Tag Archives: cultural diversity

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.

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

Supplier Diversity in 2017 – Here’s Why It Matters

2017 will be the year when Diversity in Procurement takes the spotlight. And here’s why.

In March 2017, the Institute for Supply Management is holding a major summit on Diversity in procurement and supply management.

Diversity advocate Shelley Stewart Jr (VP and CPO of DuPont), has seen first-hand the positive impact that a strong, diverse organisation can have on the bottom line. Stewart is championing the case for making supply chains a bias-free zone at ISM Diversity 2017.

Here’s why supplier diversity matters to your procurement function, your business and your customers.

  1. Increasing Supplier Diversity is our Responsibility

A 2009 study from Pew Research has found that while minority-owned firms made up 41 per cent of all companies in the U.S., they only took in 10.9 per cent of overall revenue. Why?

Contributing factors include:

  • unconscious bias amongst decision-makers;
  • a narrow focus on cost over other value;
  • restrictive criteria for suppliers;
  • inflexible and non-scalable policies;
  • a tendency for big business to be most comfortable working similarly sized entities.

These days, diversity spend is now firmly on the agenda and rising every year. Reversing the contributing factors above has led to a more inclusive focus on overall value (including social benefits) over cost, flexible and scalable policies and criteria for suppliers, and a recognition that the strongest business relationships are often made with smaller, more diverse suppliers.

  1. Customers Want to see Diversity in Action

The public relations aspect shouldn’t be the prime reason for having a supplier diversity programme. However, it’s still important to track, measure and report on your diverse supply base to win recognition from your customers.

Your customer base is diverse, so your business needs to be diverse as well. This comes through adequate representation in the supplier base.

Partnerships with diverse suppliers will give your business a competitive advantage when facing changing customer demographics. For example, if you operate in an area with a rapidly-growing minority population, your key relationships with minority-owned suppliers will become more important than ever.

  1. Diversity Drives Innovation

Essentially, diversity brings a number of different backgrounds and life experiences into your supplier mix to overcome homogenous thinking with fresh new perspectives.

Size matters, too. A study by CHI Research determined that small businesses generate 13 to 14 times more patents per employee than large firms. Since diverse suppliers tend to be small businesses, many companies use their supplier diversity programmes to tap into new and varied creative resources and the innovation that is occurring at these firms.

The fierce competition for business amongst diverse suppliers is another driver for innovation.

  1. Diverse Suppliers are Often More Flexible

Because most diverse suppliers are small businesses, they are usually able to offer greater flexibility, better customer focus and lower cost structures than larger businesses.

Smaller, diverse suppliers are less likely to be tied down by restrictive policy, red-tape or innovation-stifling bureaucracy.

  1. Follow the Leaders

Some of the world’s leading companies are moving ahead with impressive supplier diversity programmes.

  • Microsoft, for example, has recently exceeded $2 billion in annual spend with M/WBE businesses.
  • Google launched a best-practice supplier diversity programme in 2015. It brings key partners into the Google Academy for shared learning opportunities that will drive further innovation.
  • AT&T celebrate their suppliers as one of their “four pillars of diversity”, the other three being the organisation’s employees, community and marketing.

If your organisation’s supplier diversity program is still only in its infancy, it’s important to increase your focus on this area or risk being left behind.

There’s an impressive array of conferences and organisations dedicated to improving supplier diversity, including:

Register now to join DuPont’s Shelley Stewart and diversity experts from Honeywell Aerospace, Rockwell Automation, Whirlpool and Fiat Chrysler at ISM Diversity. The event takes place on March 1-3 2017, at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld resort.

The Art of Cross-Cultural Negotiation

Negotiations can be tricky. A cross-cultural negotiation presents an entirely different challenge, one with countless pitfalls and potential faux-pas.

Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com

Negotiations in a business setting can be difficult at the best of times. Throw cross-cultural diversity into the mix, and the difficulty level rises again.

The way you speak, behave, control your body language, and operate can change hugely from culture to culture. This increases the chance of making a mistake, or accidentally offending the other party.

Some people may also make the mistake of assuming that when we talk about culture, we are limiting this to a purely geographical standpoint.

When referring to a cross-cultural negotiation we often talk about different nationalities as a primary characterisation. But this is not the only element that affects culture.

Culture is the unique characteristics of a social group, and the values and norms shared by its members. This social group may be a country, a corporation, a religion, gender, an organisational function, or one of many others.

Dealing with Cross-Cultural Negotiation

How can you prepare for a cross-cultural negotiation? What do you need to know? What do you need to prepare in advance? And how should you approach negotiating with different cultures? This is where expert advice can help.

Procurious were lucky enough to be invited to listen in on a cross-cultural negotiation roundtable, organised by Giuseppe Conti, Founder of Conti Advanced Business Learning. Participants came from a range of businesses and diverse backgrounds, and comprised 8 different nationalities. The discussion was fascinating, and provided some great insights into a complex subject.

In this series of articles, we will examine key factors to be taken into consideration during cross-cultural negotiations, and see some real-world examples straight from the experts.

Power Dynamics and Balance

Giuseppe kicked off the discussion by asking the participants to talk about their own experiences of cross-cultural negotiations.

Jonathan Hatfield, Director of Purchasing, EMEA at PPG Industries, talked about his first trip to Russia to purchase chemicals.

Supplier power played a large part in the negotiations. Jonathan visited factories in Siberia, where no-one spoke any English. In line with the strong hierarchical culture of the country, he was also dealt with several junior product managers before he could access more senior people.

While Jonathan’s aim was to create a relationship with the supplier, the supplier cut straight to the point. They only wanted to know what he wanted to buy, where it was going, and what the price would be.

Jonathan left Russia not even knowing if he had managed to secure any materials (happily he did!). It taught him about power balance, and also to make sure that he had approvals lined up in advance.

Language Barriers and Coffee

Two other participants gave examples highlighting the difficulties of language barriers and body language.

Thierry Blomet, Senior Vice President at Kemira, took part in a negotiation with an Indian customer, who appeared to be shaking their head from side to side at every argument that was presented. This left Thierry feeling that none of his ideas had been accepted.

When he questioned this with his local representative however, he was told that he was doing fine. The shake of the head was actually a sign of agreement with what he was saying.

Matthias Manegold, Head of Procurement and Supply Chain Practice at Kinetic Consulting, talked about a situation where language barriers played a major role.

He was negotiating with an Asian business to bring new technology to Europe. Each statement in the negotiation was met with a “Hai” (Japanese for yes), but it wasn’t until later on that Matthias was told that this actually meant, “Yes, we hear you, but we don’t necessarily agree”.

Jean-Noel Puissant
Jean-Noel Puissant

One final example came from Jean-Noël Puissant, Head of Procurement EMEA at Monsanto International. Jean-Noël highlighted the difference in how negotiations start in different cultures.

In one negotiation in the South of Italy, the owner of the supplier arrived with his wife, listened to the agenda being laid out, then suggested everyone get a coffee.

It was his way of starting the negotiation by getting to know the other party better with some conversation before the business discussions kicked off.

Company Cultures

The participants also reflected on company cultures, and how current or former employers’ cultures had shaped their own negotiation approaches.

Stephane Guelat, Senior Director – Supply Chain at Pentair Valves and Controls, spoke about one of the key factors for procurement and supply chain – ethics.

Stephane said that, while many organisations will put employees through ethics training, the ethical standards may be different across cultures. For instance, the exchange of services or gifts may be perceived as completely unethical in Western Europe, while fully normal in India.

Xin-jian Carlier Fu, Strategic Sourcing Commodity Manager at Honeywell, argued that there are likely to be many different cultures within the same organisation.

This was confirmed by Jonathan Hatfield, who said that this is ever more the case as organisations from different cultures and countries merge. He added that it was something buyers needed to be cognisant of when dealing with companies which had been taken over.

Finally, Giuseppe highlighted how his first job with a large multinational with a very competitive culture shaped his initial approach to negotiation.

When working later in his career with a smaller, family-owned organisation, he learned to adapt and broaden his approach to negotiation. According to Jean-Noël, we cannot assume one-size-fits-all. We need to understand the specific culture of each large or small organisation.

There’s much more to come on this topic, including tips on negotiating with different nationalities, and applications of cross-cultural research in negotiations. Come back next week for more.

This roundtable was organised by Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a Swiss training company that specialises in Negotiation & Influencing training. Giuseppe Conti, has over 20 years of Procurement experience and 10 years of negotiation teaching experience at leading Business Schools (including Oxford, HEC Paris, IMD and ESADE).

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.

fizkes/Shutterstock.com

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.