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Show All Employees A

Wider World
Even employees who don't travel overseas need to knovi/ the culture
and practices of the countries where you have commercial ties.

By Martlia Frase

ome years ago, Nina E. Wbodai-d, SPHR, GPHR, was working in tbe New York of-

S fices of Standard Chartered Bank (SCB), helping her company acquire a bank in

Thailand. That was when she first discovered how quickly a single word could cause

business procedures to falter if communication fails to bridge the divide between two cultures. >

June 2007 HRMagazina 99

Woodard's role was to lead the employee communications In tbe survey, eonducted by global management consulting
activities before, during and after the acquisition. '"ITiere was a firm Accenture, U.S. companies were found to be top targets
significant change in the way that employees at the Thai bank for mergers and acquisitions. Regardless of whether they in-
would receive infonnationusing the SCB 'cascade' methodol- tend to expand into overseas markets, U.S. companies are sure
ogy. A message starts with the president and moves down to his to feel the effects of globalisni as their colleagues and clients
direct reports, to their direct reports and so on, until every em- become more internationally diverse.
ployee bas received the message, usually in a single day."
With the help of a translator, Woodard prepared a com- Diversity Through the Ranks
munication informing the newly acquired management team Cultural diversity isn't just for expatriates orfi-equent-flyingex-
about their role in the process and how to let employees know ecutives. Cube dwellers increasingly need to work, often virtu-
what to expect. But wben she asked one of ber Thai HR col- ally, across borders with people whose first language is not
leagues to read back the docimient in English, the message English, who don't have the same cultural touch points as U.S.
declared that SCB provided communications "on a waterfall." employees do, and who don't approach business in the same
"There is no word for 'cascade' in the Thai language, but wa>-s that Americans do. lypically, these U.S. workers have not
*waterfall,' which was probably the closest to it in their dic- had formal international education, have never worked over-
tionary, really didn't convey the same meaning," Woodard seas and may not bave even traveled abroad.
says. From that point, she adds, "I started explaining the in- As a result, Americans can misunderstand how their words
tent of my messages" to translators, rather than relying on and actions are construed in otber countries. Although the
word-for-word translation. "And I always have them translat- United States is making strides in awareness of cultural diver-
ed back to English for proofi-eading." sity, Americans "do sort of run the show," Woodard says. "So
Woodard, now director of business development for much of our office jargon is colloquial, and we don't even real-
Strategic Human Resource Management India (a subsidiary ize it. Comments like 'cover all the bases' or 'three strikes and
of the Society for Human Resource Management), recalls that you're out' don't bave any contextual value bere [in India] at
e>q)erience as a reminder of how important it is to be careftil all. People just don't know what we are talking about."
and clear in intercultural communications. In fact, such clar- Anotber difference tbat Americans discover when they set
ity could affect a company's prospects for groviiii. out to do business in South Asia, Woodard notes, is that "in
this part of the world, relationships are everything. As Ameri-
The Business Imperative cans, we are very direct in business and get straight to the bot-
Increasingly, companies willfindthat to grow, they will have to tom line. But here, it is important to be sociable and to discuss
expand into international markets and be able to function ef- something more personal before getting to tbe business."
fectively in cultures that may be little-known to them. Such TYaining employees throughout an organization can expose
companies will have to elevate their familiarity' with other cus- them to the rules of global business and can help tbem under-
toms and languages, and their newfound cross-cultural aware- stand different cultures and how to work better with people
ness will have to permeate not only corporate ranks but all the other coxmtries. But it's more than a mafter of drilling
levels belowdown to the employees who dowTi into particular nationalities and
carry on the enteqirise day after day, deal- learning tbeir language and culture,
ing vth counterparts in other countries ^ Online Resonrces Woodard says. "I know this is going to
without even visiting those places. For additional resources on training fo-
sound too simple, but it is really about
As barriers to trade and telecom- cused on global cultural awareness, see communication skills. These days, the
munications diminish, expansion into tiie mline ver^n of this article at wvm requirement [for global communication]
international markets will become impera- .shrni.orq/hrtnngazine/07 June. Tbere is excellence: purposeful, intelligent se-
you will find links to:
tive for many U.S. companies. A 2006 sur- lection of words, and alignment of those
An HR Magazine article on global
vey of 420 senior executives from words with actions, make all the differ-
companies of various sizes and in various An HR Magazine article on cultural
ence in the world in the way we are im-
industries in the United States, the United diversity. derstood and even considered."
Kingdom and Scandinavia underscores tbe A World Bank report on globai economic
global dimensions of business growtb. prospects for tbis year. The Education Question
Fifty-eight percent of respondents said An American Society for Training & Choosing to train workers across the
their most recent acquisition was cross- Oeveiopment article on implementing
board is not a matter of company size, in-
global diversity and etbics programs.
border, and 26 percent said overseas acqui- dustry or breadth of global operations,
sitions were necessary simply to survive. says Gwen Crider, executive director of

100 HRMagazlna June 2007

The Details
There seem to be as many ^/pes of intercultural training avail-
able for employees as there are companies that need it. Training
might he narrowly targeted on specific cultures or countries with
which employees interact. Or it might cover more-expansive
communication skills designed for interacting witb multiple cul-
tures. Or it may trjuisfei- basic knowledge in divereity^ and cul-
tural competence that can be applied broadly in any workplace.
Generally, training is offered in one- or two-day seminars,
or through web-hased modules or real-time "webinars."
Costs var>^ according to the depth and length of the instruc-
tionfrom a few hundred dollars for licensing a weh-based
training module, to several thousand dollars for a two-day
NMCI hosts two major training institutes a year and pro-
vides consulting and training for individual clients. Crider
has seen a major increase in the number of clients who are
including it in basic employee orientation.
the nonprofit National Multicultural Institute (NMCI) in "These concepts can be introduced in a one-day work-
Washington, D.C. It's a matter of "whether you are looking to shop," Crider says, liut we believe cultural competence is a
grow your business. You can't just consider whether you are in processnot something you can get to the end of. Compa-
the import-export business. At one point tbat made .sense, but nies need to be constantly updating and growing their skill
today you must consider your entire networkfrom those set." This can be accomplished, she notes, not only through
working at yonr company to
w-ho's in your circle of external
stakeholders: customers, sup- 'Every organization should have in its
pliers and potential customers.
This is for any company looking training and development programming some
to thrive in the coming years."
Woodard agrees: "I think international business classes.'
every organization should have
in its training and development
programming some intemationai business classes or pro- continual formal training but also through company-
grams, even if your company doesn't do business globally sponsored initiatives such as hosting employee intercultural
yet." dialogues, forming diversit)"^ committees or even watching in-
Business today often involves outsourcing and ofishoring ternational films together.
processes to other countries, says Pamela Leri, director of glob- Leri tailors training to her clients' professional needs.
al partnerships for Aperian Global, a consulting and training "Some spend two days in a 'working globally' session, some-
firin with U.S. offices in Boston and San Francisco. "Intercui- times focusing on certain countries," she says. Sessions can
tural conmiimication is going on at all levels of the company. include case studies, role-playing and practice teleconfer-
Increasingly, work is being reorganized around product lines ences. The company has also developed a two-hour webinar
or projects, forcing people at every level to interact across bor- that tackles awareness issues more generally.
ders. Everyoneeven very junior peopleneeds to know if "Some clients have told us that all they want is to get
transactions are being done appropriately and if processes are trainees to do two tofivethings differently," Leri says. "They
working." are only looking to give employees some framework .so they
In addition, today's American companies have become can identify wben differences arise, and understand whether
more structurally "flat," utilizing a lot of individual contribu- a communication problem is a matter of culture or simply
tors with discrete skills, "and organizational goals have competence. After all, some problems may be attributed to
changed to push work down as far as it will go. We aren't siloed the other person's or company's capabilities, organizational
anymore," she points out. structure or corporate culture." )

June 2007 HRHRgazlne 101

Cross-Gnltural Issues ideas, Leri says: "Say the most senior American manager toss-
Successfiil intercultural communication involves much more es out a thought. Her American colleagues may think, 'Ob,
tban eliminating colloquialisms and cultural references. It that's just Sara, she's always coming up with wild ideas to get
must also recognize deeper cultural differences. us thinking. We can ignore her even though she's the boss.'"
For example, Leri offers the phrase "bit the ground run- For non-U.S. participants, that idea may carry more weight
ning" as both a colloquialism and a mind-set that causes con- because of Sara's position. They may see it as a requestsome-
fiision. "To us," she says, "it means getting a fast start; to other thing tbat needs to be delivered, so they start doing it. "It's
nationalities, it might mean falling on your iace and then run- amazing how many companies I know that have had that ex-
ning away." But the two contrasting interpretations of this perience," Leri says.
cliche also expose deep differences in how business relation- Non-Americans may use tbe same cultural context wben
ships are viewed. "Project management doesn't look the same evaluating a project's sense of urgency. "In relationship-
in Europe, the United States and China," Leri says. "There are oriented countries like Mexico, India and China, people tend
totally different frames of reference." to prioritize projects based on tbe hierarchy of the person who
Leri continues: "American managers tend to assume and owns it," Leri explains. "But in the United States, you may have
trust in their new partners' capabilities at the outset, and are a relatively low-level person, a content specialist, whose proj-
looking for immediate results. But then they lose that trust ect is the most urgent" but that may not get the attention it de-
over time when the results aren't delivered right away." In oth- serves ft-om employees from another culture because of
er cultures, however, trust is built over time, after a period of perceptions of how important tbat team member is on the or-
testing and evaluation. So international participants "won't ganizational chart.
ask questions or raise problems, as
they are tr\ing to prove themselves.
But the Americans have already giv-
en up on tbem." One side is looking 'American business tends to value
for results, while the otber is looking
for direction. "I see this happening a individualism and egalitarianism, while other
lot with my clients," Leri says.
Another fundamental cross-
cultures... value very strict hierarchies/
cultural issue is the concept of risk,
Leri says. "When an Asian, for ex-
ample, hears the word, the thought bubble that comes to mind "In the United States," Leri continues, "we all tend to think of
is, This is going to cost too much.' But an American will see most partnerships as equal. If I approach someone as my peer,
risk as a danger to quality." For example, "Say American and he or she sbould be able to respond to me very comfortably. Yet
Chinese product designers are working together to develop even aniong relatively low-level peer relationships, an overseas
some medical equipment widget, and the project runs into employee may treat his or her American counterpart as a
trouble. The guys in China will start thinking about cost, but bigher-up, simply because that person works at headquarters."
the Americans are going to be worried about the integrity of
the widget. Tbis can open up all kinds of miscommunication Training that Pays Off
on where the problems are." Although Leri has found that "soft" issues related to cross-
When Leri runs sessions that center on the concept of risk, cultural awareness can negatively impact performance and
"it's clear that the two sides are focusing on two different con- productivity, she also has seen that exposing employees to
cepts." Once they realize these differences, breakthroughs oc- them through training can create true converts in tbe work-
cur. force.
Yet another loaded concept is "partnership," Leri says. Of- "It often turns out to be simple things people know tbey
ten in these situations, individuals on global teams don't see should be doing, yet they don't know the ground rules," Leri
themselves as equal partners. "It's related to different ideas of says. But they find that when they all receive the same train-
hierarchy," she says, and this can affect everything from brain- ing, "tbey will come up with better business decisionsthat's
storming to prioritizing projects. "American business tends to how the return on investment is really demonstrated. Tbey
value individualism and egalitarianism, while otber cultures find they can do more, and it spreads like wildfire in the com-
especially in Asiavalue very strict hierarchies." pany." DB
Imagine an American-style brainstorming session, where
all participants are throwing out sometimes very abstract MARTHA FRASE IS A FREELANCE WRITER IN MARTINSBURG, W.V.

102 HR Hagadne June 2007