Having a sense of purpose is central to effective employee engagement, and there are three dimensions to this, that if understood, can contribute effectively to organisational engagement strategies. I call these dimensions:
Below is a short descriptor of each type of Purpose.
Intrinsic Sense of Purpose
This is really about those fundamental questions like; Who am I? or What are my values? We may never fully know the answers to these types of questions, but for most people there tends to be a sense of what the answers are, especially on the values side of things. I like to think of this as being our internal compass and life vest all rolled into one. It gives us direction, and in those times when the direction isn’t clear, or we lose our way, our values can act as our life vest to keep us afloat until we regain traction. If we are unable to access, develop or acknowledge our Intrinsic Sense of Purpose, we aren’t in the best position to optimise our Extrinsic Sense of Purpose.
Extrinsic Sense of Purpose
This is the part of us that the rest of the world can see when seeking to fulfil our Intrinsic Sense of Purpose, whether it be in our career, our personal activities or the way we engage with family and friends. Ideally, in a professional context, we would like to think that what we do for a living is an extension of ‘who’ we are and the reality is that this is true for all of us, no matter what our country or culture. In Asian and Middle East cultures, for example, our work team really is an extension of our family on many levels with individual purpose being reinforced through acceptance of, and belonging to, the group. This of course relies on knowing ‘who’ our colleagues are and what they stand for and is as important, if not more important, than knowing ‘what’ we are here to do. Whilst in cultures, like that found in Anglo countries, there is a continuous need for organisations to understand and express its Intrinsic Sense of Purpose in an effort to attract and retain employees by demonstrating that what it stands for is good for the Intrinsic needs of the people it hopes to attract and for those who already work there.
So our Extrinsic Sense of Purpose serves the purpose of being fulfilling on a practical level (I enjoy what I do) and reinforcing our Intrinsic Sense of Purpose (I enjoy how I do what I do and why I do what I do).
Adapted Sense of Purpose
This is an interesting place to be as there are times when our Intrinsic and Extrinsic senses of Purpose aren’t in alignment. This can be when we aren’t sure of ‘who’ we are but we are finding ways to sustain ourselves externally with the hope that this will provide clarity on who we are. This can be caused by a major life event which creates the need to re-evaluate who we are, and can sometimes seem like it’s always a work in progress.
There are also those times when we are sure of who we are, but our Extrinsic activities are out of alignment. For example, when we are starting out in our career, there is sometimes the need to take what we can get to build up experience. There are also those times when we are caught up in a restructure or major organisational change; and then there is the more stark situation that comes with expats moving from one country to another. In all of these situations we are required to adapt temporarily until we can find that common ground, or reconcile between who we are and where we find ourselves.
The Challenge and the Opportunity
It is in the Adapted space that we can lose people…no matter the circumstance. It is in this adapted space that we see the largest turnover of expats during the assignment and upon return due to culture shock, reverse culture shock and a lack of planning to support effective return of the expat. In change management, we lose people because the change plan didn’t take into consideration how people will feel, react or perceive the change. In restructures, it is more obvious because who we are can often be wrapped up in what we do.
This challenge also represents the greatest opportunity for both the individual and the organisation. It is in the Adapted space when there is the greatest opportunity for personal and professional growth.
If you are able to identify those moments in your organisation when at either an individual, team or functional level, there is likely to be gap between the Intrinsic Sense of Purpose and the Extrinsic Sense of Purpose, that’s where the work is to be done. That’s precisely the place where concerns are planned for, fears are addressed, excitement is harnessed and progress can be created.
We often miss this piece as we are focussed mainly on the external factors, for example, what I want you to be doing compared to what you are doing today. And our change plan supports this in a structured and behaviourally focussed way.
However, if we are prepared to explore the space between who our people are (and therefore the reason why they likely joined your organisation) and what we are asking them to do differently, (and therefore the intrinsic impact this will have on them), we are in a better position to drive genuine engagement. In my last post titled Build Engagement Through Change, we started to explore how to work in this space, and over the next couple of posts we will explore the ways to work with this in more detail.
Your skeletal system is not your nervous system. Anyone who has worked with me, especially in the last couple of years will know that this is my favourite expression when starting the discussion around how to optimise the way we approach change.
The skeletal system is of course important. It’s the tangible, structural and probably most visual aspect of change, represented by things like a change plan, the organisation charts in a restructure or documented work flows for a new system. We need the skeletal system because people need structure throughout change. We know that people like structure at the best of times, and when the ground is moving underneath us, structure is needed more than ever.
However we also know that the skeletal system is only as effective as the nervous system that powers it. If the skeletal system is about the solid and structural elements of change, then the nervous system can be considered as the way we approach the change and work with the intangibles.
Consider stakeholder management throughout change. This is often thought of as sharp end of engagement throughout change, and the process is usually one of asking: who are our stakeholders, and why are they our stakeholders? What if we reframed this to ask a different question that combines the approach of the skeletal and nervous systems? It would sound something like this:
Who do we think:
We are then armed with a powerful piece of information that is ready to be validated through informal conversations and checking in with each group to get a sense of where they are at. Once the validation has occurred you can then structure your communications around what those in each category need to hear or experience to help them engage with the change.
For those who are leading change across multiple countries this takes on a much more important meaning. The ‘how’ and ‘when’ they need to hear or experience the messaging will be quite different depending on their country and cultures. For example, it is often assumed that a single approach will work for driving change throughout Asia; yet we know that from a dealing with uncertainty perspective, Japan is very different to other Asian countries. In Japan a solid plan is required that removes surprises and manages risk, whilst there is a more relaxed approach to how change (uncertainty) is driven and adopted in countries like China, Singapore or the Philippines.
The final word?
Both the skeletal and the nervous system are required for the human body to function effectively and the same goes for ensuring there is engagement throughout change. If we focus only on the tangibles, we miss the opportunity to get people involved and engaged with what’s going on. If we focus only on the intangibles, such as who we need to engage and what they need to hear or know, we risk losing them because they can’t see or sense how the whole thing hangs together and more importantly what there is for them to hold onto throughout the change…especially in Anglo cultures!
First published on LinkedIn, 21/11/17
Trust gained through vulnerability is not a natural preference for those of us in the Anglo-sphere, but it is probably the door through which we can stand to gain the most in our business and personal relationships.
Based on the work of Prof Hofstede and his work on national cultures, we know that close to three quarters of the world is Collectivist. In other words…it’s about ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. Group harmony is a central theme, and trust is built based on ‘who’ you are as much (if not more than) ‘what’ you do. There is a level of implicit vulnerability in this way of being as it means sharing who you are, spending time ‘being’ with others, listening, and putting your own wants, needs and desires to one side whilst you consider and value the wants, needs and desires of the group. Based on this description, you can probably guess that Asia, the Middle East and pockets of Eastern Europe and South America fall into this dimension of culture. It is also said that how you are introduced to a work group in Asia or the Middle East, is critical, because the work group is seen as an extension of the family group. You aren’t just being introduced to any other team, you are being introduced to ‘my’ team; my ‘family’.
This is not a natural way of being for Individualist cultures such as Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada or the UK. In an Individualist culture ‘it’s about me not we’! It’s about me being acknowledged for my needs, wants and desires. Alongside this is the focus we have on the task and achieving the task, often at the expense (or in spite of) the relationship. It’s little wonder that most money made in team building is probably made in Individualist countries!
However, it’s also important to note that neither the Collectivist or Individualist way is better than the other. They are what they are and work still gets done; but when the cultures come together in a highly multi-cultural society or in global teams, understanding this concept and how to adapt your approach can be a career-saver!
Beyond this though, in the Anglo business world we also know that vulnerability is a concept, and practice, that can help bind a team and lift performance in a mono-culture environment. How do we know this? Look at the focus on helping leaders learn how to engage with their people through development programs and executive/leadership coaching. Consider the metrics we see in engagement surveys that focus on trust and the way leaders create environments conducive to trust and engagement. Are we in effect asking our leaders to consider some Collectivist practices and create the feeling of family? A place where we may not always like each other, but we have a relationship built over time that allows us to relax our individual boundaries, share what we really think, what really motivates us or scares us?
To borrow from the school of Transactional Analysis, the heart of genuine engagement is about being able to move beyond being ‘On Task’ with each other. It’s about being able to relax our boundaries, and to experience connection and true collaboration based on a platform of professional intimacy.
And therein lies both the dilemma and the opportunity...the ideal of the ‘authentic’ relationship that we hear so much about in the Anglo leadership space is relative to the willingness and ability of the individual to be vulnerable.
I recently attended a business forum held by the European Services Forum and the EU Centre for Global Affairs, to learn more about the status of trade agreements between the European Union (EU) and Australia and what the future may hold for them considering Brexit and the US election.
One of the things we know about trade agreements, and this was confirmed in the presentation, is the huge amount of time and energy spent (not to mention money) on crafting, negotiating and bringing a trade agreement to life. Then there is the time and energy required to maintain it and ensure it is communicated and leveraged (though I’m not sure this happens so well, but perhaps that’s a topic for another time!). But what we don’t know is that whilst this new relationship is being created in good faith by both parties, one half of the marriage is most likely getting itchy feet and thinking about moving on already! You know, the whole ‘it’s me, not you’ scenario? The sad thing is that neither party is aware of this process, or that it is already bubbling away below the surface before the relationship has even commenced!
Let’s look at why I think this, and why I’m not quite as optimistic as some of the speakers that morning on the future of trade agreements between the EU and anglo-sphere countries. Having worked for several years in culture and its intersection with business and politics, I can see how Prof Geert Hofstede’s two dimensions of Uncertainty Avoidance (how a society deals with or prevents uncertainty) and Long vs Short Term Orientation (how we view time, a long term open orientation or a short term normative view) can help us understand why the marriage may be on the rocks before even starting!
Let’s start with the EU. The EU is not a country, but almost all its member countries are moderate to very high in Uncertainty Avoidance. In other words, there is a preference to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity and to prevent such situations. It’s also about securing the future by removing uncertainty today and seeking to understand where uncertainty may lay along the journey. They are also mostly quite Long-Term outlook countries, preferring a future-oriented approach rather than a Short-Term normative perspective. So, despite not being a single country, the grouping of EU member countries is certainly strongly influenced by these factors.
Let’s contrast this with the UK and the US who have a cultural preference for throwing caution to the wind and being more spontaneous, or perhaps unpredictable, as they are each tending towards lower Uncertainty Avoidance. The US cultural norm is middle of the road on the Long-Term/Short-Term orientation, but certainly there is no strong preference toward a Long-Term outlook, and the UK rates as very Short-Term oriented on this cultural dimension. Considering this we can see some possible links between the Brexit decision (many observers commenting that it is a short-term/near-sighted decision) and the unpredictable decision in the US polls in what is as much about throwing caution to the wind and taking a chance on an unknown. Right now it’s quite an ambiguous and unsure time for both the UK and the US.
Now, let’s bundle Australia, New Zealand and Canada in with the US and the UK. We all share similar cultural norms; no real preference for avoiding uncertainty and all of us having a very short-term, normative orientation. With this in mind, how much faith can be placed in any trade agreements with anglo-sphere countries? Especially if there is every chance that in the future we may fall back on our natural cultural norm of being Short-Term oriented, possibly scrap or work back any global trade agreements and replace them with more protectionist driven domestic policies that echo the 'your with us or against us' nature of Short-Term orientation? And whilst this may appear to the EU as a spur of the moment decision, we will feel ok about this because of our ability to create and deal with uncertainty; it doesn’t mean we like it, but at the same time it feels ok. You only need to look at the Australian political landscape over the last nine years to understand that dynamic!
So, the big question. Will we be faithful to our EU partner over the mid to long term in our various trade agreements?
I’m not sure; but perhaps it would be wise for the EU to build in a pre-nuptial agreement. One that ensures accountability and commitment, and that requires up front marriage counselling to ensure as much transparency and understanding about ‘who’ it is that we’re jumping into a relationship with. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about the parents, it’s also about the kids. In this case, the thousands of businesses who stand to gain or lose based on the quality and efficacy of the trade agreement. And whether it's a global focused trade agreement, or a domestic driven agenda, it doesn't matter because either way will work. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Short-term societies know how to make things work as much as long-term. It's the loss of momentum, energy and fatigue that comes with the significant change in direction (the 'separation') that slows us down more than anything else and creates an impasse as us kids try to work out who we'd rather live with!
First posted on LinkedIn, 9th December 2016.
Being able to engage, influence and lead effectively across borders was once considered one of the new frontiers of leadership as globalisation started to take effect. Now it seems there is almost an assumption that if you work in a global organisation, and are an effective leader in your home country that this will automatically translate into being an effective leader in a different country or across a region. But that’s not normally the case, as I’ve found when coaching many leaders who have found themselves in this position.
So, what are the characteristics of being an effective global leader? In my experience, there are three dimensions to consider that have underpinned the success of those leaders I’ve worked with who are achieving good results beyond borders. By contrast, I would also suggest that they are many of the missing elements for those I’ve coached who aren’t performing as well as they would like at this level. These three dimensions are:
Let’s take a brief look at what these dimensions comprise.
This is the ability and desire to:
This is the ability and desire to:
This is the ability and desire to:
These dimensions are highly interdependent, for example, you can be quite open to taking in new experiences (Perceptual Awareness) but not be so interested in engaging with your new surrounds (Relational Awareness). I see this when strong technical leaders who have spent many years working as an individual contributor, and have a preference for taking in what's going on around them, but not really wanting to engage with it, find themselves in an expat or global leadership role and suddenly having to lead or influence peers across the globe. Engaging with others in their home country probably presented enough challenges without the complexity of having to do it in a global setting!
Then there are leaders who have average to well-developed levels of Perceptual and Relational Awareness, but have lower levels of Self-Awareness, and are unable to cope effectively with the stresses that come with having to perform and lead in a foreign environment. Working in these environments can allow lower levels of self-esteem and confidence to manifest as stress and negatively impact what could potentially be a positive experience.
You’ll also notice that I’ve not referred to technical competence. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important; it’s just that rarely is it the reason that I find myself coaching global leaders. In fact, I can only think of a couple of occasions when part of the challenge for a global leader has been technical competence. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen more frequently, however it’s the behaviours relating to the ‘global self’ that are mostly the reason for poor performance than technical competence.
The good news is that these dimensions can be measured and developed providing the global leader with a window to their ‘global self’; which is a good thing for the leader and the organisation when we consider the high turnover rates of expats either during their assignment or within eighteen months of returning. But even if the only thing you do is take the time to reflect on where you think you sit on these dimensions, you’ve already taken the first step towards developing your ‘global self’ and enhancing your effectiveness as a global leader, no matter your starting point!
“Organisational Urgency”. This is what I refer to as the inclination of organisations that belong to the anglo-sphere part of the world, to want to push through and get a winning outcome quickly, expediently and sometimes at the expense perhaps of taking the time to get a better or more appropriate outcome.
On the surface that seems a pretty big call; or is it?
For some time now I’ve been in the unique position to observe the behaviours of people in a number of global organisations in the context of collaboration and working together, and I’ve noticed an interesting pattern of behaviours that also reflects the work and research of Prof Geert Hofstede and his work on cultural dimensions; in particular the dimensions of Short Term vs Long Term Outlook and Masculine (tough, results oriented) vs Feminine (tender, relationship oriented).
The research tells us that anglo-countries are more short term focussed; we demand results now. So we have a natural drive to get started, to hit those milestones and show results sooner rather than later. Interestingly, another aspect of being short term focussed is that we are quite normative (holding on to past/current values or ways of doing things). This presents a genuine dichotomy, because in many cases to achieve results quickly there is usually a requirement for change. But that doesn’t seem to come as a natural or easy process for societies that struggle to let go of ‘the way we do things around here’, hence the need and focus on change plans. In fact, John Kotter’s eight-step change methodology probably plays a bigger role than we realise in this context. The first of his steps address the need for a burning platform for change, and a strong guiding coalition that is able to sell the reason for change; I believe that these first steps may have some of their roots in the fact that this methodology was written through an anglo lens, and whether he realised it or not, identified the fact that at a deep cultural values level, we probably do need change to be sold to us.
We also belong to what can be described as a ‘tough’ culture, or as Hofstede describes, a ‘Masculine’ culture; one where winning is the focus. Where the acknowledgement or showing of status is central, task comes before relationships and win-lose is more natural than win-win.
Without even focusing on the nature of relationships that exist between countries or members of global teams, we can see the impact that being short term and tough culture oriented has on the way we work within our own anglo cluster of countries. In particular it tends to impact in the areas of Collaboration and Organisational/Leadership Approach as shown below:
Do we take the necessary time to fully explore and analyse before leaping to action? Probably not. In fact, we like to get in, get started and get those ‘quick wins’ to show we are making progress. This means that we can miss out on taking the time to understand who our key stakeholders really are, build genuine relationships, and often we uncover ‘invisible’ stakeholders when it’s too late! And what about assumptions? When a group is culturally influenced around the drive for results and action, there can be the tendency to act on assumption, rather than take the time to validate and assess our assumptions, or only go part of the way in the interests of getting on with the job. We tend to see this play out in global teams, when it’s clear that the source of conflict or communication breakdown is cultural, yet we lean on assumption (or stereo-typing) and react to the behaviour we see rather than taking the time to understand what is motivating the behaviour.
Organisational and Leadership Approach:
Similar to the above point, being results driven, and with a strong leaning towards short term orientation, we can see why the maximising of shareholder value and creating competitive advantage are often top of mind in the anglo-sphere; but does this mean we are closing our eyes to the other elements of being a good corporate citizen, such as being an ethical organisation, integrating corporate social performance factors that acknowledge the interplay between the organisation and its employees and the community within which it operates? Are we potentially missing the opportunity to develop a competitive advantage in ways we hadn’t thought of before? Or are we just creating more opportunities for the shareholder to ultimately determine the philosophical drive of an organisation which can end badly; think Enron or more recently the 7-Eleven franchise holders who exploited workers to ensure their businesses stayed afloat.
At the same time, we also know that in any group there are cultural outliers, whose personal cultural preference is different to that of their country norms. In this case there will be those who have a preference for the long view, and those who prefer a more consensual (tender) approach rather than the tough win-lose mentality. Think about how you can identify and leverage these mindsets and abilities to bring new possibilities to the way you do business.
I saw an example of this recently with a client based in Australia which is a part of a French headquartered organisation. We know that people will usually work with an organisation where they feel their personal values align with the culture of the organisation. In this situation, with France being quite long term oriented, we found in a teaming event for a new global project team, that the Australian and UK team members were as long-term oriented as their French colleagues and this was reflected in the way the team connected and viewed the challenges ahead of them on the project from a longer term perspective. Of course this can present challenges in a different way when the group has to get traction and deliver milestones in quick fashion…that’s when some Organisational Urgency may be needed!
The idea of Organisational Urgency does exist, and it has cultural foundations that underpin the way the people in an organisation view themselves, the organisation and the way they do their work. The challenge for those working in countries which tend towards Organisational Urgency is to make it work for you whilst at the same time finding ways to step back and reconcile expediency with a more rounded ethical corporate outlook, and balancing the short term desire with the benefits of a long term outlook.
So often in business, particularly on the people side of things, we can get so caught up in theories, concepts and frameworks that we miss the obvious. Take cultural diversity for example. Cultural diversity isn't difficult to get right when you see people for who they are, and not what they are. We are all are mums, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. We all have thoughts and emotions, and we feel. It's probably safe to say that we all just want to get on with things at work and get the job done; and depending on where you are from, how the job gets done may vary a little (or a lot!).
But smart companies get that this is the sweet spot...the differentiator between what's done and what's possible.
What does national identity have to do with employee engagement?
Well, everything really when we consider that ‘who we are’ is central to what motivates us. Like organisational culture, we know that national culture is made of outer layers that are mostly easy to see; practices, rituals, symbols etc… But the deepest layer of culture is that of values, which exist deep within each of us, and which determines the way we perceive, and therefore, embrace the outer layers. These are values that underpin our perception of self, and of who we are, such as gender and national identity. And this is the key. By understanding the differences between national culture and organisational culture, we can strengthen the potential of engagement approaches; especially in multi-national settings, or in multi-cultural societies. By understanding the core tenets of national culture, an organisation has the ability to build in added relevance, and dare I say it, sustainability, to their engagement strategies and activities.
Let’s explore this a little more to get an idea of how easy it is to build in this extra layer of relevance and impact to an engagement strategy. Firstly, we need a common global framework and language for understanding national culture; for this I draw on the scientific foundation of Prof Geert Hofstede’s six dimensions of culture, of which I will focus on the first five:
Power Distance: The extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations accept that power is distributed unequally. Higher Power Distance = hierarchy, power and distance between the top of the institution and the bottom. Lower Power Distance = flatter hierarchies (and hierarchy for convenience only) and greater accessibility to superiors.
Individual or Collective: In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in-groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.
Masculine or Feminine: Emphasis on status, achievement and success in life, versus emphasis on the quality of life and serving others.
Uncertainty Avoidance: The extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these.
Long Term vs Short Term: The extent to which people show a future-oriented perspective rather than a normative or short-term point of view.
With the above dimensions in mind, we can already start to see that what may work in one country as far as an engagement approach is concerned may not work as well, if at all, in a different country. This is a huge consideration for multi-nationals. For those with a single country focus, our experience is showing very clearly how the effective use of these dimensions can help to optimise the way engagement occurs; both at a leadership and organisational level. Let’s look at what this means.
Culture Focused Engagement
We have taken the cultural dimensions of Hofstede, and applied them to employee engagement and found that there are a number of fairly simple combinations that can inform the approach of your engagement strategy for greater impact. We have broken them into two sets of factors, People and Organisational Factors.
These are the factors that influence the way leaders engage with their people, ranging from the relevance of reward and recognition strategies, and how leaders motivate and inspire. Below is a short overview of the impact of each People Factor Dimension.
People Factor 1: Involve Me or Tell Me
Involve Me countries are those with a lower Power Distance score, such as Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK. As the name suggests, the involvement of employees in decision making through a more consultative style is central to how leaders can engage with their teams. In Tell Me cultures, there is higher Power Distance; with ‘power’ being the central concept. Most countries around the world outside of Germany, Anglo and Scandinavian countries are higher in Power Distance. Therefore, in these countries, the higher the score on the Power Distance scale, the less likely it is that a) the manager will want to involve their employee in a conversation to seek their opinion on a topic, as this would mean giving up the power that comes with their role, and b) the employee will not believe they have the power to engage in such a conversation in the first place and will expect to be told. Outside of day-to-day leadership styles, an easy example of how we see this play out in multi-national companies is through the application of the annual objectives setting process. Employees from Involve Me countries, (lower Power Distance origins), will appreciate this process and be mostly engaged in the negotiation of objectives. The same practice rolled out in Tell Me countries stand next to no chance of being applied successfully, if at all (with the same going for higher Power Distance employees living and working in a lower Power Distance society). The manager will see this as giving up a central tenant of their role (to have the answers and provide direction) and the employee will not believe that they have the power in the first place to have such a conversation.
People Factor 2: Recognise Me or Acknowledge Us
This factor is based on Hofstede’s second dimension of Individualism vs Collectivism, and has a strong influence on recognition, loyalty and, like the first factor, how people like to be led. Anglosphere countries, Germany, France, the Netherlands are examples of Recognise Me countries; all highly individualist societies. The Middle East, West Asia, Asia and South America are all examples of Acknowledge Us regions, and more collectivist. When coaching expat leaders moving from individualist countries to collectivist, this is one of the more subtle, but high impacting aspects of leadership that needs to be grasped. The easy example is how we recognise high performers. In a Recognise Me country, it is as the name suggests; we recognise those who perform. Whether it is in the company newsletter, as employee of the month or a special voucher for a vacation. In Recognise Me cultures, loyalty is to oneself, and their immediate circle of friends or family; and engagement is probably most likely to occur if the organisation can demonstrate an intersection between the needs of both the organisation and the employee. In an Acknowledge Us country, where belonging and loyalty to the group trumps self-actualisation, the approach to recognise great performance is structured not to place an individual above the group. In fact the belief is more likely to be that ‘we’ succeeded with little or no thought of how one individual was better than the other. Naturally you can imagine how leadership styles need to be adjusted to maximise performance. Applying a Recognise Me style of leadership in an Acknowledge Us country will only create disharmony, and create greater distance between the manager and the employee group than would normally exist.
People Factor 3: Task Trust or Relationship Trust
Trust and engagement are often considered interchangeable terms when thinking about employee engagement. But how we build trust will happen in different ways, depending on where you are from. Through a business lens, and drawing once again on the Hofstede dimension of Individualism vs Collectivism, we know that trust is built in different ways; either through the demonstration of individual competence and focusing immediately on business (Task Trust) or by sharing time in the group and letting people understand who they are really working with (Relationship Trust). From an engagement perspective we can see that this element has the potential to work against us in very subtle ways if we aren’t awake to the difference in approaches. An Asian member of a global team (Relationship Trust), who is used to slowly spending time building the business relationship, will likely find it confronting if they are sent to Task Trust country as an expat or to form part of a virtual team made up mostly of Individualist team members. Confronting in that a quick team-building session will serve as the means by which the ice is broken and the first building blocks of trust are established in an Task Trust society. It’s interesting to note that in my experience, very little energy is given to the notion of team building in Relationship Trust countries; whereas in Task Trust countries, where the focus is on what ‘I can do’ and ‘who I am’, it makes sense that team building and Tuckman’s stages of team development have a genuine role to play in building team engagement.
People Factor 4: Win the Game or Play the Game
In tougher cultures, or as Hofstede describes, Masculine cultures, the aim is to be the best, to win. Japan, China, Australia, the US and Germany are all examples of countries who fall into this category. On the other hand, more tender cultures, where the emphasis is on the quality of life, the aim is to participate, collaborate and achieve in a win-win manner. The Scandinavian region, The Netherlands, Sri Lanka and Thailand are all examples of countries that fall into this category. This factor has a strong impact on the best approaches for rewarding, and in some respects, the language and symbols used to motivate. In tougher cultures, where win/lose is preferable to win/win, the dialogue required is a more direct style that clearly points out benefits. And the role of rewards, to recognise status, are central to motivation. In more tender cultures, where the journey is as important as the outcome, then the focus is more on how to ensure ‘we’ experience the journey and the outcome. This factor plays a role in how you communicate messages to your team to motivate them; tough = sell and debate, whilst tender = support and dialogue.
Organisational Approach Factors:
The design of an engagement strategy is one thing; but knowing how to optimise its approach through the effective understanding and application of national culture factors is something else. Even a basic understanding of the national culture dimensions can assist with more targeted communication and change management techniques. The Organisational Approach Factors are underpinned by two of Prof Hofstede’s dimensions: Uncertainty Avoidance and Long or Short Term Orientation (how we perceive time).
By taking these dimensions into consideration, we are able to create a core engagement approach that will target a majority of employees; remembering that in any country there will always be cultural outliers, such as expats, immigrants, or the children of immigrant parents.
Below is a summary of the various organisational approaches to engagement based on the combinations of Uncertainty Avoidance and Long or Short-Term Outlook.
(Click on the table for a bigger version)
For many years we’ve been considering the impact of organisational culture on employee engagement and the interplay that exists between the two when creating engagement strategies. By taking one extra step, and considering one of the core values that exist in all of us, that of our national identity, it is possible engagement to take on a whole new meaning and relevance.
When is a global organisation really global? Is it when there is a good representation of offices around the world? Or when a good financial year is the result of some good joint efforts between countries and regions? Perhaps when we have a healthy expat program, and lots of global project teams? Or is it when we have consistent training programs being delivered in all regions of the business? The answer lies partly in the above; but is that enough? I think the examples listed above are all components and even outputs of a healthy global organisation; but a truly global organisation, I believe, is one that clearly understands and articulates from the board down, that they are a global organisation.
The Board So what does this look like? Let’s start with the board. Board Diversity has been a topic for years, both in terms of gender and race; however it makes perfect sense that as an organisation grows and enters into global markets that the role and expectations of the board become a little broader. Perhaps not with respect to the role of the board, but more with how the board can continue to engage, partner and challenge the executive in a global context rather than the boundaries of the local market. One of the benefits, and expectations, of the board is to bring a depth of experience that bolsters the effectiveness of the CEO, their team and of course their strategy. So how can a global strategy be endorsed by a board that doesn’t reflect a depth of experience in doing business beyond borders?
The Leadership And then there is the CEO and their leadership team. The impact of a misalignment between the board and the executive in a cultural context isn’t always obvious, especially in the heady days of breaking out and tackling new markets. It’s easy in those early days of a start up to write off failures in this context as inexperience and testing the market. But that’s a poor excuse either with or without a board experienced in conducting cross-cultural business. The leadership team, irrespective of whether it's for a start-up or a more established global organisation, has a responsibility to guide the ship through the waters of international business with a measure of experience and consistency. When this is isn’t present, it can start to be seen in poor M&A decisions or by not seeing the cultural risks when moving into new countries, even in the most basic of ways, such as; poor negotiation strategies, or upstream business development that completely misses the mark due to committing cultural faux-pas without realising it, or just playing in the wrong place at the wrong time with no experience available to tap them on the shoulder and point them in the right direction. Where I’ve seen this play out quite a bit in the last ten years is through poor outcomes for Australian businesses seeking to expand into Asia without fully understanding the cultural norms of doing business with, through and in Asia. For example walking away from a negotiation with a Chinese counterpart believing that the deal has been completed in principle; not realizing that right up until there are signatures on the agreement that it is an accepted Chinese business practice to keep the door open on the negotiation and always looking to squeeze more out of the deal...or find a completely different avenue to achieve their goal.
Thus far we’ve focused on how the board and the executive engage with the external factors; however this focus also needs to shine inwards, and again, without a true depth of experience in what makes a global organisation tick, some big issues can arise. For example, how is the global strategic plan created and communicated? Is the assumption made that if the plan is created through an Anglo lens and pushed out in the way you’d expect in such an environment, that everyone will embrace it? Anyone who has worked, or led in a multi-national has probably experienced the 'flying under the radar syndrome'; when a new plan or direction pushed out by the HQ country is not embraced or adopted in the way that they would like in the country network. One of the most common mistakes, for example, is the assumption that all Anglo countries will pull in the same direction as they are perceived to be culturally similar. There is some truth to this, but the reality is that when analysed from a national culture perspective, Anglo countries are all identical in that competition and autonomy are culturally important tendencies from the perspective of Prof Geert Hofstede’s 6 D cultural analysis and therefore fall into one of Huib Wursten’s 6 country clusters of ‘Competition’. Knowing this critical piece of information would mean that the creation and roll out of any plan would seek to engage and involve each country and be very explicit in how each country would benefit rather than being laid back and making the assumption “well, they’re like us, they’ll get it!”
Organisational Practice Now we are starting to explore the influence of leadership on the way business gets done throughout the organisation. There are many aspects to this, but what we do know through many studies and our own experiences gained from working in global learning functions, consulting to global project teams and coaching expats around the world; there is knowing what you have to do, but being a truly global organisation means that you knowhow to do it! Just as we highlighted that the role of the board in a global context brings value in mentoring the organisational leadership on how to work in a global context, this in turn filters down via the leadership to the teams and individuals charged with actually doing it on a daily basis. This influence can be seen in how global learning practices are deployed, how expat knowledge is transferred before, throughout and after the assignment, and in how energy and information flows across borders and despite borders. The more transactional and clunky the efforts, the more likely the organisation is still learning how to make sense of being global, and it may also be a direct reflection of the relationship between the board and the leadership in this context. As it gets easier, it could be likened to moving through the stages of competence, to the point of being unconsciously competent; though I’m not sure that this stage is ever fully realised in a global organisation; but perhaps if that’s the goal, the clunkiness and transactional nature of being global can be tolerated a little more as the organisation works hard to get there.
The Last Word Being a global organisation is one thing. Knowing how to be global is quite another, and I think an undervalued and often misunderstood element of being a truly global organisation. Of course there are many more strands to this story, and it's not really 'the last word'...but if there is anything that I hope to leave you with, it’s this. Don't start the development of your global strategy at the level of HR, OD or Operations. It needs to start with the Board, the CEO and their leadership group. When it comes to global business success, the relationship between the board and the organisations leadership group can easily be considered a lynch pin relationship. The very nature of that relationship impacts the perspective of the CEO and their team, which in turn influences strategy and the organisational frame of reference with respect to what being global means to them.
First published on LinkedIn on the 14th June 2016
I was speaking with a colleague recently who is developing an organisational framework to support the transition of their business from that of domestic to regional with a longer-term eye on going truly global. They are aiming to develop the idea of a global mindset within their people and systems of work, and the framework they described was robust, catering for all the classical elements of going global. Leadership and capability development integrating with mobility policies and seeking to involve as many of their people as possible in a clearly understood and shared definition of what a global mindset means for their business.
It all sounded so positive, and yet I had this strong nagging feeling as I left the conversation that there was something missing, something important. And it hit me; it was this whole idea of ‘frame of reference’ and how to expand the perspective of their employees who may never have even travelled outside of their own state or country. This is always one of the greatest challenges when developing a global outlook for an organisation and something that needs to be conveyed in the most practical way possible. My experience over the past 15 years has been very consistent with the research that suggests that the development of our beliefs and values is mostly driven through experiences and exposure to life. Even the most experienced of expatriates can sometimes find themselves unprepared for their next assignment despite having a number of assignments under their belt, and of course there is reverse culture shock which also reminds us that no matter how well travelled we are, our return is often bumpier than the departure.
So what does this all mean? As robust a model you are aiming to create, the reality is that the way we see ourselves in the context of the world is never a complete known and an imperfect process. So a robust model is great, but try not to seek perfection. If you were to ask me, a perfect model is one that is continually evolving to suit and support the changing needs of an organisation. It may be grounded in strong theoretical frameworks and policy, but it has an interface which is practical, intuitive and responsive. Practical in a way that provides experiential learning and preparation, and that challenges underlying assumptions around culture and ways of working. Not just for the expat and their family, but for their new manager and colleagues as well. Expatriation is a multi-dimensional process, yet we so often only focus on what is immediately in front of us. Intuitive from the perspective that no matter how well prepared we think may be; we are human. Intuitive systems that provide nurture and support resilience throughout the lifecycle of the assignment are critical. Intuitive also from the perspective that the framework is designed in the knowledge that there are peaks and troughs of energy and motivation as the expatriate and their family deal with transition throughout the length of the assignment. And finally, responsive, by ensuring that a key part of the HR business partner tool kit is knowing how to anticipate the peaks and troughs and work with this for the good of the expatriate, their family and their team.
But what about those people left behind, who may not actually live and work abroad, but are expected to work with colleagues from around the world?
The same principles apply; create an experiential, intuitive and responsive process. Experiential learning that allows them to learn more about working virtually whilst they also reflect on and expand their own belief system when it comes to working with different cultures. Given they aren’t working abroad, the ability to reinforce this on a daily basis isn’t so strong and this is where the intuitive element of support needs to be stronger. Anticipate for these people, unless they have worked and lived abroad, that for them it isn’t quite real. That their colleagues are voices at the end of a phone line, keystrokes at the other end of an email or a two dimensional figure on a video conference. Create opportunities to connect frequently through technology, and to share more of who they are rather than what they do. Virtual teaming is a necessity for these people, and yet it is so often overlooked. Equip the team manager with skills to anticipate and spot when the virtual team is flagging in energy, but also give them the tools and techniques (along with their HR partners) to revive flagging energy in the remote team. This is about understanding and reducing the psychological distance despite the physical distance – and it is possible.
What it all boils down to is this.
Our frameworks need to be grounded in good research and theory; there is no doubt about this. But theory and frameworks don’t help anyone if they can’t be translated into a meaningful process of practice that actually helps someone do their job. In the world of mobility this takes on an extra layer of importance, because the way we see ourselves reflects on the way we see the world. So the ability to create experiences and practices that impact on beliefs and behaviours are critical both to virtual team collaboration and the general performance of expatriate and mobility programs.