Global Corporate Citizenship: Wave of the Future

Emerging economies are becoming a major channel for new customers and investors, as well as employees.

To compete and differentiate themselves in varying and new environments companies and their workforce have to develop a global mindset. Cultural sensitivity and the capacity to collaborate on global assignments is an important step to evolving as a leader, but it must be backed up by a commitment to develop an organizational mindset that considers the needs of employees a, customers and stakeholders around the world.

Developing a global mindset is also crucial for understanding the new expectations and discussions that corporations are facing today. Global corporate citizenship will increase in importance and companies have to consider the global footprint of their businesses.

CSR on a global scale is not an easy task, but some Silicon Valley companies, such as HP already take on the challenge and present innovative social change startegies for the tech industry.

Apple’s CSR Dilemma: Lessons Learned

The increasing press on the terrible labor standards at the Chinese Foxconn factories, where tech companies such as Apple, Dell, HP, Nokia and Sony source from, highlights the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility on a global scale.

Global social responsibility is particularly important to an image-driven brand like Apple, which has been singled out more than other tech companies, because its consumers tend to be young and educated people who are often mindful of social and environmental issues. This image does not include suicides or underage workers in Chinese supplier factories. No one wants their beloved iPhone to become synonymous with unethical labor standards.

Since Apple is so committed to and dependent on its clean image, we are probably not going to see another Nike situation like in the 90s where consumers were called to boycott. Nevertheless these examples show that being seen as socially irresponsible simply won’t be permitted by consumers or stakeholders. Companies have to ensure fair labor standards in the assembly of their products – not just in the USA but around the world. If Apple learns its lesson soon enough, it may even seize the opportunity to lead growth in social compliance in the tech industry.

International Mindset: South Korea and Diversity

This blog post is written by Annika Hoeltje, senior consultant at Lamson Consulting:

On my flight to Seoul I had an interesting conversation with the woman next to me, who is from South Korea but has been living in the USA for several years. She tells me that her parents sent her to live with a family in the USA when she was twelve.


It seems like an early age to send your child so far away from home. (At age sixteen I left Germany and spent one year in an American host family.) She tells me that it is not uncommon for South Korean families – who can afford it – to send their children away in an early age to learn another culture, language and to have opportunities they might not have in South Korea. She goes on to tell me about her Father, who has a very successful business in Seoul. He arranges it so that she can go home every year to see him, her mother, and siblings.

“Our parents just want the best for us,” she explains. “We can still decide where we want to live later on, but they don’t want us to be limited in our chances – to be fluent in English and to have a good education provides you with endless possibilities.”

Endless possibilities – This seems to be the theme today for the complex nation of South Korea. Social relations may still be grounded in ancient Confucianism but it’s a forward-thinking country thanks to its “hurry-hurry” approach to everything, as well as an insatiable appetite for technological advancement. With a determined can-do attitude no-one knows for sure where the country is headed, but it’s fast-forward all the way.

South Korea was one of the few developed countries that were able to avoid a recession during the global financial crisis, and its economic growth rate reached 6.2 percent in 2010.

Of course I seize my opportunity and talk to my seat neighbor about Korean lifestyle and business culture. She tells me, that both are still very traditional.

“Is it true,” I ask her, “that people still bow when they meet?”
“Of course,” she replies, “… and the older or the more status the person you meet with has, the deeper you bow and the higher you hold your hands while pressing them flat together.”

“Interesting,” I reply and ask, “what if you don’t know who is older?”
“Then both just bow.” She continues: “Of course you bow to your parents but also to your older brother or sister and address them with a specific name, which indicates that they are the elder. Younger siblings are only addressed by their first name.”

“How about when meeting with other cultures? Are they expected to follow the traditional protocol in a business meeting?” I ask.

“Yes, when doing business with Westerners, Koreans usually still bow before shaking hands to show their respect and others should know to do the same.”
Upon reflection in my conversations with my Chinese colleagues in the Shanghai office, they tell me that even for the Chinese, Koreans are still very traditional. They went on to say that they are even more indirect in their communication than the Chinese, which sometimes leads to miscommunication between colleagues from the two Asian countries.

A Chinese manager explains, “When a Korean person wants to tell you something they need at least ten sentences, where we would use four.”

“The German would probably use one.” I add, and we laugh.

From this example you can see, when talking about cultural differences, it’s never about a pure either-or, it’s about tendencies. Everyone falls on a scale. It also exemplifies that communication styles vary a great deal between the Asian countries. Those of us not from Asia, need to remember that. Of course in terms of values there is no such thing as one Asia – just as there is no such thing as one Europe or one The Americas.

To be successful you have to be aware of this vast Diversity. Lucky for me, a long plane ride is the perfect opportunity to learn.

International Management: Trip to China

This blog post is written by Annika Hoeltje, senior consultant at Lamson Consulting:

I’m supposed to give a training at the Shanghai office at 9:30 in the morning. Even though my kind host did everything in her power to market and organize the course, she warns me, that many people might not show up for the morning class.

“It’s a little early,” she tells me, “Because the city is so big it takes most people about two hours to come to work. Therefore they come in around 10am.”

The cubicles we are passing on the way to the training room are indeed still pretty empty. With few people to obstruct my view, I notice something: The desks and walls are richly decorated with pictures of friends and family and colorful stuffed animals as well as little figurines. This reminds me a little bit of my locker at an American high school, where I spent a year as an exchange student. Some people might say all this decoration is less professional, but I like the friendly and casual atmosphere it creates in the office.

“Hello teacher” one of the attendees greets me, when I step into the training room.

I smile at him and notice that the dress code and average age of the attendees in the room supports my earlier high school or college impression. Risking being one of these Europeans who can’t tell a 24 from a 44 year old, I share my observation later at lunch and ask my host about the average age in the Shanghai office. The stuffed animals and sweatshirts could have been misleading, but my impression turned out to be right.

“Most of the people in the office are in their twenties or early thirties,” my host says, “the Chinese employees of international IT companies which learned to speak English are almost all from Generation Y.”

This stands in sharp contrast to the general population in Shanghai. Due to the combination of high life expectancy (82.13 years!) and low fertility rates, there is a serious aging problem among Shanghai’s registered residents.

While I’m fiddling with the cables for the projector a few more people trickle in and take their seats. I can tell right away who the mangers are, because they sit right in the front and are the only ones who ask and answer questions. Further, they are also the only ones who have been working in other countries and thus experienced North American and European-style seminars, meetings, and ways of communicating. They are a lot more talkative than the others.

Most of the other Chinese attendees seem reluctant to make a direct contribution to the training. They present themselves as an attentive, respectful, but rather passive audience. General questions towards the audience remain unanswered, even when I direct them towards a specific person. After presenting some theory and giving them a real life example I hope they’ll be able to make the connection.

I ask: “So, how can we explain what has happened with what we just learned before?“

Silence – Everyone looks at me.

I try again, rephrase my question, and make the link between theory and the business case more obvious. Nothing… Well it was worth a try. I give up and answer the question myself. In the US or in Europe everyone would have wanted to speak up regardless if they had the answer or not. If not, they might have talked about something else or asked another question. For them, that would be better than nothing; better than silence.

Uh oh, I think to myself. What about the group exercise I have planned for the end? After I’m done with the presentation I have them analyze a film in small groups and then present the results to the whole group. To my surprise this goes really well and the small groups come up with well thought through and creative explanations. Everyone seems to have understood what I was talking about before and is very engaged.

I experienced first-hand why in China you have to create situations where the participants feel comfortable enough to speak up. Group exercises are good opportunities, because the participants feel more comfortable presenting a group result then their own opinion. Another reason is, that they can choose the person who is most comfortable with their English, or has a particular status, to present what the group came up with.

Next time I will have more small group exercises instead of trying to force a discussion with the whole training group.

I will also plan ahead and allow more time for conversations during the breaks and after the class. I noticed that many attendees were willing and eager to present their thoughts to me in an one on one situation. And their opinion was very valuable!

When I ask my host for feedback how to further improve the presentation she thinks for a moment and then says:

“Pictures!” “Maybe next time you could have some more colorful pictures in your presentation.”

Of course, after I saw how well decorated the office is, my presentation seems a little bland to me now, too.

I thank her for the feedback and promise to bring lots of pictures, next time I come to do workshops. I think to myself, I don’t know who learned more today: The participants or me.

Global Mindset: My Trip to India 2

This blog post is written by Annika Hoeltje, a senior consultant with Lamson Consulting:

The training room in Bangalore is full of Indian employees and managers who want to learn about cross-cultural teamwork and how they can more effectively cooperate with their colleagues around the world.

I ask them to discuss in groups and then share their experience on how it is to work with their colleagues from other countries. What does it mean to work virtually across cultures? The Indian participants have many interesting observations, examples, and also some concerns. We talk about the reasons behind their experiences and what can be done to better handle the different situations.

Then one guy asks me “Why do the French and the Germans never say ‘Thank You’, or something like ‘Great Job’ when someone finishes their work?”

“That is a good question.” I answer. “I’ll try to answer it with some facts, which are common among French and Germans. For example in their cultures, efficiency is more important than friendliness.”

The room looks perplexed and I go on to say, “Europeans focus more on what’s realistic to accomplish than being optimistic about what could be done.” “They are always looking at ways how to improve, so you can’t celebrate what you’ve already done so far – at least not too much.”

I also tell them what the French told us: “Please tell the world, that if we complain, we are not really unhappy, we are just trying to prove our existence.”

“Ahhhhh…” My Indian peers don’t seem to be totally convinced.

It’s so important for people in India to celebrate successes and to be rewarded for their hard work. Additionally, they believe optimism will make you more productive in business.

Being a German myself, but living in the US, I had to learn, similar to India, how important it is to smile more often, say thank you, praise, make compliments and small talk at work. For a western European most of these things are not as necessary and make us feel rather awkward.

“Hm…, so if I don’t criticize, isn’t that praise enough?” I asked when first working outside Germany.

“No” my American coworker answered and I soon realized, it’s not enough in many places in the world.

In almost every book on Indian business culture and communication style you can read about the “problem” Indians are having with the word “no” and with giving negative feedback, because it is considered rude and can cause loss-of-face.

Many Indians do learn Western-style communication and how to voice negative feedback directly, but they most likely will not get used to the lack of positive feedback or an absence of “thank yous” from their European colleagues after work is completed.

And why should they? Does it hurt to say something nice once in a while, especially if you mean it? No, it doesn’t, and it will for sure mean a lot to them! Work relationships can be improved immensely.

Many times the burden of adjusting is on the Indian team member (and they’re quite good at it) but it doesn’t mean that Europeans are off the cultural hook. Quite the contrary, when working with Indians, and Western Europeans such as French and Germans, have to adjust as well.

In a globalized world everyone has to adapt a little when working across cultures. If you take on this task, it can be a fascinating and exciting experience and it can bring you many pleasant surprises, even inside your own country.


A Short Film: Cross Cultural Communication in India

Global Mindset: My Trip to India

The following blog entry is written by Annika Hoeltje, a senior consultant with Lamson Consulting.

Cross Cultural Experience in India
Cross Cultural Experience in India

I wake up early in the morning in my hotel room in Bangalore, woken by the sound of a concert from what seems to be at least a thousand cars beeping their horns. I wonder if India just won some world championship. In Germany that would be the only possible reason for such noise, I look outside the window and see cars, buses and motorcyclist fight each foot forward on their way to work.

“Why do they all beep their horn like crazy?” I ask my driver later when heading to my business meeting. “Oh”, he says “It’s just for communication. I’m behind you. I’m next to you. I’m passing you – Totally normal”

“Ah…” I said, “In the US they call this noise pollution and road rage.” My driver seems confused.

He changes the subject and on the ride in, he manages to show me pictures of all his family members. He proudly tells me that he is one of the few Indians who married for love (uncommon in his culture) – But only because he was the 9th child and by then his parents didn’t care so much anymore.

It’s hard to stay focused as the traffic seems to be an all-consuming aggressive bumper car race, where the culture seems to be that everyone tries to force their way through cars, people, and stray animals. Usually the bigger vehicle wins. Motorcyclists and some other suicidal people on bikes often manage to squeeze through the tied packed lanes though.

In the middle in the city we pass a few cows and my driver lets me know, that in India they have the most intelligent cows in the world. They always find their way back home, even through the traffic. He tries to slow down, so I can take a picture.

“All foreigners want to take pictures of the cows in the city”.

Cross Cultural Experience in India
The Most Intelligent Cows

Politely I take my camera out to take a picture of this main attraction. The picture of two cows standing in front of a building that bears a DELUXE LODGING sign (fabulous culture clash).

One can see that Bangalore’s population exploded within the last 12 years. Bangalore is the nation’s leading IT exporter and the boom doesn’t seem to stop. But unlike cities, such as Shanghai, China, in Bangalore, India the infrastructure doesn’t seem to catch up. The city seems to burst at the seams with all the people and vehicles.

“Twelve years ago” my driver tells me “everything looked different here”.

Bangalore or “Bengaluru”, which used to be known as the Garden City is the second fastest growing major metropolis in India and is now known across cultures as the Silicon Valley of India.

When we arrive at my meeting after two hours on the road, I’m a bit shaky, but the beauty of the architecture, culture, and the warm, friendly smiles make me soon forget all about it.

Now, I also understand why it was so important to book a hotel close to the company or meeting place. I laugh sympathetically, when the managers tell me about a French guy who took a taxi from the hotel across the street, because he was too afraid to walk, but I do feel very empathetic when the Indian colleagues tell me about their four hour commute every day from home.

Ironically, by comparison, the culture of the company grounds seem to me like a quiet and peaceful oasis. Everything is green and lush and while you are sitting at lunch outside eating excellent Indian food (with your hands) you hear birds sing and the water from the artificial waterfall splashing. Natural light comes into the offices to brighten the cubicles from which the employees look onto a micro green jungle in the courtyard.

Since Bangalore enjoys a pretty warm climate all year around, we go, as most others do every day, for a walk after lunch around the green campus.

Who would have known, that a work environment in India can be so much more relaxing than the city itself…

Later that day I’m fighting with the traffic again and I think I’m going to miss my flight. Before coming to Bangalore, I didn’t understand why all the international flights only come into the country at night. Now I can imagine why…

But somehow it all works out, as if everyone has become accustomed to the situation, adapted to it even – and all with a friendly attitude. In developing my global mindset, I understand that maybe time isn’t something we have to worry about so much in North America or Europe? Perhaps we should look at traffic as an opportunity for cross cultural interaction with others, good people-watching, or simply a reminder to appreciate what we have when we get to where we’re going.

A Global Diversity Reality: Disability Means Business

By Guest-Blogger, Gary Karp, leading expert on Disability in the Workplace.

Whether you’re the CEO, a middle-manager, or you spend every day processing accounts payable (or any other indispensable job that makes your organization hum), you want to be part of an organization that finds and keeps the best people, right?

As the CEO you need people to produce a solid bottom line. As a manager you need people to execute certain tasks and be manageable. And everyone wants co-workers who are enjoyable to work with and carry their share of the work.

That could well be a person who happens to have a disability.

But we live in a society that views disability through a lens of “not able.” The word itself means “can’t work” to many people in business. Recent studies of employers prove this; they report doubts in a person with a disability being able to perform, to be evaluated, or whether managers and co-workers can even be comfortable interacting with them. These concerns appear in significant percentages across organizations of all types and sizes.

These turn out not to be true—and less so every day. A radical transformation is occurring around us which has unleashed the potential of people with disabilities of all kinds. They are more mobile in a more accessible world, more healthy, more educated, and more empowered by technology then ever in human history. They are people first, fully able to contribute in the workplace, with real goals and desires.

Organizations which fail to see these people clearly for who they are and what they have to offer easily miss out on great employees who would help achieve the greatest profit or success of your mission. The filter of “can’t” might easily cost your organization a key employee who makes a significant difference.

This is equally true for existing employees who acquire a disability. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act already requires entering into an “interactive process” when someone reports a disability, when workplace culture views disability through these old and obsolete lenses, a valued employee is less like to stay at or return to work following the onset of a disability.

That’s very expensive. The costs of benefits and premiums, more stress on remaining workers—possibly paying them overtime—or resorting to inexperienced temporary workers add up fast. And when you have to replace an employee, the recruiting, training, and ramp up process is also extremely costly—especially if that new person doesn’t work out and you have to do it all over again.

Organizations need to think on the other side, too. People with disabilities already have substantial disposable income, and their families and friends often make spending choices which are influenced by these relationships. There are already billions of dollars on the table. If you do not understand your customers or constituents with disabilities, you will lose this revenue and fail to meet their needs.

Having people with disabilities on your diverse team can only help you embrace them as consumers.

How workplace culture thinks of disability makes the crucial difference in finding and keeping every person who has a role to play in reaching success. That’s why your workplace culture needs to catch up to the current picture of what disability actually means now, and embrace the current truth of Modern Disability.

Gary Karp is an author, speaker, and trainer who provides a unique and business-savvy view of Modern Disability., #garylkarp

Going Global Means Cultural Transformation, Not Just Change

It’s not enough for some companies to change, today we may need a complete cultural transformation. New approaches to business is our only hope of nurturing our global economy and coming out ahead of the game. There are three pre-requisites a company must have in order for transformation to occur: 1) Cultural Agility; 2) Committed Leadership; and 3) Cultural Awareness.

“Cultural Agility” is a term tossed around when organizations, teams, and leaders see the need for a rapid and fresh response to changing market demands. To become agile is to be able to think and react quickly in new ways. There is a desperate need – globally – for flexibility, responsiveness, and innovation to compete with the changing needs of the world economy. In today’s global business climate, it’s the only way an organization, or for that matter, an individual, will excel. Cultural agility is the key to cultural transformation.

The presence of Committed Leadership is ultimately the only chance an organization has to successfully transform itself. Yet, it isn’t a leader’s sole responsibility to make decisions regarding how to move forward – he or she must have a cohesive team at the upper management level. The leader’s role is to confer, collaborate, ask, listen, and discover what is best needed to overhaul technology, processes, or product lines. But most of all, they need the sensitivity and awareness to know what their people need to engage in the transformation journey.

Cultural Awareness is critical as every culture will have a different priority when determining how decisions are made; what the market needs or wants; and an approach to sales, marketing, development, hiring, and managing employees. If we don’t take the time to understand those diverse perspectives, we’ll miss the boat in truly being a global organization. A 2010 study by Hay Group found that the top 20 most successful companies in the world devoted more than double the amount of resources to cultural awareness programs than those companies who were not on that list.

Click here for Melissa’s book on Cultural Transformation

Cultural Diversity in Silicon Valley

There has been a lot of talk about cultural diversity in Silicon Valley and I find it interesting who’s included in that diversity and who isn’t. If you go into a mall in San Jose, 80% of the people shopping are from Asian background. If you walk the halls of the very global company, IBM in Foster City, 80% of those working in the office are of Indian background. When you walk around San Francisco, you see all cultures representing the wonderful melting pot, or the preferred expression, “salad bowl” (we maintain our unique identities but co-exist together) that the U.S. society has continually cultivated.

But where are the Black and Latino professionals? There are a smattering out there, but I don’t see them at networking functions, women’s groups, nor do they attend my local workshops or presentations very often. Is there a lack of professionals from these racial and cultural backgrounds? Or is there a different perspective to visibility or networking? I would like to see Silicon Valley truly embrace the Diversity that exists, but I question how well we’re able to provide an environment of inclusion for all cultures here. It’s something I’d like those of here to think about.

Act Global: 5 Conditions to Unleash Innovation

Based on my work with multinationals all over the world, I’ve found that innovation is the easy part. Creating conditions for fostering innovation is the difficulty. Today, companies are grappling with new ways of doing business and strive for models and products which lead to innovative outcomes. Here are 2 of the 5 conditions which must be in place in order to foster innovation:

1) No Fear
Hard to do when our economy is fragile. People can’t be worrying about paying the bills, they have to feel as if they have the mental space to think outside of the box. Innovation means taking risks – its a gamble – and no-one gambles with the rent money.

2) Honest Conversations
We need to get better at having the hard conversations, the ones which acknowledge things need to change. But what is “honesty”? Can I be direct or do I need to soften my delivery.

If you’d like to hear more about conditions for innovation, contact Melissa to schedule a face-to-face or online presentation on 5 Conditions for Fostering Innovation.