Culture impacts everything we do, at work, and at home. While cultural values, beliefs, and norms are invisible, they fundamentally influence our behaviour – in many ways we do not realize!
With the growing diversity and mobility of today’s workforce, cross-cultural challenges and opportunities are present in every work environment; you no longer have to be an international organization to experience what have previously been deemed global challenges.
World Day of Cultural Diversity (May 21) provides us with a perfect opportunity to deepen our understanding of the influence of culture by uncovering five important basics that every business leader should know about cross-cultural competency and learning.
- Intercultural competence does not come naturally
While some people may be naturally more flexible and open to new experiences than others, intercultural consciousness is not something we are born with. It is a learned skill that comes from the real experience of interacting with somebody from a different culture, acknowledging that the difference is real and that there is something that can be done about it. Learning how to switch your own behaviour according to the cultural context of the person you are with, or the context you are in, is a first step toward intercultural competence.
- Knowing a foreign language (or two) does not equal intercultural savvy
Knowing a foreign language goes a long way, however you may be surprised to learn that comments like, “I already speak the language, so I should be okay!” from an employee considering or preparing for an international assignment can actually be a red flag. Why? Going from one English speaking context into another English speaking context can sometimes produce more intercultural challenges than when going into a culture that has obvious differences in both language and cultural behaviour. Simply, we don’t see what we don’t expect to see, so often, with a person who speaks the same language, there may be a subconscious belief that they have similar priorities, values and work styles. The reality is that the nuance differences can drive the most competent and senior executive to feel like they are failing.
- Business travel to another country does not give a full picture of underlying values, beliefs and norms
Building rapport with international colleagues through travel to their country is an important part of any international business relationship. However, it doesn’t provide the full range of experience of what it would be like to live and work there full time, or what it would be like to manage that country or region from a distance. Employees are driven and motivated by different things from one culture to another. Taking the time to learn what engages them, and how they process information, is a key step toward a more conscientious and long term working relationship.
- Trying to change another person to be more like you does not work
When managing people in a different cultural context, or when hiring a person from a different culture than your own, your hints and tricks that may have served you successfully in the past will likely need to be adjusted. An understanding of the basic assumptions and values of the country you are in and/or the team members you are working with will help you understand how to communicate and manage people within that framework.
- The golden rule does not apply
Forget what your mother told you! When working with international colleagues (especially on international assignment in their country), don’t treat people the way you want to be treated! Instead, take the time and make the effort to really figure out how they want to be treated. That will show not only that you care about them as human beings and valuable contributors, but also that you are interested in their country and cultural traditions.
How can your workforce improve its cultural competency?
Good news! Cultural competence can be learned. Through both structured workplace learning and real experiences, your workforce can enhance their intercultural understanding and communication for business success. Shepell’s full suite of Intercultural Learning can help get your workforce started:
- Becoming world wise and Communicating across cultures are group sessions designed to enhance the cultural competency of an organization’s domestic and global employees.
- Cross-cultural training – for adults and youth – can help employees and their families maximize their intercultural competency and integration into a new environment, contributing to the success of international assignments.
- Intercultural coaching is a unique program for people leaders and executives. Through a series of one-on-one coaching sessions, the participant will develop strategies for adapting business styles; troubleshoot cross-cultural issues that arise in the workplace; and empower people to lead multicultural teams and successfully achieve professional, personal, and corporate objectives.
You may also want to consider one of our facilitated, interactive workshops that address important fundamentals surrounding cultural competence. We suggest:
- Diversity: The power of difference
- Respect in the workplace
- Enhancing your team for success