In today’s international market, developing a global mindset is an essential element of good business practice. As companies increase their international activity and expand into new markets, developing cultural awareness becomes increasingly important. From expanding operations offshore and sending key talent overseas, to forming international partnerships and sourcing skills from overseas, cultural intelligence is undoubtedly essential to success. Patti McCarthy from Cultural Chemistry, a specialist in cross-cultural training, defines cultural intelligence as “being alert to differences in other people’s behaviors, but being able to observe that behavior without judging it”.
Elspeth Fink-Jensen, Employee Mobility Manager at International Consultants Centre (ICC) explains that understanding of cultural differences promotes effective communication and collaboration. “A global mindset can reduce cultural barriers, increase our skills, our knowledge and our networks.” Ulrike Fisher, Global Mobility Manager at CSL notes that the use of the internet has “shrunk the planet” and working across different cultures is now a daily activity. “While the internet is a great equaliser when it comes to accessing clients, customers and collaborators, it can be easy to forget that there are indeed differences to consider when it comes to cultural norms, beliefs and attitudes.”
In fact, a better understanding of the world is important for employees at all levels, not only senior executives. Rita Chowdhury, Partner at Deloitte, Global Employer Services explains, “The emergence of a global talent market across an increasing number of fields and disciplines is opening the world to new ways of acquiring, developing and managing talent and work. The open diffusion of ideas, practices, and technologies—and above all, people—lets different parts of the world both influence and depend upon one another in new ways.”
Experts in global marketing insist that companies can turn diversity into a competitive advantage. Liz Clarke, Group Global Mobility Manager at Sinclair Knight Merz states, “A diversity of culture, race, religion, gender and age brings different views to the decision making table and fosters creativity and innovation.” Fink-Jensen suggests that a unique approach is necessary for organisations to gain a competitive advantage. “An effective manager will encourage a range of ideas and approaches from team members which can create a competitive advantage.
[Our] customised workshops demonstrate how diversity can be used as a source of innovation.”
According to Chowdhury, “Deloitte sees diversity as what makes us unique – our backgrounds and life experiences… Diversity is really about diversity of ‘thought’ – where different perspectives are the point of difference rather than visible characteristics. Diversity breeds innovation and thus provides a competitive advantage.” Fisher adds, “A company that fosters diversity internally will be better prepared to interact with clients, customers and collaborators externally.”
Many Australian organisations are focusing on developing culturally intelligent team members. Fink-Jensen describes the opportunities companies provide their employees relocating overseas. “A full day pre-departure briefing will be country specific and provide individuals with knowledge of key historical, political and environmental events that have shaped the cultural identity, values and traditions… workplace culture, managing teams, building trust, effective communication (and) daily living aspects.”
“What sets some organisations apart is their strong focus on the repatriation of their employees following international assignments… The repatriation programs act as an assignment de-brief and focus on applying the skills gained on assignment to their new role in Australia.” Fink-Jensen adds.
According to Clarke, Sinclair Knight Merz offers the Intercultural Awareness Training Program, an online learning tool which measures perceptions about self, home, country and target country and identifies gaps in cultural awareness for personal coaching sessions. A Diversity Committee focuses on flexible work practices, prepares staff for promotion and promotes inter cultural awareness.
CSL also offers online access to a Cultural Learning Tool, runs campaigns and workshops to create awareness of this resource and offers face to face cross cultural training workshops for individuals and global teams as required.
Deloitte has a Diversity Council led by the CEO and made up of members of the Board and Partners. Chowdhury says, “Deloitte believes the only way to achieve cultural change is through governance and a diversity strategy which is implemented through key resources. Our staff undertakes the same programs and training that we offer to our clients.”
Fink-Jensen also suggests “a web-based tool called Argonaut, a framework based on twelve cultural dimensions on a scale which provides insight into the cultural preferences of the individuals and teams, becoming the foundation for further training and development. It can be used for international project teams to facilitate discussion surrounding any issues.”
Abigail Harris, Senior Director – International Mobility at SunGard, says the organisation prides itself on cultural diversity across all 26 countries in which it operates. She presents the challenge of trying to quantify and measure cultural intelligence when looking at talent. “There is a desire to increase cultural awareness throughout the organisation.”
The most important skills for employees today reflect the centrality of a global market. According to Fisher, excellent communication skills, adaptability, resilience and humility are amongst the most important skills for an employee. Clarke suggests that self-awareness, cultural sensitivity, flexibility and community are core skills needed to survive and succeed.
How to communicate across cultures is a skill which can be learnt, according to experts in the cross cultural training field. Patti McCarthy explains that the stresses associated with relocation are significant, with the failure rate between 39% and 43%. “People need to be better prepared. I provide a combination of information and insight into both societal and business culture… I look at leadership style, management style, office etiquette, communication style, attitudes to time and planning. These vary enormously from one culture to the next and in order to perform at your best, you need to understand this.”
For example, McCarthy explains that in India, business involves building a personal relationship prior to entering into an agreement and this may take 6-12 months. In contrast, in Australia, we aim to secure a contract promptly. “Understanding these cultural differences will ensure that you will not rush the relationship.”
McCarthy provides another example of a Spanish executive who relocated to Australia and was saddened that she had not been invited to lunch and social functions by her colleagues, thus assuming they had a personal issue with her. In Spain, work and social time are intertwined and the woman expected that customs in Australia would be similar to those in Spain. Upon receiving McCarthy’s services, she better understood the local customs and adjusted her expectations accordingly.
Despite significant cultural differences between colleagues and clients around the world, training to develop a global mindset promotes productivity, effective communication and innovation for Australian business.
About our experts:
Rita Chowdhury, Partner, Global Employer Services at Deloitte
Liz Clarke, Group Global Mobility Manager at Sinclair Knight Merz
Elspeth Fink-Jensen, Employee Mobility Manager at International Consultants Centre (ICC)
Ulrike Fisher, Global Mobility Manager at CSL
Abigail Harris, Senior Director – International Mobility at SunGard
Patti McCarthy, Cultural Chemistry Cross-cultural Consulting and Expatriate Coaching
Lana Lachyani is a Melbourne-based Freelance Writer and Communications Consultant. Lana lived overseas for several years, working across Europe and the Middle East before returning to Australia in 2012 .
The Employee Mobility Institute is Australia’s peak industry body specifically focused on global workforce management, including talent mobility. Its mission is to advocate, promote, represent and support the growth of the Australian / New Zealand Talent Mobility Industry.