Tag Archives: cultural diversity

Taking Culture to a New Dimension at Work

Now we have the tools to help us understand culture, how are we going to apply this learning? Are you ready to take cultural learning into your workplace?

taking culture to work
Photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash

Over the last 12 months we’ve been looking at an in-depth discussion of Culture, Cultural Intelligence (CQ), what it is, and the impact it can have when working across cultures. Given this is the last post in this series, I thought it would be a great chance to review some of the key areas we have covered.

Over the series we have explored the 4 components of CQ – Drive, Knowledge, Strategy and Action. We have explored the implications of using these components to work more effectively across culture, distance and time.

We have also looked at the attributes and behaviours that accompany each of the components to give further insight into the specific ways we can address and increase our CQ.

Here is a summary of the components and their attributes.

  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 (ie 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.

Looking into the Cultural Mirror

Another aspect that we have delved into is the 9 dimensions of culture which were discussed in relation to the cultural mirror below.

By investing time to understand some of the key characteristics and notice similarities and differences within cultures, it is possible to identify areas that we need to be aware of. Having that awareness can assist us in navigating relationships across culture and help us avoid tensions and misunderstandings which can undermine success.

So where does all this leave us??

Applying Culture in the Workplace

Here are some thoughts and suggestions on how we can best incorporate the learning topics and apply it in the workplace.

First, have some self-awareness and be mindful of our own preferences and behaviours and how this impacts our world view. Second, be open to receiving and giving feedback on our interactions so as to improve effectiveness.

Third, be willing to experiment, possibly fail,  learn from our experiences and try again thus fostering resilience. Fourth, trust your intuition to gauge a situation and have that guide your responses and actions.

Fifth, have a sense of humour and be able to laugh at yourself, this is an important aspect of developing maturity. Sixth, cultivate the mindset of a student so that you are constantly learning and re-learning lessons.

Seventh, be grateful for all the gifts and rich interactions you have in your life.

It is my hope that in sharing this information and some practical strategies, that you are able to glean some insight into ways you can maximise your effectiveness and engage in meaningful and fulfilling relationships with people coming from a different view points.

Go forth!

Avoiding a Cultural Festive Faux-Pas

How can you avoid making a cultural faux-pas when it comes to this holiday season and others throughout the year?

cultural diversity

With the end of year and festive season rapidly approaching I am always mindful of the significance of religious holidays to different cultures.

Continuing our discussion around cultural intelligence and working across cultures, I thought it might be apt to discuss acknowledging religious holidays in the workplace and how best to navigate this topic in a respectful and inclusive way.

Agile and Aware Approach

Religion is a key component of how people and societies make sense of their existence and provide meaning to their lives. Religion can also act as a moral and ethical guide for behaviour and is a defining element of many cultures. It is only natural then that some of the practices and beliefs people have as part of their religion intersect with the workplace.

As many workplaces exist within a cultural setting dominated by one particular group, it is increasingly necessary for businesses and leaders to adopt an agile and aware approach so they can be inclusive and supportive of their staff.

A situation I encountered with an organisation in Australia a few years ago demonstrates how contentious and uncomfortable it can be when awareness around the importance of religious holidays is not in place. The organiser of an event to be held in Melbourne for an Asia-Pacific team could not understand the response he received when the event dates were released. Members of the team in Asia Pacific were upset and distressed at the timing of the event and there was a lot of push back.

As it happened, the event was scheduled to take place during the Chinese New Year celebrations. These are, of course, a significant time in a number of Asian countries.

We discussed this issue further in light of the reaction. I mentioned that it would be the same as scheduling this event during the Christmas/New year period in Australia. He then realised his error and made changes to the event dates to avoid causing further offense.

Acknowledging Diversity in the Workplace

This example highlights the importance of using Cultural Intelligence (CQ). If we apply it in terms of the components of CQ- Drive, Knowledge, Strategy and Action, we have a complete and practical guide to unpacking and evaluating the best way to manage situations like this in the workplace.

So if we take into consideration the theoretical steps that can be taken when acknowledging religious holidays in the workplace, what are some of the tangible actions we can take to navigate this type of challenge in the workplace?

Be Ahead of the game

Use a diversity calendar that notes the important dates from many religions. This way you are able to be aware of timing and scheduling for meetings, busy periods, etc. There are numerous available on the internet.

Be Inclusive

Find the shared values within religious holidays that can be used to unite and connect people regardless of individual religions.

Be Flexible

Allow staff time off during important celebrations. Be aware of when they occur during the year so major conflicts can be avoided.

Be Aware and Respectful

When organising parties ensure that non-alcoholic beverages and religious dietary requirements are considered.

Be Mindful

As with all of the above, be aware that there will be cultural diversity in your workplace. Take time to understand the overall impact and bring everyone on board with your activities.

Recognise and Educate

Use the opportunities of religious celebrations and holidays to highlight the benefits of diversity. Allow people to appreciate cultures beyond their own and perhaps encourage an education session on the particular event.

Through the use of CQ we are able to better understand both people and culture whilst also creating a space where diversity and inclusion is valued, and the benefits realised. As globalisation and its impacts continue to change the way we work, it is vital that we take conscious steps to be more inclusive and accommodating in our approach to different cultures.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and happy festive season and a wonderful year ahead in 2020!

Providing Feedback Across Cultures

Providing feedback can be tricky at the best of times. However, throw in cross-cultural considerations and you’re talking a completely different game.

cultural feedback
Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash

As we continue our Cultural Intelligence series, I thought it would be useful to discuss some of the different ways of providing performance feedback that is culturally aligned.

For a start, giving feedback, both positive and constructive is an important aspect of professional development. Most managers appreciate that it is a necessary requirement of their roles although in my experience, many find it difficult and uncomfortable to do it well. It becomes even more tenuous when doing so across cultures.

A client who is a senior leader, recently related an incident where giving performance feedback across cultures backfired. The client, who was in Japan, but not Japanese, was giving feedback to one of his direct reports there. The purpose of the conversation was to improve the performance of the person and their team.

However, the outcome of the feedback session was that the employee felt inferior and inadequate in their role and offered to resign. This was definitely not the intention of the senior leader. As a result, he then had to invest significant time to re-engage the employee, boost confidence and reconsider his delivery style.  

Paved with Good Intention

This is an example of how a good intention can be derailed through a lack of cultural understanding. When working across cultures, it can be useful to have a repertoire of different approaches to feedback so that the intended intentions are achieved.

I want to acknowledge one of my early mentors, Dr Asma Abdullah, who introduced me to these different models of feedback. They are somewhat tongue in-cheek but do provide some alternative ways of thinking about how to give feedback. They are:

The Hamburger

This is a long established, traditional style that most multi-nationals use. It’s where you start with a positive comment (the bun) followed by the negative (the meat) and then conclude with a positive comment (the other part of the bun). So, it’s a (+-+) framework.

This effectively buffers the negative comments with positives ones. Cultures in which this approach would be appropriate are the USA, Australia, UK and Canada.

The Open Sandwich

This style is somewhat more direct, providing constructive comments (the meat) followed by some positive ones (the bread). So, it’s more of a (-+) framework. Cultures where this style is best utilised are the European countries – France, Spain, Italy, Germany -and Nordic countries.

The Meat Only

This is a more direct approach than the open sandwich style, where only the constructive comments are given. There is no buffering and hence it’s a (-) framework. This style would only work in cultures where very direct communication is valued and appreciated such as in The Netherlands, South Africa, Finland and Israel.

The Vegetarian

This style is a rather gentle and indirect way to give feedback. Instead of being direct with the constructive comments (meat), it is hinted at  or subtly made through the use of a story, analogy, metaphor, suggestion or an example of what is expected.  It’s more of a (++) framework.

This approach would be best used in high context cultures such as India, Pakistan, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Consider Your Feedback Repertoire

Giving feedback in a way that achieves an objective and brings about positive shifts and encouragement is greatly assisted when it is done in adherence to the cultural context of the situation. Take some time to assess and consider which style or styles you use. How effective are they in your own cultural context? Would they also be effective in a different cultural setting?

What other styles do you think you may need to add to your own repertoire? Why don’t you try the different models and see what feedback you get!

Bridging the Cultural Gap – A Case in Point

Having an understanding of Cultural Intelligence in one thing. Knowing where and when to apply it is a different thing altogether.

Photo by Wojtek Witkowski on Unsplash

Over the last few months we have discussed the idea of what Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is, the 4 key components that comprise CQ and how they are can be utilised in the workplace to assist us to work more effectively across distance, culture and time.

From here I will describe some case studies so that you are better able to grasp some of the issues that can arise when working across culture. Then I will explore ways to reduce tension and miscommunication.

Recognising the Cultural Differences

Recently I was with an Australian organisation that has a global presence. As their business grows and matures in the international market, it is becoming increasingly important for them to adopt a more culturally agile approach. During the discussion an incident was raised that did not have the desired impact.

Due to the growing awareness around mental health and the increasing rate of suicide in Australia, a dedicated day called “R U Ok Day” is held on September 12 every year to focus on mental health. The idea of having this day is to encourage people to ask others how they are feeling, if there are issues to share, so that they feel supported and not isolated.

It is recognised in Australia as an important step towards reducing suicide and developing a strong and supportive network for those that may be struggling with mental health.

This organisation extended the recognition of the “R U OK Day” event to it’s international offices, thinking it would be a powerful, well received and progressive gesture.

Despite the good intentions held by the organisation in promoting these values of openness and support, the organisation received a lot of resistance particularly from offices in the Asian countries. The pushback from the Asian offices occurred because, while the organisation acted with the best intentions they did not foresee the impact of those intentions.  

The organisation failed to take into consideration how this kind of discussion might be received in different cultures. In many Asian cultures, discussing mental health or experiencing mental health issues is very taboo.

Admitting you have problems is a source of shame in these cultures so understandably this initiative caused unease and tensions for the offices. The offices felt that this had been forced upon them and it was anything but well received.

Avoiding Cultural Tension

How then can we avoid a situation like this in our own workplaces?

Some points for consideration are:

  • Be Conscious:

Be aware of our own biases – this means being mindful that the way in which you view a behaviour, practice or topic may not be the same as some one from a different culture. Culture is effectively the lens through which you view the world, so it is important that whenever you are working across culture you consider how your actions, attitudes and behaviours will be received.

At the same time, how do you attempt to understand the “other” point of view?

  • Ask Questions:

When introducing new initiatives, it is imperative to ask questions and receive feedback so you are able to gauge the response before putting things into place. Listening to the perspective of those in a different culture will broaden your perspective especially with new initiatives.

  • Be Adaptive:

If an initiative is introduced and not so well received in a different cultural context, then it becomes necessary to consider how to adapt, adopt or modify this so that it can be more easily accepted by the cultural group involved.

These types of situations require the utilisation of all of the components of Cultural Intelligence that we have previously discussed – Drive, Knowledge, Strategy and Action. By incorporating these elements into our cross cultural interactions we are in a better position to maintain and strengthen our relationships, which will lead to better outcomes.

Procurement Across Borders – Understanding CQ Action

Are you able to adapt your behaviours in cross-cultural encounters? Your final step may be to take more account of your CQ Action.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Throughout this series of articles we have been looking into Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and it’s relevance to working across culture, distance and time.

We have already explored 3 of the 4 main components of CQ which are CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge and CQ Strategy. We will now discuss the fourth component which is CQ Action.

So What is CQ Action?

CQ Action (Behaviour) can be defined as your ability to adapt both your verbal and non-verbal behaviour when engaging in cross-cultural encounters. Being able to flex your behaviour helps you to respond to others in a way that conveys respect, builds trust and rapport and minimises the risk of miscommunications. CQ Action is in effect the manifestation of all of the other aspects of Cultural intelligence. It is behaviour based on motivation (CQ Drive), cognition (CQ Knowledge), and meta-cognition (CQ Strategy).

There are 3 key aspects to CQ Action, the first is verbal communication. When working across culture it is very important to be conscious of different verbal communication styles. Some cultures are very direct in their communication styles while others are not.

For example, people from South Africa and Israel tend to be very direct and forthright. They readily share their opinions. Compare this to people from Japan or Korea, who are far more indirect with their speech patterns. They tend to be much more circular when they say things. It is important to listen carefully to how people are talking or we may miss the point.

A client shared with me recently that one of their team members realised that the Chinese team with whom he interacted never said ”no” as part of their cultural context. Every time he gave them large quantities of work, they kept saying “yes”, even though they had difficulty in meeting the deadlines. On further investigation, he discovered They simply weren’t explicitly saying “no” in the way he expected or understood.

CQ Actions Speak Louder than Words

The second aspect of CQ Action is around non-verbal communication. This describes your body language – how expressive you are, how you use your hands and your facial expressions. This differs greatly in various parts of the world.

An example of this is touching of the head, in some cultures this is an endearing and friendly gesture, while in others it can be very offensive. Some cultures say a lot without using many words while other cultures use hand and facial expressions to add further meaning to their words.

Developing an understanding of non-verbal cues across cultures can take significant time and patience however by doing so you will better able to adapt yourself into a cross- cultural situation which will hopefully result in more fluid relationships.

Understanding Vocal Cues

The third aspect of CQ Action is Speech Acts. Speech acts refers to how much silence we use when speaking, how often we pause and the time spent in between pauses. If you come from a Western culture, you will understand that when there is a silent pause in a meeting, someone will automatically jump in to break the silence.

In other cultures, people are very comfortable sitting with the silence- no matter how long it continues. Thus, part of CQ Action is becoming familiar with these subtleties so that you have the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures.

When working with a different culture, you may possess a great deal of knowledge, have the best strategy and be really motivated however if you are unable to execute or implement these aspects effectively then success will be very limited.

CQ Action involves implementing the appropriate social etiquette and behaviour to suit a diverse range of situations and people which in turn leads to a diverse and sincere connection.

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.

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. 

Different Country, Same Procurement Culture?

Heading off to begin a new procurement chapter abroad? Make sure you’re preparedto accommodate, and adapt to, a new culture.

Have you ever wondered what courage it would  take to pack your bags and set off across the globe in order to start an entirely new chapter?

Juggling a new home, new job and a new life isn’t a challenge for the faint-hearted but it’s one you’re unlikely to regret and something that ISM board member, Kim Brown, knows all about!

Throughout her impressive procurement career, Kim has enjoyed roles at Reynolds and Reynolds Company, General Electric, Toys R Us and, most recently, at Dell, Inc as Vice President, Global Materials.

Kim’s lengthy career has taken her around the world so it’s unsurprising that she’s honed and developed her cultural intelligence (CQ) over the years. When we interviewed Kim, we were interested to hear about her global experiences, both what she’s learnt and how she’s adapted to different circumstances, and gain some advice on what it takes to hold a position on a board as noteworthy as ISM.

Procurement around the world

“I’ve lived in quite a few places, four or five US states and two countries,” explains Kim. ” I also did a stint as an ex-pat in Mexico city for a year and spent on year in Singapore.”

Was she able to observe distinct differences in working cultures  during her time abroad? “Very much so, particularly at the beginning of my time in Mexico, which has a very, verY different culture. I was working for General Electric at the time and accustomed to the direct and process-driven culture in the US. In Mexico, the conversations with suppliers, local people and colleagues were very family-based. They wanted to know about me, and understand what my family life was like before doing business with me.”

In Singapore, Kim faced the challenge of managing a widely dispersed and culturally diverse team. “I had team members in 26 or 27 different countries, all of which had cultural nuances.”

Pulling together a strategy for a large team is challenging at the best of times but it becomes even more so when you must be cognisant of how different cultures are motivated by different things. “Something that someone in the US would regard as a very small factor might mean a lot to someone in India, for example.

“Singapore itself was a very different culture.  It seemed at times cautious and a little shyer than in some other parts of the world. I’m the kind of person who says hello to a lot of people, and in Singapore they would look at the floor in response! However, once you get to know them and they get to know you I found the community to be friendly and outgoing.”

This, in a way, is the motto of Kim’s story. Working across cultures and borders requires patience, tolerance, compromise and understanding from both sides.

“As long as you go about making a change in the right way, it will work. When I first started in a global role I tried to supplement it with videoconferencing. I quickly found I was questioned “When are you coming, when will we see you?”  And there is no substitute for that. Employees are often very excited by and enthusiastic about a visit from the regional office – I’d arrive in Malaysia, for example, and find that the room was packed with people who wanted to see me, listen and ask lots of questions.”

What a board wants

If anyone knows the answer to the question “what does a board want?” it’s Kim Brown. As well as being treasurer for ISM, she’s held positions on two additional NFP boards, one of which had 70 board members. “When I went on [the board with 70 people], I wanted to be really involved, to be on the executive committee and be a decision maker, not just a voter. These roles are extracurricular but if you’re going to do it, do it!

“At ISM, we have very robust conversations, which is fun! I learn a lot and have the opportunity to interact with a whole bunch of new network contacts. I try to look positively upon any experience where I can learn something new.”

Kim’s top tips for procurement when presenting to the board:

  • Keep your strategy clear and concise and ensure you know how to sell it!
  • You need goals and objectives; lay out the salient points and present them in a way that makes sense
  • Get your act together! When you’re presenting, make sure it’s in an understandable manner.
  • Do your homework and always  look at alternatives and contingencies.
  • Use your  junior team members! I really like it when CEOs do this. It gives your team an opportunity to showcase the work they’re capable of doing, and allows us, as the board, to show your team that we’ve got confidence in them!

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.

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