Four questions to determine if a candidate has global literacy.

Several times each month, I interview people who are candidates for roles which have a large degree to of global exposure to vastly different cultures. Clients ask me to provide an assessment of the candidate’s global literacy and a suggested coaching plan where relevant.

I generally ask 12 questions. I will share 4 of these questions with my readers. For these interested in what I consider “global literacy”, here is a link to another post.

1) Describe what you think are the biases of your own culture, and how do they impact the way you manage conflict, communication and teamwork.

2) Describe 2-3  behavioural patterns of other cultures which you find most challenging to deal with and explain.

3)  Respect is a term that many cultures use, yet often it means different things to different people. Explain how you would show respect, differently, to various populations that you work with.

4) How do you go about establishing trust in a society with an insider-outsider dynamic?

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When someone is professionally competent, cultural skills may be less important. (revised)

When a manager lacks professional competence, cultural competence becomes far more  important for success.

To illustrate: In 2 different companies, Lynn and Morris both lead a major Supply Chain/IT effort to regulate the suppliers to whom work is contracted.

Morris and Lynne have both been told “not to rock the boat with the remote offices too much during the transition” yet ensure that the software be deployed globally with one year.

Morris is a top notch professional with business domain knowledge as well as IT skills which garner huge respect. Lynne comes from project management. She is a manager and an integrator. She lacks the professional business and IT knowledge that Morris has.

Although their personal style is similar, there is far more noise/ rumblings about Lynne. Folks complain that Lynne “does not understand the mentality” of the local offices. Strangely, Lynne encountered the strongest resistance in France and Belgium, although she speaks French fluently!

The level of professional competence that Morris exhibits mitigates the importance of his lack of his cross cultural competence. His professional competence lessens his need even to be seen as culturally competent. For Lynne, without cultural competence to win over initial trust, she may be a goner.

I train dozens of managers yearly in “cultural literacy and competence”. Cultural competence can compensate for lack of professional competence, and professional competence can lessen the need to be culturally literate.

Training departments would be wise to take this into account instead of “across the board” one size fits all.

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Listening is a guessing game in many cultures

Some cultures are relatively blunt and to the point. One rarely needs to guess what a Dutch, German, French or Israeli means when they express themselves in business. True, nuances and cultural clues may be be missing, but after some exposure, getting the point is pretty straight forward.

In other cultures, corporate communication is much more difficult to decipher. In some cultures, this  difficulty comes from face saving (e.g. Thailand, Philippines) ; in other cultures the difficulty comes from a cultural uniformity which negates the need to be explicit , like Japan. In the USA, the difficulty in figuring out what something means is negatively impacted by political correctness, which obfuscates clarity.

In cross cultural communication, a key skill that one needs to acquire is how to understand corporate communication when a lot is “unsaid”.

Example: A senior manager asks the Japan Office if he can visit the first week of August. The answer he gets is yes. Then, the senior manager asks how many people will be on vacation that same week. When he learns that 70% of the people will be on vacation that same week, he asks if the first week of September is better, and gets a “yes”, only to learn later on that this date is also unsuitable.

Here are a few suggested ways to get around this impediment of implicitness:

1) Don’t try to get people to be explicit. While it can be done, it is very humiliating for the other side.

2) Ask many people the same question and compare answers.

3) Learn to provide alternatives, as opposed to asking questions the answers to which are yes or no. (Do you prefer I come on this date or that date).

4) Listen very closely to what is not said. Watch eye content, pay attention, putting  all communication in (age, role, situational) context.

5) Watch for purposeful ambiguity. E.g, Is this a good time to meet? “Yes, it may be”.

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5 indicators that you have a western bias as a consultant (revised)

By far, this is the most widely read post on my blog, with 21,000 people having read it in the past 4 months. I have made some minor changes and thus re-publishing it . I must admit that it is a great source of pride that people are least getting exposed to this message.

Instead of confessing, it is much easier for OD consultants to haggle with my claim that OD values and tools are culturally tainted!  In one forum I participated in, someone even claimed that I have a personality disorder which has led me to claim that OD itself needs to be globalized in order to deal with global organizing. Psychological reductionism is much easier than taking ownership of ones’ limitations and biases.

When OD consultants admit their western bias, there is a lot of “unlearning” to do, and new skills need to be acquired. That’s a high price to pay!

To asses the degree of your western cultural bias, answer the following 5 questions with a YES or NO.

1) Is having an ongoing candid dialogue at work better than ignoring differences and pretending that they do not exist?

2) If someone misrepresents key facts in a meeting on purpose, are they lying?

3) Do people all over the world think that teamwork means collaboration with their peers?

4) Is being mildly authentic at work generally preferable to showing rigid emotional restraint?

5) Does honest feedback generally motivate all staff, world wide, regardless of culture?

If you answered YES for all five questions, I would suggest that you try to better understand your biases, and start unlearning the universality of your beliefs.. Otherwise forget about being effective in the global workplace.

I spend tens of hours each month helping consultants and managers rid themselves of these biases. The hardest bias to work on is #2. And that’s the truth! 😉

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OD will be globally relevant when it adapts new professional values, not global competencies

There are those who believe that OD practitioners need a new skill set to be globally competent. There is even a questionnaire being circulated to garner input as to what these global skills may be.

I  suggest a radically different approach: OD needs to realign its core values, which are at present totally western.  Without a change to the  OD profession’s present western values, it makes no sense to define a global consulting skill set.

The list of key OD values  exposes a Western cultural bias.

  • Respect and Inclusion
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Self-awareness
  • Empowerment

These values mean radically different things in different places. For example,

  • Respect and Inclusion is-“Give face gets face in return”.
  • Collaboration looks more like “obedience to authority; there is “one tiger to a hill” and collaboration with other departments may be seen as betrayal of authority.
  • Authenticity looks more like “total control and repression of emotion as a desired state” and authenticity is weakness.
  • Self-awareness looks more like “appear” professional and collected at all times, showing no emotion.
  • Empowerment may look like “do what you are told, and I will protect you”

We can even drill down one level deeper on the idea of “respect” to show the depth of the gaps that may exist between various populations in a global company.

  • Helmut shows respect by keeping to schedule. Baharat from Mumbei shows respect by answering calls from his clients immediately, even when he is running a meeting. Moshe from Israel shows respect by giving you as much time as needed, ignoring the “formal” schedule he is supposed to be following. Paco shows a huge respect for people, yet their time is not a valued resource for Paco, so his US colleague Paul feels a huge lack of respect.
  • Daw from Huahin Thailand gives respect by never inconveniencing people with whom he works. In public meetings, he is courteous and tends to be amicable to all suggested directions, reserving his disagreements for a private conversation. He sees the gap between what he allows himself to say in public and private as giving a huge amount of respect.
  • Mark from St Paul gives respect by separating between people and issues. He can deliver a critique of an idea, but he never is critical of a person; he is careful to remain civil. Mark sees in civility the ultimate manifestation of respect.
  • Ngai Lam from Hong Kong shows respect by always being in her “professional” persona, concealing much of her emotions, expression of which may be seen as showing lack of respect for the work place.
  • Hank from Holland as well as Moti from Israel show respect by being blunt so that no one needs to guess what their intention is, which would be disrespecting and uncaring.
  • ·Olive from Germany and Oya from Japan show respect by a very formal use of language when addressing people who merit respect.

So really, even we all try and rally around something as universal as “respect”, we see a lack of shared context for organization development, unless OD decides that the values of the west can and should be imposed. 

So for those who want to jump the gun and define global competencies for OD, hold your horses and start by examining the current western biases of the OD profession.

Only when OD ceases to impose western values can OD serve as the enabling platform for various cultures to work together without cultural imposition. That is our future.

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What is a Global Literacy? (updated)

In the spirit or brevity, I have put together a very short list of components which constitute “global literacy”, i.e., the ability to be fluent and effective in the acutely diverse global workplace. This list is based on my observations of highly effective managers in the global work place.

  1. Understand where other attitudes and behaviour different from your own come from due to an awareness of the limitations of your own culture
  2. Non-judgmental about how things get done
  3. Ability to build personal trust to transcend differences
  4. Ability to mitigate the imposition of your own cultural preferences. (like: be open)
  5. Behavioural and attitudinal flexibility to work with people and teams whose major shared domain is that they are different
  6. Ability to shelter global staff from corporate absurdities whilst inculcating central values and behaviours which cannot be compromised/

This is the focus of ALL the coaching/consulting that I do with teams and individuals who need to acquire global literacy. My experience is that very little falls outside this list.

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The inability of Israeli organizations to scale innovation

There are endless examples of Israel based companies that innovate and yet fail to leverage and scale their innovation.

As a result, these innovative companies are sold, most often to US based firms who scale the innovations and make the big bucks, leaving only R&D center in Israel, which may  become downgraded to a continuous engineering site.

This short post looks at the reason that this happens.

1) Innovative people tell customers what they need.

I cannot count the number of times I have seen real creative guys kicking themselves in the ass by explaining to the potential customer how wrong they are in what they asking for, followed by an very detailed explanation of “real needs”. Routinely these companies overplay technical presales and underplay the importance of building communication based on respect for the client.

2) Innovative people misuse creativity because they cannot follow routine

Once an innovation has been cranked out, leveraging this innovation needs lots of rigour and disciplined routine to create scalability. Often, an organization that has used its creativity to develop a breakthrough will misuse this creativity to try and “reinvent” the routine necessary to scale the innovation.

It is not unfair to say that Israeli have no problem doing the impossible but have a horrible time of carrying out routine tasks. Scalability is based on disciplined repeated routine.

3) Innovative people are often very arrogant, and very hard to deal with.

And this arrogance and lack of acceptance of the limits of the human endeavour is exactly what enables the innovative mindset. Over the years I have seen some of my brightest clients wiped off the map because they knew not only  how to invent, but they also knew how to do everyone’s job better, which clearly backfires at  the stage when innovation needs to be linked to a growth platform by leveraging on someone else’s capabilities.

4) Israelis have invented great technology, yet the type of organizations which have been created is Israel not a scalable platform to leverage success. In other word, the Israelis developed technology which can be scaled, but Israeli organizational life cannot be scaled. This topic is too elaborate for this post, so I will just illustrate briefly.

  1. Israeli organizations tend to commit aggressively, yet are overly tolerant and  non-punitive, causing frequent sudden system crashes. (The implosion of the Israeli police force and IDB are good examples.)
  2. Structure, rules and processes are ignored, and in lieu of these, a “network” of relationships serves as the motor of getting things done, very similar to Chinese organizations.
  3. Israelis talk all at once, argue all the time, and the level of apparent conflict is very high….. except it is not seen as such IF you are an insider.

Thus, it is very hard for Israeli organization to go global and all so often, even after they have moved their corporate HQ address to the States, they get acquired because while the technology can be scaled,  the organization cannot be scaled as run.

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On Israeli “chaos”

This post concerns chaos in Israeli business culture. Not all Israelis are equally chaotic and clearly, there is more chaos in an R&D organization than in Finance or Supply Chain.

Yet Israelis as a society (and Israeli organizations) do embrace chaos. This post provides some background about the preference of chaos over order in Israeli organizations.

There are 5 widely used terms for chaos in Hebrew.

1) The Biblical term “tohu vavohu” (תוהו ובוהו)…null and void……as in “and the world was null and void”.  (Genesis 1:2)

2) “”Bardak” (ברדק) a Turkish borrowed word meaning messy and disorganized, although the translation is “brothel”.

3) The term “Kah-os”, (קאוס)clearly from the English chaos.

4) “Buka-umavulaka”, (בוקה ומבלקה) an Aramaic borrow word, a “high level” form of speech, also implying very deep chaos. Rarely spoken but often written. (The term originates in the Book of Nahum).

5) Balagan, yet another very popular borrowed word (from Russian)  to describe lack of order.

These words represents a linguistic need to differentiate between various degrees of the very low level of order in Israeli society.

There are many reasons for the chaos, some of which are:

1) A disdain for planning exists; planning is seen as a luxury of the opulent. Thus, with no planning, there is constant improvisation, which causes a “balagan”.

2) Over-reliance on systems is seen as stupid, and instead of systems, there is a massive use of relationships (including systemic corruption) to bypass systems. The orderliness that systems bring to chaos (Weber) is lost in Israel society.

3) There is a proclivity to re open decisions because nothing is very final, ever.This constant questioning of the status quo creates chaos.

4) Being an immigrant society, Israeli society has with too few shared behavioural codes and thus lots of things are explicit. This causes chaos in interactions.

5) There is a deep rooted belief that the individual must be empowered with ingenuity to work around barriers and obstacles to beat the system. At a societal level, this surely cases “buka umvulaka”.

All of the above creates a lot of creativity, and a low level of scalability and lack of discipline.

Managers working with Israelis must realize that the chaos is not something which is startling or upsetting, but rather a platform of interaction, preferable to order for the Israeli. Too much order, or even some order, is perceived as less useful than pliable chaos.

Naturally, there are many exceptions to rule, and you may very well know many Germanic Israelis and orderly Israeli organizations. Yet they tend not to be rule, rather the exception.

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Allon

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