Published in the August Business Insider, check out these visuals that depict the structure of a negotiation from different cultural viewpoints. Does this track with your experience?
Those of you who know our latest research, know that we are intensely interested in how cognitive schemas enable or hinder our ability to change – individually and collectively. See this video for a perfect example of how we cognitively can understand something (say, the new corporate strategy) but cannot easily unlearn and change the way we work to enable it.
For change executives and change agents, read our new white paper entitled, ♦ Rethinking Culture ♦, by Ontos Principal, David White, PhD.
Summary: Most leaders and many consultants believe organizational cultures can be “shaped” for competitive advantage. This immensely popular notion is so embedded in conventional thinking that to suggest otherwise is almost heretical. Yet this idea is, at best, unproven beyond espoused values and at worst, deeply wishful thinking. The problem is not the concept but the way it is defined and operationalized in practice. The good news is cognitive science over the last 30 years offers strong evidence on which to base a fresh approach to culture and change, one that promises to be far more impactful and sustainable in practice. This article explains why current approaches are problematic and outlines this compelling alternative.
Here in northern Germany today, we asked our client group what constituted “good service” at a restaurant. (The idea was to begin exploring the idea of how to conceive of a competency.) Among the answers one person responded “Being polite.” “What does that mean?”, I ask, knowing that politeness is culturally specific. The answer I received? “Being serious.” Of course, from another culture’s perspective “serious” can mean unattached, disinterested, lacking humor, lacking personality, feeling upset, and so on.
On the second occasion, we were speaking about what constitutes a leader who is an exceptional collaborator. Among the answers is again….Politeness.
I love these anecdotes that provide windows into culture.
“New team leaders often skip over the basics of team building in a rush to start achieving goals. But your actions in the first few weeks and months have a major impact on whether your team delivers results. Here’s how to set things up for success:
Our Comment: We like these as 4 good ideas to get started with a new team and the emphasis it puts on clarifying expectations. But don’t forget that understanding your team’s values and preferences should be part of the discussion that follows. Imagine that your values actually conflict with theirs! Especially in cross-cultural teams, what a “good team member” looks like, or what constitutes “good leadership” will change. In some cultures, for example, team members keep quiet until asked to speak.
I hear some leaders who like to start by saying they are direct, open and honest. These behaviors may take time to learn for those who have learned indirectness and who have learned the art of communicating difficult messages while allowing the other to “save face”. In sum, simply stating what you value makes your preference clear but may be difficult for others to understand, appreciate, or integrate.
Our Tip: We recommend you facilitate a conversation where the team also defines their own views about values, asking for help, teamwork, leadership. In a conversation about the team’s values, for example, make a list of examples of what that word means to each. If they say “trust” is important, make a list of what that looks like in practice for each person. Record what they say for use in checking in as time goes on to see if the team is adhering to what they say matters. In doing this you learn a lot about the people you’re leading …and – when done well – build the trust you seek at the same time.
We all know we have our biases about other people, but often not to what extent. We talk about this most often when discussing who is hired, who is promoted, who is most listened to, and how we make our daily decisions. Harvard University has a set of quick tests online that are open for anyone to take that allow you to gauge your own biases toward a number of areas of difference, such as:
– skin tone
This is fascinating and may dispel any notion you have about your own lack of bias. Very compelling and highly recommended as a self-awareness tool. CLICK HERE: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html
From ESPN, what a fascinating article by Tim Keown on how San Francisco Giants Manager, Bruce Bochy, tracks each individual, does not stick with formulas about who plays when, and prioritizes the team’s longer term success. There are lessons here for all managers of any kind of team.
Excerpt: “For a slow game, baseball can move fast — fast enough to run away and hide from managers who sit and wait for it to conform to an ideal. The managers who foresee the moments of acceleration, it seems, are the ones best suited to succeed.”
“Schultz understood that you can’t lift your foot off the gas pedal when you’re attempting to transform a company,” Koehn says. “Severe as its financial needs may be, you also have to figure out what you will invest in. Schultz knew that if he waited until the company was out of the woods to invest in new products, communication channels, and ways of doing business it would be too late—Starbucks would no longer be relevant.”
This quote from Harvard Business Review Aug 2104, by Julia Hanna, based on research by HBS Professor and historian Nancy Koehn.
People are rewarded in organizations for sorting out complicated problems. Think of engineers who design a product to strict customer requirements, doctors who re-attach ligaments, or IT professionals who create new platforms for digital products. They have a high level expertise, scrupulous attention to detail and the ability to analyze large amounts of data.
There’s a second kind of skill, however, that often trumps “sorting-out-complicated-questions” and it’s no longer required just for those at the very upper echelons of organizations. This skill is the opposite sort the aforementioned might aspire to because, while those expert technicians and problem solvers will often seek perfect solutions – perfect designs, perfect incisions, or perfect code – we see that managing complexity is more likely to be in short supply among our global clients.
By way of example, I’ve come to recognize the need over the years to embrace a more complex approach to a domain that is near and dear to my heart: cross-cultural communication and leadership. For 20 years I’ve been a speaker and facilitator on this topic and for much of that time I had little objection to the assessments that put different countries into different categories and speak categorically about “People A” vs “People B”. But for some time now, I’ve grown uncomfortable with these categorizations because they no longer reflect the complex world where the majority of people we meet live. The complex set of circumstances of most people we meet defy categorization, whether the assessment uses a dozen – or a hundred – attributes. Instead, I’ve found that teaching and modeling group process skills to leaders, for example, is quintessentially more useful in that it provides tools for ambiguous situations of many kinds. These group process skills – along with high self-awareness – build one’s capacity for learning, understanding, flexibility, and agility – all important competencies in our complex world.
But what is managing complexity?
Complexity requires different muscles, and includes elements such as: valuing orderly problem solving as well as working with ambiguity; developing a broad set of relationships based on trust; and incorporating knowledge of one’s self with knowledge of one’s multi-layered context.
Every day we see leaders who stall in their careers due to unease with managing complexity. Personally, I believe there’s confusion on what should be treated as simple and what shouldn’t, and so we simplify the wrong things, like ignoring the need to build trust with others in exchange for speedy agreements, or spending one’s time doing what is easier instead of what is most important.
Hurdles are high for those who want to manage complexity more gracefully but also want to avoid criticism, avoid risk, get overwhelmed, are disorganized, or choose excessive structure and control. Sometimes these challenged leaders can be identified by behaviors such as:
– Relying too much on personal strengths
– Believing strongly in personal consistency and following a few principles
– Rigidly following or overdoing his/her one best way
– Having trouble shifting modes of behavior in the same meeting or situation
Wonder where you are in your ability to manage complexity? Ask yourself:
– What percentage of the time do I stay on autopilot?
– Do I take the time to reflect on what I’m learning? Am I asking for enough feedback?
– Do I avoid putting myself in situations that call for my weakness?
– Do I know why I feel blocked in certain areas or are feeling stressed?
– Can I turn off the like-dislike button and learn from others around me?
Instead, a leader who can thrive in complexity:
– Can act in ways that seem contradictory (but not wishy-washy or two–faced)
– Can shift gears comfortably
– Can decide and act without the entire picture
– Isn’t upset when things are up in air
– Doesn’t need to finish things before moving on
– Comfortably handles risk and uncertainty
– Is flexible and adaptable when facing tough situations
– Can combine seeming opposites like being compassionately tough, standing up for one’s self without infringing on others, set strong but flexible standards
– Can act differently depending on situation, without confusing people
– Is seen as balanced despite the conflicting demands of the situation
The ability to develop these skills doesn’t come easily because rich learning environments for these topics require stretching minds in non-traditional ways, and come in forms you might not expect. While on-the-job learning is always ideal (think Change Agent, Fix-its, Turnarounds, Chair of Task Force), how might a highly experiential event where you are measuring your own effectiveness in a highly diverse group stretch you in unexpected ways?
We will be sharing more of our thinking (and an offering) on the learning of these skills in an upcoming post. Until then, I’ll end with a quote from business author and Senior Fellow at The Conference Board, Gyan Nagpal, who offered this wonderful paradox: “The only way to control chaos and complexity is to give up some of that control”
I pulled this entertaining Stereotypes Map from some old files.. New York Times Magazine July 10, 2011 by Christoph Niemann. Still entertaining!