Advice for Going Global – by Deborah Levine

Doing business today requires a global mindset as we increasingly interact with customers, vendors, employees, and colleagues from many countries and multiple cultures. Key strategies for developing that mindset are shared by colleagues at the Institute for Cross Cultural Management (ICCM) at the Florida Institute of Technology. Curtis Curry shows us how to build cultural competence and Dr. Richard Griffith looks at how you should tweak your Best Practices. Their articles in the American Diversity Report give us how-to advice on how to successfully participate in the global economy.

These experts know how challenging it is to grow a global mindset. In his article, The Challenge of Cross Cultural Competence for a Rapidly Shrinking Planet, Curry writes, “There are more than 20,000 cultures and 3,000 languages on planet earth, and learning about every one of them is simply impossible.” Many of us will be tempted to fall back on the usual best practices of our companies. In his article on global leadership, Five Steps to Calibrating your Cultural Compass, Dr. Griffith recommends that we think twice before going down this path.

What to do? Both experts stress the value of self-awareness. Curry advises us to explore our communication style, responses to conflict, and decision-making style. “…feedback from others and simply taking time to reflect on personal preferences can help individuals understand strengths, likes and dislikes. A heightened understanding of preferences can also help individuals understand their reactions to others who are different. Finally, it can help individuals become more aware of how their preferred behaviors may impact others’ perceptions of and reactions to their behavior.”

Next, Curry urges us to assess the “normal” range of acceptable behavior concerning authority figures, time and punctuality, level of directness, and body language. Culture clashes in these areas can be interpreted as untrustworthy or even threatening. “It’s critical to understand one’s own culture in the context of these dimensions. This heightened self-awareness permits comparisons and contrasts with other cultures and in turn, helps to dramatically shorten an individual’s cultural learning curve.” He advises us to buy time when there’s a culture clash and to use our awareness. “Stop, look, listen. Pause, think, respond, or defer responding.”

Why should we strive for cross-cultural awareness rather than use familiar best practices when global diversity is part of doing business? According to Dr. Griffith, “As organizations expand internationally and multi-cultural communications between employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers become more frequent, we are finding that the common denominator of best practices begins to unravel… What we may have come to know as best practices aren’t the same everywhere in the world.”

What should we do when our best practices and the “right way” to do things don’t work? Griffith offers a 5-step plan for building cross-cultural competence.

1. Develop Flexibility: “…rigidity is often the underlying cause of cultural errors in business. Rather than approaching tasks in a predetermined fashion as we are trained to do, begin to complete them in a manner that you haven’t before. If you are impulsive, try to make a deliberate, data driven decision. If you prefer to work alone, try to get more experience in a team. This flexibility leads to less tension when plans deviate, more viable alternatives when problem solving, and allows you to consider context before acting.”

2. Do Your Cultural Homework: “For any substantive decision, leaders now absorb a great deal of data and analysis before finalizing business. Strangely, culture is ignored. A great deal of research examines how cultures may differ, and this science is very accessible. (Yes, there’s an app for that.)”

3. Create “Empty Space” On Your Calendar: “…leaders who take over a new team want to make a splash; a quick visible win to show the home office that they are capable of running an overseas initiative… If you plan to be efficient in the early stages of an international initiative, your expectations won’t be met, you will be frustrated, and you will feel that you are behind from the very first stages of the project. We recommend building extra space in your calendar to handle these unforeseen project delays.

4. Emphasize Relationship vs. Task Focus: “The foundation of business in much of the world is not based on “what you know”, but rather “who you know, and who knows you”. Business deals are often conducted in tight, well maintained networks comprised of family and close friends. If you intend to get something done, you need to spend time developing and maintaining relationships.”

5. Cultivate a Cultural Adviser: “This adviser should be someone familiar with the culture you will be working with, and ideally familiar with your own culture as well. Given their level of cultural expertise, these advisers can point out invisible cultural traps… If you are unfamiliar with cultural norms, they are literally invisible to you. A trusted cultural adviser can point out the invisible cultural gorilla in the room, and provide guidance on how to better navigate the issue.”

Doing business while going global is our future. Griffith underscores how, “Cultural competence is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a critical competency for the 21st century workforce. All organizations now have some global influence, and if leaders don’t factor culture into their planning and operations they run the risk of being blindsided. Smart organizations are now building cultural risk analysis into their strategy, which allows them to leverage cultural dynamics to achieve success in their global initiatives.” Explaining how long-term relationships contribute to that cultural expertise, he notes that “The goal of ICCM’s Cross Cultural Management Summit is to bring together thought leaders across many sectors to share and learn methods to leverage culture to reduce time, costs, and risks. Often one sector may provide insights on cultural solutions that may never come to light outside of that context. ”

I’ll add a word of Go Global advice from my own experience that echoes theirs, “When in doubt, Breathe!” And you might want to attend the 2016 ICCM in Florida. Click for more information. 


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