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

  1. This opens up a whole new chapter on leadership profiles for executives of globally organized businesses.

  2. With globalization trends and the diversity of employee as well as customer base, we probably want to encourage global skills and diverse culture mindset and not assume professional competence will cover that need.

  3. An interesting view. Professional management competence per se is culturally conditioned. What makes for a competent professional manager in one country doesn’t necessarily transfer to another. While the domain of knowledge may be global that doesn’t mean that professional management competence is.

    In the Far and Middle East – managers who would be considered to be professional and very competent in a Western view often fall over when they lack the flexibility and ability to change required that comes from practicing in another culture.

    What I think your illustration identifies is that project managers need domain management expertise and skills as well as their project management skillsets. There is little room for generic project managers in a global practice perspective, you need to be able to have a good working knowledge of the business sphere you are working in.

  4. Not only does “ethnic” cultural differences shape the managerial lens of executives but also “business-type” cultural differences. A recent case: A new CEO from the oil industry asked for weekly price and cost stats in a business field where monthly variations is the only possible and useful measurement. The common denominator between between both cultural homogenization attempts: fear of the unfamiliar.

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