All posts by Tom Verghese

Procurement Across Borders – Looking Into The Cultural Mirror

A useful tool for developing cultural intelligence is the Cultural Mirror, which plots culture across nine dimensions…

By tankist276 / Shutterstock

As part of our ongoing article series on Cultural intelligence (CQ) we are discussing each of the four individual components of CQ and how they can be applied to effectively work across cultures. In earlier articles we discussed what Cultural Intelligence is and CQ Drive, which is the motivation that individuals have in approaching and interacting with different cultures. Now we move onto the next component which is CQ Knowledge.

CQ Knowledge refers to your own personal knowledge and understanding of other cultures. Differences and similarities between cultures can be assessed in terms of core values, beliefs, norms and behaviour.

A useful tool for developing CQ Knowledge is the Cultural Mirror, which plots a culture on nine dimensions. These dimensions are based on the work of anthropologist Geert Hofstede, Fons Trompenaars and Asma Abdullah that I amalgamated. The Nine Dimensions of Culture provides us with a continuum of values and by exploring each of these and where a culture sits on the continuum, we are able to gain insight into the culture itself and how it operates. It is critical to firstly appreciate where you sit on the cultural mirror yourself.

Here is the Cultural mirror and the Nine dimensions:

We will look at the first three dimensions in this article and understand what they are, how they are applicable and provide some tips on how to navigate these cultural differences.

Dimension One: Relationships – Task

In some cultures around the world the focus in the early stages of interactions is on building the relationship. In these cultures, getting to know the people and establishing trust is much more important than simply achieving the task. Examples of countries on the relationship end of the continuum are Saudi Arabia and Brazil. In other cultures the initial priority is on getting the task done. This is not to say that the relationship is not important, however the focus is primarily on getting the task done before building the relationship. Examples of countries that are on this end of the continuum would be Australia, Germany and Finland. In both situations, the outcome is to get the task done but the approaches are different.

Tips for those coming from a relationship oriented culture working with a task oriented culture:

  • Be focused and clear on outcomes
  • Give clear instructions about the task

Tips for those coming from a task oriented culture working with a relationship oriented culture:

  • Spend time initially building the relationship
  • Invest in small talk to make people feel more comfortable

Dimension Two: Harmony – Control

This is the view of how humans deal with the environment, nature and with people around us. People from harmony based cultures believe we need to live in harmony with nature and have an external locus of control. They believe in concepts such as yin and yang, fate, destiny and karma. Countries which are more on the harmony end of the continuum include Pakistan and China. Conversely, people from control based cultures believe that you are the master of your own destiny. You are in control of your life and you need to control the environment. Countries more towardes the control  continuum  are the USA and Switzerland.

Tips for those coming from a Harmony based culture working with a Control Culture:

  • Be aware that rigorous debate maybe encouraged
  • Be conscious of delivering on timelines

Tips for those coming from a Control based culture working with a Harmony Culture:

  • Be mindful that open conflict is likely to be avoided
  • Learn how to disagree in a polite manner

Dimension Three: Shame – Guilt

 In shame orientated cultures, avoiding a ‘loss of face’ is important. Thus, what others think of you and how they judge you is a strong motivator. Examples of countries which are more on the shame end of the continuum are India and Japan. Conversely, in guilt based cultures, it is more about up to the individual to judge themselves on their conduct. Guilt based cultures include Italy and Argentina.

Tips for those coming from a shame based culture working with those from a Guilt Culture:

  • Allow time for experimentation and brainstorming of ideas
  • Appreciate that candour may be present and encouraged in discussions

Tips for those coming from a Guilt based culture working with a Shame Culture:

  • Encourage participation through group based tasks to remove attention from individuals which may cause “loss of face”.
  • Do not expect public or rigorous debate

For the three dimensions we have discussed, please consider where your cultural preferences are and how that influences your interactions with others from different cultures?

Procurement Across Borders: Advancing Your Drive To Be A Global Player

Tom Verghese provides a list of tips which can be useful in advancing your CQ Drive…

By vectorfusionart / Shutterstock

In my last article I discussed the three associated factors affecting CQ Drive, which are intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation and self-efficacy. Each of these components play an important role in understanding your own drive in terms of Cultural Intelligence and how it can be enhanced.

To refresh here are each of the components of CQ Drive.

  • Intrinsic drive is what motivates some people to have interactions with other cultures.  People with intrinsic drive have a deep, personal interest in different cultures and want to understand or experience the different foods, languages and cultural practices of others.
  • Extrinsic drive describes those people that may want to gain experience interacting across cultures to improve their credentials or gain a promotion in their organisation. People with extrinsic drive are motivated by the way in which having interactions with other cultures can benefit them.
  • Self efficacy refers to having the confidence to handle intercultural situations should they arise, especially when you are not in a position to know the best course of action. Often this entails navigating the cues you are receiving and interpreting them to the best of your ability.

A great example of CQ Drive that I noticed recently was the way in which Jacinda Ardern  has been handling the terrible tragedy that occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand. She has exemplified all the elements of high CQ Drive. From my observation, her key drivers have been to understand the perspectives of the communities, particularly the Muslim community and to make decisions that are in the best interest of the people of New Zealand.

She has shown great respect to the Muslim community and their culture by choosing to wear a hijab and spend time empathising with the victims’ families. In parliament she quoted an Islamic greeting to begin the session and has already enacted new laws restricting gun ownership in an effort to ensure that the community at large is safe. In taking these actions she has united the people of New Zealand, overcome a difficult cross-cultural issue and shown great leadership. Jacinda has demonstrated high CQ Drive at the intrinsic, extrinsic and self- efficacy levels through her actions and gained support and respect for her leadership and humanity in doing so. It is very encouraging to see this behaviour in a world leader and provides us with a great example of how we can do better at a personal level in this space.

Here is a short list of tips which can be useful in advancing your own CQ Drive.

  1) Take some unconscious bias tests –Click here

  2) Seek feedback from peers about your interactions across cultures.

  3) Reflect on what guides and influences your behaviours and attitudes toward culturally diverse groups

  4) Welcome opportunities to mentor others as a ‘cultural broker’ and to be mentored yourself.

  5) Seek an interest that you have and leverage on it. Connect with culturally diverse peers who may have an interest in the same topic. You may seek to reach out via social media.

  6) Be prepared to make mistakes and to learn from them.

Being clear about ‘why’ you are choosing to interact with others from different cultural backgrounds helps ease the inevitable tensions or misunderstanding that arise. It provides you with a higher level of self-awareness which is essential in all cross-cultural interactions.

Procurement Across Borders: Do You Have The Drive?

Do you have the drive, interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation?


By El Nariz/ Shutterstock

In the last article in this series we discussed what cultural intelligence (CQ) is and how it is an important tool in working effectively across distance, culture and time. I described the four main components of CQ, which are CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ strategy and CQ Action. In this article I will be focusing on CQ Drive.

CQ Drive is the interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. There are three main areas of CQ Drive, these being:  

  • Intrinsic drive which is what motivates some people to have interactions with other cultures.  People with intrinsic drive have a deep, personal interest in different cultures and want to understand or experience the different foods, languages and cultural practices of others
  • Extrinsic drive describes those people that may want to gain experience interacting across cultures to improve their credentials, gain experience or gain a promotion in their organisation. People with extrinsic drive are more motivated by the ways in which having interactions with other cultures can benefit them
  • Self efficacy refers to having the confidence to deal with intercultural situations should they arise, especially when you are not in a position to know the best course of action. Often this entails navigating the cues you are receiving and interpreting them to the best of your ability

To further exemplify CQ drive in action I would like to share a story about a client. I was engaged recently to work with a scientist who is on a one year assignment in Australia from Germany. He works for a Biopharmaceutical organisation that has operations in both Australia and Germany. Apart from the technical side of his role, his brief is also to help bridge the different operational styles in the laboratory between the two countries.

 In terms of his intrinsic motivation, he really wants his assignment to be a successful one, has an interest in being of service and helping the organisation to grow through gaining experience in Australia and understanding how the business can operate optimally in a different context.

His extrinsic motivation is through knowing that having this experience will help him further his career and gain recognition and promotion in the future. This international exposure will be an essential component of his ambition to become a global leader.

He has also shown a high degree of self efficacy. Upon arriving in Australia, the organisation provided him with an apartment in a high rise development located in downtown Melbourne. He found over the first few weeks that he was quite lonely and had few people to talk to. Having had previous experience travelling through Europe, he decided to register himself at a Youth Hostel to enable him to meet other travellers and increase his friendship circle.

So, this is an example of someone with high CQ drive in all aspects. I encourage you to reflect on your own levels of CQ Drive in terms of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation and self-efficacy. In my article next month, I will share some tips and techniques on how you can improve your CQ Drive and the kind of outcomes this can bring.

Procurement Across Borders – Understanding CQ

In the first of a series of articles, Tom Verghese introduces Cultural Intelligence (CQ), what it means and why it is so important in business today.

By StepanPopov / Shutterstock

Last year, one of my clients returned from a holiday to India. She expressed to me her dismay at the different entrance prices at various monuments and tourist site sites that she had visited. She believed that the different pricing structures for locals and tourists was unfair. and that there should be one price for all entrants, regardless of their status.

I reminded her that she was a visitor and that what she considered to be fair pricing was reflective of what she was familiar with. For example, in countries like the US and UK the pricing structure tends to objective, and having one price for all is considered to be fair and equitable. However, in many parts of the world pricing is subjective with many variables influencing price such as how well I know you, the relationship we have, the company that you represent, the links and connections that you have, and even what time of day it is.

This example serves to demonstrate how ‘culture’ can play a part in even the simplest everyday situations at both a personal and professional level. In this story, the conflict of one set of cultural norms over another highlights how cultural differences can create conflict and misunderstandings.

Let’s take a look at some of the defining features of culture so as to better understand how we interact with culture. Culture is the lens through which we view the world.

  • Culture is subjective. That means we use our own culture as a reference point. The practices in our culture are what we use as norms and we use these to compare other cultures
  • Culture is deep. Culture is mostly transmitted through stories, which provide a history of that culture. When we look at tensions or animosity and hatred that passes from one generation to another, it’s because those stories are passed on and perpetuate a view that may no longer be accurate
  • Culture is biased. This means that each one of us interprets and makes judgements by the standards inherent to our own culture
  • Culture is tacit. That is we never really consider or think about our culture until we are outside of it. Culture is important because it essentially impacts the way we think and behave and impacts our worldview.

Most people believe that they have some degree of cultural awareness. This may mean they can identify the languages, foods or traditional dress of certain countries, or other defining characteristics.

However, in our increasingly interconnected and globalised world, as organisations are being required to source talent and conduct business across multiple countries with people from a diverse range of backgrounds, a broader understanding of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is necessary. Having an understanding of what CQ is and how to practically apply it can make it easier to navigate different cultures. For specialists in procurement, the ability to use CQ is particularly relevant. One of the biggest challenges when working across cultures is that we have expectations that people are similar to us and operate according to the same rules. This is a grave error.

What is CQ?

CQ is the capability to work effectively in culturally diverse situations. It goes beyond existing notions of cultural sensitivity and awareness to highlight a theoretically-based set of capabilities needed to successfully and respectfully accomplish your objectives in culturally diverse settings either locally or globally.

CQ can be broken into four components. These components can be both inherent and developed. These four components are:

  1. CQ Drive – The interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. It consists of intrinsic (i.e. meaningful work) and extrinsic interests (i.e. financial rewards) and the drive to learn and understand cultures, their norms and behaviours
  2. CQ Knowledge – Understanding cultural similarities and differences. This includes knowledge of the values, norms and practices in different cultural settings
  3. CQ Strategy – Awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions. It incorporates how we apply our CQ Knowledge insights
  4. CQ Action – The ability to appropriately adapt verbal and non-verbal communication in cross cultural situations, including how well we can adapt when things don’t go according to plan

Over the next 12 months we will be discussing each of these components, what they are and the ways in which you can further develop your own CQ and make improvements on your performance when interacting in cross cultural situations to obtain better outcomes.

Talk Less, Ask More

Procurement leaders must create more opportunities to be open with the levels of the organisation below them and consistently request feedback… Talk less and ask more! “When you’re the CEO of a large organisation – or even a small one – your greatest responsibility is to recognise whether it requires a major change in direction. Indeed, no bold new course of action can be launched without your say-so. Yet your power and privilege leave you insulated – perhaps more than anyone else in the company – from information that might challenge your assumptions and allow you to perceive a looming threat or opportunity. Ironically, to do what your exalted position demands, you must in some way escape your exalted position.” – excerpt from Bursting the CEO Bubble, Hal Gregersen. Harvard Business Review, March – April 2017.

This passage stuck a chord with me and I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.

The majority of feedback given in organisations tends to flow in a downward direction; people in higher levels of an organisation are giving feedback to people in lower levels. People may be asked to provide feedback in the opposite direction – back to their superiors – but it is rarely given freely and without careful consideration.

I believe many people don’t give feedback to their superiors out of an instinct of fear. That is not to say they are scared of their managers, but more that there is a sense of uncertainly around how their feedback will be taken and any resulting consequences. The safer option tends to be to bite one’s tongue and keep quiet.

The impact of this behaviour is that people, or groups of people, can feel stressed or excluded, and ultimately become disengaged.

I also believe that many leaders don’t ask for feedback from lower levels of their organisation because their information “feeds” are so broad in our modern era.

CEOs have so many sources of information to consult and deal with that they are spending more and more of their time in a scanning mode rather than a deep analysis mode. Consequently, as their decision-making time is continually reduced they have to use their bias to make quicker decisions.

Important decisions in any organisation deserve careful consideration. Bias tends to work as an opposing force to this process. As the excerpt above suggests, and that I strongly agree with, our leaders  must expand on their process of discovery. They must create more opportunity to be open with the levels of the organisation below them and consistently request feedback, particularly on their own performance. Not only will staff feel listened to and more engaged, but also this process will invite alternative perspectives – alternative ideas, alternative ways of thinking, and alternative cultural outlooks.

It is this diversity of thought – the diversity of their entire organisation – that should be informing our leaders’ decision making process.

This article, by Tom Verghese,  was originally published on Cultural Synergies. 

Procure with Purpose – Join the movement

Procurious have partnered with SAP Ariba to create a global online group – Procure with Purpose.

Through Procure with Purpose, we’re shining a light on the biggest issues – from Modern Slavery; to Minority Owned Business; and from Diversity and Inclusion; to Environmental Sustainability.

Enrol here to join the Procure with Purpose group and gain instant access to our exclusive online events, including the Don’t Go Chasing Unicorns webinar, which, in part, explores the importance of diversity of thought in procurement teams. 

Micro-inequities Add Up

How often do you a halt a conversation, mid-flow to check your phone or reply to a text message? Ever thought about how actions like this impact the people around you? Tom Verghese explains micro-inequities. 

Lightspring/Shutterstock.com

Let me ask you this question, how many of you have experienced one or more of the following scenarios:

  • You’re talking to someone and they’re looking at their watch while you’re sharing some information
  • You’re talking to someone and they’re texting on their phone
  • You’re talking to someone, the phone rings, they turn around and they have a long conversation with the other person on the phone while you’re just standing there?
  • How many of you have experienced being excluded from small talk?
  • How about someone passing you in the corridor of the office without speaking or saying “Hello” to you?
  • Have you ever had the experience of someone taking credit for your work?
  • How about someone constantly mispronouncing your name and not making any effort to get it right?
  • Or someone calling you a nickname without your permission?

All these are examples of what is known as micro-inequities. Micro-inequities is a term defined by Mary Rowe in the 1970s. They are defined as those subtle and disrespectful behaviours that exclude others. Sometimes they’re very difficult to recognise for both the person doing it and for the person receiving it. When you commit a micro-inequity you may only do one at a time and it may not have a big impact, but it is easy to imagine how over a period of time these individual behaviours can add up and have a significant impact. It’s like a drop of rain – if a drop of water hits you it probably won’t make a difference, but if drops of water hit you constantly it is certainly going to get you wet!

How do you become more aware of the impact of your behaviour?

The key issue here is how can each of us be more consciously aware about our behaviour and its impact on others? One way to address this question is to understand the idea of micro-affirmations. Micro-Affirmations are the opposite of micro-inequities and again are often the small and subtle behaviours that demonstrate inclusion.

One example of a micro-affirmation behaviour is inclusive verbal skills. When you’re leading a group discussion, make sure that you are involving everyone. Encourage contributions from everyone in the group, especially those who are quiet. There will always extroverts and introverts; extroverts are those who always have ideas to contribute to the meetings, and it’s easy if you are not being conscious to actually exclude the introverts. You may need to specifically ask the introverts for their ideas and input.

A second example is using non-verbal skills such as eye contact, smiling and nodding of the head. Acknowledge people when they speak up and say something, or make a contribution to the team. These micro-affirmations will lead to a greater sense of inclusion for all.

In today’s world of social media, it’s really tempting when you’re talking to someone to answer your phone or send a text. I’m not saying that you can’t ever do that, but I would challenge you to try to be conscious of what you are doing and its impact on others. It is not difficult to ask for permission to put a conversation on hold while you answer a phone call. Alternatively, have the phone on silent mode and focus and be present in that conversation.

The Importance of Strategic Thinking

“It is not enough to be busy… the question is: what are we busy about?” How do you find the time for valuable strategic thinking?

g-stockstudio/Shutterstock.com

Last month, I ran a one-day workshop for senior leaders at a multinational organisation. One of the common themes that came up when we were establishing the ground rules for the session was the sense of “busyness” in the group. Many participants mentioned how “busy” they were and how it was not an ideal time for a full day workshop. Nevertheless, the workshop went very well and the level of input and engagement from the participants was high.

As a follow-up, I was debriefing the workshop with the participants yesterday. Their feedback about the session and its impact has been very insightful.

The Benefits of Strategic Thinking

One participant said she appreciated the time and space the session provided in order for her to slow down, think and reflect. She was able to move out of her “tactics” mindset and think more strategically. Another participant mentioned that he was able to step into a more strategic mindset and use the time to think about frameworks that will find alignment with everyone in his team. Others shared similar experiences. Participants realised that they were actually being busy for “busyness” sake, whereas what they were missing was the necessary time and space for valuable strategic thinking and consequently future planning. This is a key aspect of leadership.

As Henry David Thoreau wisely stated, “It is not enough to be busy… the question is: what are we busy about?” Strategic thinking examines and challenges the assumptions that exist around an organisation’s value proposition. It focuses on finding and developing unique opportunities to create value for an organisation. Being a strategic thinker can be difficult, but allocating time for the process is a crucial first step.

Strategic thinking is not only reserved for senior executives, it can, and should, happen at every level of an organisation. The important step is to accept that strategic thinking is part of your job and begin to focus on developing your abilities. Here are a few techniques to help you become a better strategic thinker:

Reflect

Make a commitment to slow down and do some focused thinking. One easy way to do this is to schedule a time every day or week to simply spend time thinking. It doesn’t have to be at work; it could be driving to work or going for a walk at lunch.

Broaden your horizons

Strategic thinking and curiosity are intrinsically linked. The more ideas and experiences you have, the more insights and connections you can make. Try to read about new ideas or new opinions, or explore new places to help stimulate the mind.

Step into others’ shoes

Discuss your ideas with other people. This is valuable because most likely the people around you think differently from you and can provide alternative perspectives to your ideas. Clients and customers also serve as a good source of inspiration for new ways of thinking.

Encourage others 

The more strategic minds generating ideas in an organisation, the better. One effective way to encourage staff to think strategically is to incorporate strategic thinking into their training and/or performance development plans.

Make decisions 

Strategy is not just about thinking, it is also about executing. Generating ideas is valuable, but it can go to waste if a decision is not make about what to do with them. This is where budgeting, time, money, resources, and prioritising come into focus.

Strategic thinking will make you a better leader. However, the ultimate value of strategic thinking is that it is looking out for the future of your organisation and its long-term success.

This article was oringally published on Cultural Synergies.

Why Fit In When You Were Born To Stand Out? : The Case for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

There’s no question that diversity and inclusion is good for business. But, Tom Verghese explains why a new approach is needed. 

As part of the Bravo campaign, Procurious will be hearing from a number of high profile procurement leaders on the topics of diversity, equality and women in procurement.

Diversity in our workplaces is important. It’s widely acknowledged that diversity in our leadership teams matters. It’s imperative for any organisation that wants to achieve and remain competitive. Diversity helps to generate new ideas, drive creativity, and meet market needs; it also reflects our own communities. While the benefits are many and varied I want to draw your attention to a recent body of research ‘Diversity Matters’ conducted by McKinsey & Company.

Diversity Matters Study

One of the key findings from this study is that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.

The authors contend, based on other studies and the correlation in this study between diversity and performance, that the more diverse an organisation is the more successful they are at winning top talent, customer orientation, employee satisfaction and effective decision-making.

While this research paper found that no organisation performed well in all areas of diversity (it is a very select few who do) it highlights the ongoing demand for diversity training programs.

Diversity policies and approaches tend to be country specific. However, traditionally the common approach in countries such as the UK, U.S and Australia has been to adopt a single diversity program that covers all areas from gender and age, to race, ethnicity, sex, religion and disability.

I contend that one of the problems with this approach is that some more visible areas of diversity such as gender, have received more focus than others, namely race and ethnicity.

A new approach to diversity is needed

A new mindset and approach to diversity needs to occur. The overall current characterisation and management of diversity is too broad, it commands greater depth.  In other words, a more individualised, tailored approach is required, it needs to be ‘unbundled’.

At the same time, I would go one step further and posit that diversity in any organisation or workplace cannot be fully realised without an equal and complementary focus on inclusion.

The challenge of inclusion is not in producing a diverse workplace; diversity is rather the natural outcome of inclusion. If we define diversity as all the ways we are different – that which is the human condition, then inclusion is our ability to value, recognise and appreciate these differences.

It is possible for organisations to hire a diverse workforce, however, without the necessary corresponding inclusion policies.

We see ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups start to form and those in the ‘out’ groups (typically those people who find themselves in a demographic minority) less likely to stay in their roles.

Attraction and retention are equally important partners in any organisation’s D&I journey; they must therefore be given equal effort and intent. If we focus back on our gender example, inclusion on a basic level means making women feel welcome and valued in the workplace. This can be reflected in policies such as: flexible work arrangements for men and women, allowance for career breaks, available role models, mentoring opportunities, and affinity groups.

It is worth noting that these types of policies will differ across different societies or cultures. Organisations that work across borders must consequently be aware and knowledgeable of these implications.

Managing a diverse organisation

Diversity and Inclusion is not an easy undertaking. Managing a diverse organisation is far more difficult than managing a homogenous one, and it requires a completely different skillset.

Leaders must step up to the challenge and in many cases push past the latent philosophy of maintaining status quo – the ‘why change something if it is not broken’ attitude we all too often still see represented in the homogenous recruitment policies of organisations.

Specific programmes that develop, monitor and promote ongoing continuous improvement need to be implemented.

Some examples are unconscious bias training, cultural intelligence training, mentoring, or executive coaching. These programs provide greater rigour, understanding and appreciation that make real headway into changing attitudes, behaviours and outcomes.

Why, What and How?

In conclusion, I would like to put forward three questions organisations can ask in order to pursue an integrated approach to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I):

  • WHY – Organisations must establish the reasons why D&I is important for them
  • WHAT – Organisations must educate their leaders on D&I, bias and its impact on decision-making
  • HOW – Organisations must examine the policies, procedures and processes that systematically re-enforce the current state

Further to improving diversity and inclusion, organisations and their leaders must visibly demonstrate that they believe in the value of D&I and assert why it is a priority in a manner that influences, promotes and inspires others to also commit.

As the authors of ‘Diversity Matters’ point out we “must do more to take full advantage of the opportunity that diverse leadership teams represent… we live in a global world that has become deeply interconnected.” This research serves as an ongoing reminder of the headway that we have made to date in countries such as the U.S and U.K in diversity. But it also highlights the benefits to be gained and that there is still much work to be done.

Join the women in procurement conversation in the Procurious Bravo group. 

Dealing with Diversity – The Importance of Cultural Intelligence

Do you have the cultural savvy it takes to be considered a global player? The one characteristic that global procurement professionals need is cultural intelligence.

dizain/Shutterstock.com

When we are procuring domestically, we don’t think about our own culture. It isn’t until we are procuring and dealing with people of different cultures around the world that we have to think and function with a global mindset.

Culture is reflected in what is considered normal. It is tacit. We don’t think about it on a conscious level, but when we step out of our familiar cultural environments, culture does matter and we do notice it.

One of the biggest challenges when procuring across cultures is that we often have expectations that other people are similar to us and that they ‘play by the same ground rules.’ These are dangerous assumptions.

Defining Cultural Intelligence

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the ability to work effectively across cultures. CQ supports global leaders in their cross-cultural interactions, providing greater insights and understandings into the behaviours, values and attitudes of others from a cultural perspective.

Cultural Intelligence consists of four components:

1. CQ Drive – The interest, motivation and confidence to adapt to a multicultural situation. It consists of intrinsic (i.e. meaningful work) and extrinsic interests (i.e. financial rewards), and the drive to learn and understand different cultures, their norms and behaviours

2. CQ Knowledge – Understanding cultural similarities and differences. This includes knowledge of the values, norms and practices in different cultural settings.

3. CQ Strategy – Awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions. It incorporates how we apply our CQ Knowledge insights. For example, checking assumptions and observations, and engaging in active inquiry when interacting with people of different cultures.

4. CQ Skills – The ability to appropriately adapt verbal and non-verbal communication in cross-cultural situations, including how well we can adapt when things don’t go according to plan.

Strategies for improving CQ Drive:

  • Take some unconscious bias tests and seek feedback.
  • Identify your passions and why you care about them.
  • Reflect on what guides and influences your behaviours and attitudes toward culturally diverse groups.
  • Welcome opportunities to mentor others as a ‘cultural broker.’

Strategies for improving your CQ Knowledge:

  • Choose a culture that interests you. Read a novel, magazine or local newspaper from an overseas site, or an author native to that country.
  • Listen to overseas radio programmes.
  • Visit culturally significant places to learn more about them. For example, a mosque, synagogue or sporting venue.
  • Visit art galleries or museums that display stories and artworks from other countries. These help you to gain a deeper understanding of why and how they were created and their cultural significance
  • Continuously observe body language, facial expressions, gestures when you are interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. People love to talk about their culture. This can also be a great way to build relationships.

Strategies for improving CQ Strategy:

  • Practice detaching yourself from the situation and observing. You will be more impartial and less judgemental. You will see and hear the things that are not being said.
  • Practice pausing. Pause and reflect on what you believe is occurring, how you are experiencing the moment, and how you feel, and then make the necessary adjustments.
  • Observe your own behaviours and emotions when you are in different cultural settings, such as what you are thinking and feeling.
  • Learn basic small talk, norms and appropriate social behaviours that are culturally appropriate.

Strategy for improving CQ Skills:

  • Pay attention to hierarchy.
  • Learn some basic language. For example, sorry, thank you, greetings, etc.
  • Spend time planning how you are going to act, react and manage your own expectations, and those of others during conversations.
  • Modify your tone and speed of speech according to your observations and language competency of the receiver.

So, what will your strategy be to improve your Cultural Intelligence, and build your global effectiveness?

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Navigating Rule Based Cultures

When dealing with different or rule based cultures, it’s important to remain mindful of differences, so as to avoid misunderstandings.

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Last month I had an assignment in Japan.  On our first night in town, five colleagues and myself met in the bar of a major hotel where we had planned to have a pre-dinner drink and decide on a dinner location.

Upon arrival, we ordered our drinks and were each served a very small bowl of nuts. After a brief discussion, and review of the hotel menu, it was decided that we would eat at the hotel restaurant.  Given that we didn’t have to travel anywhere for dinner, we decided to spend a bit more time relaxing and catching up before heading to the restaurant.

One of my colleagues politely asked the barman for a second bowl of nuts, to which the barman replied, “No, it is only one bowl per drink.” After some discussion it was clear that the barman was not going to bend the rules, there wasn’t going to be a second bowl of nuts unless a second drink was ordered.

In response to this inflexibility, we decided against having another drink and eating dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Following our earlier conversation with the restaurant manager regarding the menu, on our departure he questioned why we were leaving.

We told him of our reason for leaving, to which he was very apologetic, thanked us for the feedback and then proceeded to escort us to the concierge, while also suggesting other local restaurants.

His friendly manner persuaded us to dine at one of the other restaurants within the hotel. We appreciated his demeanour and kind generosity – providing our table with a surprise complimentary bottle of wine.

Appreciate the Differences

The point of this story is to emphasise the differences of rule based cultures, that some cultures are bound by rules, formalities and regulations more than others. This doesn’t make one better than the other, more rude or generous than another, it just makes them different.

We need to understand and appreciate these differences. In the moment they may seem significant or even pedantic but their effects can be long reaching and detrimental toward future relationships, behaviours, attitudes and biases.

Strong rule based cultures tend to encourage conformity, embracing the status quo, while other cultures tolerate greater degrees of flexibility and adaptability.

The key to successfully navigating, working and interacting within and across cultures is to understand that these traits are often hidden, unspoken, understated characteristics that are bound up in the unspoken cultural rules, expectations, systems and processes.

Reflection and Mindfulness

They can appear when you are engaging in cross-cultural social and professional interactions i.e. different expectations and formalities of hierarchical and equality based structures, during negotiations, navigating through ambiguous, tense situations or when establishing and maintaining trusted working relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

The barman serving us was not rude, rather he was efficiently performing his job, behaving in a manner that was appropriate for a barman in his role, respecting the rules and processes of his job. Our observations and expectations of the barman’s behaviour and attitude were considered through our own cultural lenses.

This example highlights how interpretations of social rules and behaviours can quickly become construed as impolite, disrespectful and inappropriate. Reflection and mindfulness are valuable skills, especially when interacting with differences of any kind!

Dr. Tom Verghese is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Cultural Synergies, a leading global intercultural and diversity consultancy that specialises in developing and sustaining cultural intelligence.