Here is another contribution by Elizabeth Bernhard and Joseph A. Cook to the “Talent Management Perspectives” series featured by Talent Management magazine (March 2011). To receive a free subscription to TM and/or Chief Learning Officer magazine, please click here.
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How do you prepare an organization, its leaders, the employees and the transported executives for cross-cultural management? If not approached in a thoughtful manner, cultural subtleties can limit communication, trust and the necessary mutual cooperation needed to drive an organization forward. But with careful planning and proven techniques, effectiveness can be accelerated and the chances of success enhanced.
Consider the following:
Awareness: Leaders who are considering bringing in talent from another part of the world to take a place on the senior executive team have already reached the first milestone. They have an awareness of the full global talent pool. While many Western business concerns have already developed an appreciation for the full range of talent available worldwide, some are lagging behind or don’t even have it on their radar. These businesses don’t know what they don’t know — and what they don’t know is that they’re missing out on opportunities.
Development: Once aware of the concept of the full global talent pool, the next step is to create a program for building the global executive bench. Expanding one’s horizons doesn’t mean neglecting the people right under one’s nose. Progressive companies have complete executive-advancement programs that develop talent for local opportunities and look abroad for talented individuals who are ready to cross borders for the next step in their development.
Executive Selection and Integration: Any selection process for global managers should begin with a clear understanding of the factors necessary to the assignment’s success. This includes both global management competencies — such as adaptability, flexibility, comfort with ambiguity, inquisitiveness, etc. — as well as role imperatives related to the particular assignment. Because home and host country expectations may vary considerably, these will frequently need to be aligned. Often an external assessment by a trained professional can be helpful.
Once the executive is in place, a strong focus on integration can reduce the time it takes for him or her to get up to speed and deliver results. Equally important is the positive impact an effective integration program has on long-term retention. This is especially significant with cross-cultural transitions, where “derailing” episodes can occur even more frequently than usual.
Acknowledging the Challenges: Once the right executive has been selected for a global management position, special attention must be paid to the difficulties of working in a new cultural environment. To optimize talent in the multinational corporation, talent must be sourced both locally and from around the world. However, as seen in both the experience of the colonial and expatriate phases of history, talent can be squandered and positive contributions minimized because of limited respect for local cultural norms and practices, poor communication and misunderstandings among individuals with different cultural orientations. Cultural habits that are deeply ingrained and respected in one country can raise the ire of individuals in another. This can create strained working conditions that undermine collaboration and the drive toward organizational goals.
While cultural communication differences and norms can start as simple style differences, they typically grow and fester, creating significant ill will within organizations. While stories of miscommunications regarding issues like hierarchy, negotiation style and directness are commonplace within multinational companies, the animosity, mistrust and team dysfunction they create are rarely addressed. People often aren’t even aware that they’re falling prey to culture clashes and misconstrue them as negative measures of others’ true talent and trustworthiness. This ill will, which often goes unrecognized as such, can be the root of multicultural team breakdown. Accusations fly, with little recognition that the players are both uncomfortable with foreign behavior and unsure how to negotiate it.
Multicultural Team Building: Multicultural team building is an approach that addresses the needs of the global team. Respecting that organizations cross borders and their members may hail from anywhere on the planet, the need to balance local custom with global leadership characteristics is vital. This approach can enhance understanding among team members and optimize team member communication and functioning.
Using a variety of interactive processes, team members learn about themselves, the culturally based assumptions that drive their day-to-day behavior and judgments of others, and their team members’ corresponding views. By highlighting and clarifying these differences and helping team members learn their own culturally derived hot buttons, teams are able to create their own norms for communication and grow greater awareness on how their behavior is impacting those around them. In doing so, executives learn to anticipate and correct problems before they grow, appropriately adjust their style by audience and quickly separate intercultural stress from other organizational issues. In the best cases, the team builds its own highly functional culture, complete with its own norms, behaviors and language, where collaboration and trust are foundations.
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Elizabeth Bernhard and Joseph A. Cook are affiliates at RHR International LLP. They can be reached at email@example.com.
Linda A. Hill is the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. She is the faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative and has chaired numerous HBS Executive Education programs, including the Young Presidents Organization’s Presidents’ Seminar and the High Potentials Leadership Program. She is a former faculty chair of the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School, and she was coursehead during the development of the new Leadership and Organizational Behavior MBA required course. She is the co-author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives of Becoming a Great Leader with Kent L. Lineback and Becoming a Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership (2nd Edition).
Dr. Hill did a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Harvard Business School and earned a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences at the University of Chicago. She received her M.A. in Educational Psychology with a concentration in measurement and evaluation from the University of Chicago. She has a B.A., summa cum laude, in psychology from Bryn Mawr College.
Morris: For those who have not as yet read Being the Boss, you and Kent Lineback identify and then discuss three “imperatives” to become a great leader. The first is “Manage Yourself.” My own opinion is that someone who can’t do that effectively cannot manage anyone else, much less members of a team (Imperative #3). What do you think?
Hill: Management is fundamentally a social activity, something done between two or more human beings. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that management begins with the manager’s ability to relate to others. That doesn’t mean at all that she must be highly social or gregarious but that she’s able to connect with others and generate trust, which we define as a belief in someone’s competence and character. In short, management begins with who you are and how that leads you to relate to others.
Morris: Robert Sutton has much of value to say about a “good boss” and a “bad boss.” From your own perspective, what are the defining characteristics of each?
Hill: We focus more in the book on how bosses grow from good to great and spend little time discussing “bad” bosses, except perhaps by implication. Using the framework we propose in the book, I suppose you could say “good” bosses (what we would call great bosses) are those consistently proficient at all three imperatives and therefore able to get the best possible effort from others individually and as a group. And I suppose we would say “bad” bosses are those so inconsistent or so lacking in proficiency that they make others less than they could be even as individuals.
Morris: Based on your experience, what you have observed, and what you have learned from others, what do all great teams share in common?
Hill: In a nutshell, I think they share a deep mutual commitment to their purpose, the reason they exist, and the concrete goals around that purpose, combined with a deep sense of “we.” That “we,” which is an entity to itself and more than a simple aggregation of individuals, is more important than any member individually and can be summed up as a belief that “we” will succeed or fail together.
Morris: When I am asked about great teams, I immediately think about those at the Disney who produced the classic animated films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi, those involved in the Manhattan Project, and whose associated with Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. All of them had great leadership. Here’s my question: However different they and their situations may be in most other respects, what do all leaders of great teams share in common?
Hill: They focus on creating the characteristics I mentioned in my previous answer – they focus on purpose, goals, and the importance of “we.” Equally important, they include themselves in that “we.”
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Linda Hill invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
www.beingtheboss.com and www.hbr.org/beingtheboss. The first is our Web site for the book. Anyone can contact us there. The second is the publisher’s microsite for the book. It contains the book’s full bibliography and other useful information.
Here is a recent article featured by the Drucker Exchange (DX), “an ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership,” sponsored by The Drucker Institute of Claremont Graduate University. He check out all the resources and sign up for a free online newsletter, please click here.
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Once upon a time, we noticed a growing trend in management circles: More and more people began focusing on the importance of storytelling in organizations.
Next week, for instance, Hollywood executive Peter Guber will drop in to the Drucker Business Forum to talk about his new book, Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.
The idea that business success springs from telling “a purposeful story,” in Guber’s words, is rooted in the concept that humankind is built to respond favorably to a compelling yarn. Guber theorized in a recent New York Times article “that we respond to story—an aspiring executive’s self-description in a job interview, a digital entrepreneur’s pitch to a potential backer, a team owner’s plea for a city-financed stadium—because we can’t help it. Eons of genetic and cultural programming compel us toward a narrative form with beginnings, endings and moral lessons, whether or not those are in sync with the random ways of the universe.”
Others have picked up on the same concept. In their 2004 book, Storytelling in Organizations, John Seeley Brown, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh and Laurence Prusak explore how narrative can be used for transferring knowledge, nurturing community, stimulating innovation and preserving values.
Peter Drucker, meanwhile, also understood this. In writing about effective communications, for instance, he noted that “one has to talk to people in terms of their own experience. One has to use carpenter’s metaphors when talking to carpenters, the language of sailors when talking to sailors and so on.”
But in this case, Drucker didn’t just explain to others how to tell stories. He put the notion into practice. “What Drucker did . . . was to quantify the manager’s role, not in some learn-by-rote, restrictive way, but rather in a Churchillian neo-heroic way that would cause the manager to see himself (and later herself) as one who can accomplish things, and in doing so aspire to something greater,” John Baldoni declares in his book Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders. To help do this, Baldoni adds, Drucker “is forever sprinkling his texts with artful images and little stories.”
So, what’s your story? How do you use narratives to manage your organization more effectively?