Don’t Forget About Cultural Diversity

There’s a lot of talk today about unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion, and how to successfully go global, especially hyper-growth companies. However, with all this talk, an important specific discussion point is being pushed aside—that of cultural diversity.

This is a mistake.

Very likely your business or organization is made up of people from different cultures, is located in multiple countries, and/or has customers from diverse cultural backgrounds. In today’s business world, we need to address cultural diversity head on. If we don’t, the success of our organizations could slip out of reach.

Here are three cultural dimensions for you to be aware of that can cause challenges in cross cultural teamwork.

Process- or results-oriented. The way we set goals and work to achieve them differs depending on culture. If a culture is process-oriented, that means they have a carefully thought out plan in place and understand how they are going to achieve the goal before they start moving towards it. If a culture is results-oriented, the plan or even the results may change as they work to achieve them—which is okay because it is all part of a greater vision.

Cultures such as American or Israeli are more results-oriented whereas cultures such as German or Russian are more process-oriented. There are pros and cons to both. Being a results-oriented person, one could get results faster but not to the level of quality of a process-oriented individual. On the flip side, being process-oriented may be more thorough and higher quality, but slower in execution than a results-oriented person.

Time-controlled and -uncontrolled. The way cultures view time is not uniform. Some cultures, such as the Swiss, view time as something that can be controlled. (I mean they make watches!) Other cultures, such as India, see it as something that is more flexible. For cultures in which time cannot be controlled, people take priority. For example, in these cultures, if you bump into a friend on the way to a meeting—you talk to that friend. Spontaneity plays a role. Deadlines are flexible. Schedules vary. In cultures where time is controlled, you tell that friend that you need to catch them later—you have a meeting to get to! Time is linear. Schedules are rigid.

High and Low Hierarchy. The org chart is higher or flatter depending on where you’re doing business. In high hierarchy cultures, the manager or supervisor is the expert and isn’t to be questioned. The culture is much more directive and hands-on. There’s less initiative and debate. In low hierarchy cultures, the manager and individuals of the team collaborate, they share thoughts, and debate questions. I’m reminded of a French manager I consulted with who was leading a team in Mexico, a high hierarchy culture. He asked one of the team members to present problems to the team related to a project. Soon after, the team member disappeared and eventually left the job. This was because he thought this act would be an insult to his boss and put his job on the line. Whereas, in reality, the manager—who comes from a low-hierarchy culture—merely wanted his expertise.

While these differences are profound, when you work to bridge and balance them, great synergy can arise. In fact, having a multicultural team with diverse perspectives is a rich breeding ground for innovation to meet the needs of the global marketplace. So, stop pushing the topic of cultural diversity aside. It is time to talk about our differences!

Adapt! To Succeed.

You probably remember learning in your high school biology class that it’s not the strongest of species that survive but the most adaptable. The same could be said for business. Those who learn how to adapt often experience the greatest success.

When I lived in Berlin, I met the foreign minister who was doing a lot of negotiating with President George Bush and his cabinet at the time. He asked me if I would do some coaching for him to understand US political culture more effectively. He didn’t feel like he was coming across clearly to the American leaders.

He didn’t always feel this way.

The German leader told me that he felt comfortable with former President Bill Clinton and had tremendous success with him. I found this interesting. Clinton had lived abroad and had a lot of experience interacting with different cultures, so he became quite adept at adapting his style depending on where he was. For instance, in Germany he acted more academic and intellectual versus, in America, where he held a more down home, good ol’ boy persona. Because of Clinton’s ability to adapt he was able to establish relationships with the European government much faster than President Bush.

Adapting your style can help you build relationships and credibility, and anyone can do it. Here’s how.

Observe. Treat situations like you are an anthropologist. Watch what others are doing to learn about particular cultures, personalities, organizations, or situations. For example, note if someone is more introverted or extroverted, or direct or indirect. Recognize if the organization or culture is hierarchical; process-oriented or flat. Fine tine your observational skills to bring these aspects into focus.

Learn. Work to gain knowledge about the other organizations, cultures, personalities, or environment. During interactions, pay attention to aspects such as how others are making eye contact, taking notes, speaking, and making introductions. Simultaneously read the room and read other people’s behavior while still being focused on the task at hand.

Practice. Once you have watched and learned, try it out. Spend some time stepping into the other’s shoes and act out their behavior. For example, I will sit in meetings and mimic other people’s body language. If they use lots of gestures and speak in exaggerated tones, I will do the same. If they are reserved and still, I will be reserved and still. This establishes some credibility upfront until trust is built and people can feel a bit freer to be themselves.

Know the situation. Just as Ken Blanchard’s situational leadership model notes that good leadership matches the capability and level of engagement of those that are being led and the task at hand, recognize when the differences may not stem from personality, culture, or character but by the skill level of the other person. And it might not be capability but perhaps they lack motivation. Adapt to these differences as well.

Be authentic. While doing all this, don’t feel like you need to be a chameleon. You don’t need to be someone that you aren’t. But as much as you can meet someone in his or her behavior, the more credibility you will establish with them; and, the better chance you have at being able to express yourself more naturally.

When you adapt to someone’s style, the more comfortable they are with you and the stronger connection you have. This enables you to explain your thoughts and actions more clearly and have greater success in achieving your goals.

Get Motivated to Motivate!

It seems, leaders in the business world need to get to motivated to motivate. Motivation is often one of the lowest scores that people get in an employee 360 review. This is for a number of reasons…

First, the ability to motivate is an intangible skill. Unlike coaching or giving feedback, it is not easily learned and applied. Unlike building trust or showing compassion, it’s not really innate in one’s personality.

Second, motivation is complex. People are motivated by different things. If someone says they are motivated by family—what does that really mean? Are they motivated because they want to impress their family, or provide for their family, or spend time with their family? In order to be a good motivator you need to understand there/s a lot of diversity out there in how and what motivates.

Here are four tips to motivate you to motivate:

Probe. When someone says what motivates them, ask clarifying questions so that you truly understand what they mean. If they say money motivates them. Do they want money to pay for a sick family member? To achieve a dream? To pay for their child’s school? Knowing what is at the root of their desire will help you push your team members toward their and your organization’s goals.

Don’t be afraid to present alternative solutions. If your employee is anxious for a raise or a promotion or a title, there may be an ulterior motive as to why they want this change. Find out if their goal is an end or a means to an end, and think about different solutions to help them reach it. For example, a client of mine had an employee who continuously asked for a raise. The manager told her time and again that it wasn’t possible. Finally, she asked why this person needed a raise so badly. Turns out, the employee had a special needs child who needed to go to a private school next year that she could not afford. Instead of a raise, the manager held a company drive and they were able to raise enough money to pay for the first year of school. The solution wasn’t the most obvious one but it was the best one for the situation.

Focus on intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink talks about intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivators are tied to core values. The person wants to learn and create something new and do better by themselves and the world. Extrinsic motivators are external rewards such as money or titles. While important to understand, they have limited impact. They are unsustainable because they do not synch with the person’s values so they need to be increased incrementally. Appealing to both types of motivators is important.

Learn about how motivators work across culture. If you are working in global role, like a lot of us are, realize that people in other countries are motivated by different things. For example, in Europe it is not uncommon to work to live. Alternatively, in the United States, most people live to work. That is, they identify with their work, position or title and want to find a job they are passionate about. Know that people are motivated differently across cultures.

Just as 360 reviews show that managers lack the ability to motivate, research has shown that they also have the ability to make or break people’s experience in a job. Studies find that people most often leave because of their direct supervisor. That is a lot of power. By learning what and how to motivate your team will move you to achieve your goals and increase productivity and profitability. Hard work and happy employees are unstoppable. So, come on, get motivated to motivate!