, which are set up to sell and service the products to the local consumers in various geographies.

My experience is that typically,inexperienced companies may chose local management who are “user friendly” for Corporate Headquarters: good English; possibly US educated, risk takers willing to promote the companies’ emerging products and “manage the customers’ expectations” until the product stabilizes.

Very often, due to these very characteristics for which they were chosen, this type of local management may have a less than adequate interface with the local clientele, especially with government and public sector utilities. The clients may see this type of management as having gone native with their HQ, reckless and out of touch. In some cases, the high level of English of the local will even alienate the local client.

I was witness to many cases when a product expert came from HQ and local management served as translators. The client (highly ranked) was highly embarrassed by his poor English, and lost face when someone from the  local vendor spoke such good English. (I had recommended use of a translator for this very reason, yet my advice was ignored for budget reasons.)

My suggestion is always to chose local management who can handle the customer, and then align HQ to deal effectively with this managerial diversity.

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Thoughts on post merger integration

I found 4 major fish on the plate each time in all post merger integrations that I led.

1) The impact of corporate cultural diversity on the merger.

2) The differences in national and ethnic cultures involved in the merger

3) The “change of power” political dynamic on the part of the acquired,  and the need to stabilize and align an effective power structure.

4) The competence of managers handling the complex labour of integration of units, processes and people.

While it is very lucrative to do many cross culture seminars in the early PMI phase, this not the way to start. It is even more lucrative to pretend to “blend” or even “change” corporate cultures to create a “new culture”. Lucrative, but not too effective.

I see that the most effective interventions were those that focused on the following  key drivers of post-merger success.

1-Lowering the level of post merger negative politics.

Realigning the “power dynamic” is a major PMI consulting task, which is beynd the scope of this particular post. I will relate to it in a later post.

2-Ensuring the appropriate staffing of skilled managers driving the integration on the ground.

Managerial competence is critical. This includes cross cultural competence, yet this cross cultural competence is only part of a huge bag of tricks that the integrating managers and teams need

3-Creating quality team work at the top.

Mergers can only to be good if they are good at the top. Cross cultural training must happen, and it will be  meaningful  to the degree that it is factored into the teamwork of the top team and other teams. So the focus must be on team effectiveness, not cultural training per se.

As far as the “creation of a new corporate culture” is concerned, I see this endeavour  as “snake oil”. No one knows how to do it well, and it happens on its own. We are midwives in this process.

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How culture impacts perceptions of strategy

Strategy factors in competitive analysis, swot analysis, financials, capabilities and what have you.

Strategic planning rarely takes into account the way that culture impacts the strategizers themselves, and thus the very  act of strategizing.

So, as they say in Chatuchuk Market in my favourite city, “lookie lookie” at the following examples.

  • People who come from an “empire” assume that strategy is a tool by which they can control and shape the environment.
  • People who come from cultures with a “survivor mentality” may believe that strategy is  dangerous or futile, because is mitigates immediate threats.
  • Folks who come from merchant cultures may believe that strategies defocus opportunities.
  • Folks who come from cultures where discretion is preferred to openness may believe that an espoused and transparent strategy increases  vulnerability. “Muddy the water, and catch the fish”.
  • People who come from very conservative cultures may view any strategic exercise as “threatening”.

Next time you sit down to strategize with folks in a very global organizational configuration, you would be best to flush out some of these assumptions.

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Different cultures challenge authority in different ways

1Those who work globally are aware that the cultural freedom to express even minor disagreement with people in authority is not universally accepted and disagreements between with superiors are thus manifested very differently.

Here are a few examples.

Explicit hardball challenging: Gilad (m, Israel) argues with his Israeli boss all the time. Gilad challenges the boss’s assumptions and directives in challenging emails as well as  by speaking out against the boss’ policy  in meetings. US based colleagues who have observed Gilad believe that Gilad shows no respect for his boss. However, once a directive is given, Gilad will carry it out to a T, never trying to stand by passively as things go bad.Gilad and his boss play on the same soccer team and socialize together at the beach.

Behavioural loyalty despite deep hinted differences : Hermann (m Germany) is very critical of his German boss, with whom he has been working for 5 years. In meetings, Hermann asks challenging yet legitimate technical questions and provides in depth risk analysis for his bosses’ proposed suggestions. Hermann will refrain from any other expression of disagreement. In private, Hermann will state that to anyone who will listen that the boss is an idiot. Hermann will loyally carry out the directives of his boss even if they are causing failure. Hermann and his boss move in two different social circles.

Pragmatic Controlled  Disagreement: Karen (f USA) believes that her American boss has made several critical errors over the last month. Karen is very pragmatic; she asks some mildly  “challenging” questions after adding “well, let me play the devil’s advocate”. Privately, Karen assures her boss that, I am with you”, yet Karen adds her “concerns”. When one of her boss’s directives goes bad, Karen will be remain composed, and not go out of her way to help, allowing things “to take their course”.  Karen needs her boss’s recommendations after she leaves to “further her career”. Karen and her boss socialize only at the Christmas party.

Indirect Backdoor-ism: Tree (m Thai) thinks that his Singaporean boss overplays relationships with sales people in the selling process and underplays schmoozing up to the clients’ technical staff,  resulting in problems during initial deployment. Tree is very polite to his boss. He never expresses any disagreement, either in meetings or emails. Tree gossips all the time to his boss’s other subordinates about the boss’s errors. Both Tree and his boss know about the disagreement, yet  never talk about them, in order to maintain harmony. When a bad decision causes failure, Tree will be very passive and smile. Tree and his boss socialize in the Chinese New Year Party and have lunch twice a week to  chat.

So-do not assume that agreement with what you say is real; do not assume that those who challenge you are against you; and don’t ignore gossip but factor it in in societies where harmony is more valued than “truth”.

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