Archive for January, 2008
The Olympic slogan is just as relevant in the highly competitive training space.
In the year of the most feted of sports events, that of the Olympics, to be held later in the year in Beijing, it is tempting for me to take a close look at the Olympic slogan of ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ that urges sportspersons of every nationality, creed and colour to come together in the spirit of excellence and true competition, and to see whether it is of any relevance to our world today.
The ‘Gymnasium’ where the ancient Greek athletes of Olympia trained was a sanctified area where the Gods reigned. Training was about achieving excellence in body and mind and it was in this spirit that athletes measured their strength against each other.
It is interesting to note that the decline of the Olympic games came about with the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 B.C. The Romans advocated sport as a show and played to the galleries! The ‘fall’ of the track queen Marion Jones, the ugly stand-offs in recent cricket, to name two of the sports events that have hogged the limelight, have sadly demonstrated the gross distortion of this noble ideal in the realm of sport today.
As a cross-cultural trainer, it is tempting for me to pursue the sports analogy and consider the training space as a gymnasium or a sort of sports arena and a group of young professionals seated in front of me as athletes (or IT warriors?) on an extremely competitive track. The ideal race in our globalised world would be the relay with global teams passing the baton swiftly and with ease to the finishing line. The running in tandem of the athletes, with one stretching back to release the baton and the other stretching forward to grasp it, is an enviable image of speed and team work. The team that wins is the one that has ‘transferred’ well and smoothly. But unfortunately this is not how it often happens in the global work environment.
Technically competent graduates from management, engineering, commerce and other institutions, in big and small cities, find themselves at a loss when having to deal with clients and customers from across the globe, while running the race.
Jobs are moving faster than they expected and previously defined parameters too are fast changing. Understandably, a lack of familiarity with the English language is one of the main reasons for this, and this deficiency is being addressed on a war footing through intensive language orientation classes and voice and accent neutralisation classes. But acquiring a British or an American accent is not the only solution.
Local talent has to run a global race and cross-cultural awareness and competence is now a necessity. There are no handicaps. “Cross-cultural training” or “cross-cultural awareness” programmes as they were previously known is now passé. Cross-cultural competence to effectively deal with varied cultural contexts that differ from one’s own, without necessarily having to step out of one’s own work environment, is the challenge faced by most young professionals from Thiruvananthapuram to Gurgaon. It’s a virtual world out there and the majority of these professionals have to train their cultural antennae to pick up signals for cultural synergy or play down likely areas of conflict. The modern workplace in India today is in a state of cultural flux with state boundaries having been easily crossed. Our IT cities are a noticeable mix of professionals from across India and most now are looking to recruit young foreign professionals to shore up their research and development capacities. The intercultural challenge is obvious and managing this diversity a reality.
Cross-cultural competence or lack of it can positively or adversely affect the bottom line. The quick fix to this has been cultural stereotyping. While the “French are like this” and the “Germans are like that” does provide some guidelines to the people dealing with these countries, it inhibits positive opportunity for genuine cultural interaction and understanding. On the contrary, the “us” and “they” positions can become quickly confrontational and detrimental in a global work environment. Who said sledging takes place only on a cricket pitch?
Cultural sensitivities have to be managed, and while training can provide one with landmarks on an otherwise interminable learning curve, we try to do it at Global Adjustments with post-lesson contacts through the www.globalindian.com portal. The daily vitamin which we research and provide for aspiring global Indians together with the free cultural magazine in www.globaladjustments.com add to the continued growth we hope. We believe that developing a genuine curiosity and reaching out towards other cultures, is the best competence that any young professional can be armed with today. Cross-cultural competence is not about a list of do’s and don’t’s. It is a frame of mind. Let us not miss this opportunity to knowingly open our windows to other cultures, rather than have to do so unwillingly; let us welcome the breeze but let us also prepare for the draught and let the Olympic spirit prevail as we pit our strength against those of others – Citius, Altius, Fortius.
Managerial success calls for changing bad behaviour.
Good behaviour, the secret of success?
I recently had the privilege of being in a coaching session by Marshall Goldsmith who has been rated as ‘perhaps the greatest teacher of leadership on the planet’
He says that people who are already successful are there because they are intelligent and skilful; all that stops them from reaching the next level is usually some irritating interpersonal behaviour and once this is addressed and changed, their succes s is bound to multiply. Marshall has helped many global leaders to overcome annoying habits
His book What got you here, Won’t get you there sums up his philosophy. Do visit his Web site and read his book to truly benefit. I am sure he won’t mind me sharing a few behaviours to change from a list he gives. In his inimitable humorous style, Marshall calls the list “A chamber of horrors of bad behaviour.”
Adding too much value: Why put in your two cents in everything?
The other day, one of my team members with experience in the realty field came up with an idea of how to market a property we had on our database. I knew it was a good idea — putting an advertisement in a national daily — that he was suggesting. Instead of simply saying “Thank you, it’s a great idea. Please go ahead and ask me if you need help,” I found myself telling him which paper to advertise in and how to word the advertisement. Maybe I added 10 per cent value, but I took away 50 per cent of his motivation because the idea was no longer his, it became mine. I am working hard on consciously reducing this tendency.
Winning too much: The need to win at all times and at all costs.
One of my most promising former team members had a short-lived tenure with us. I had hired her at the senior manager level and had a clear career path for her to become Vice-President. But an overwhelming need to always come out on top made her a poor leader, although her skills and knowledge on intercultural learning was way above anyone else’s in the company. Finally, we had to let her go, purely on account of a behavioural trait.
Passing judgement: The need to rate others and make comparisons.
Closely linked to adding value is the immediate comparison radar that goes up when we see something others have done. A simple acceptance of another’s work style is needed, for example, in written documentation — so long as there are no glaring errors. Everyone cannot have a uniform style or match our own. As the editor of a cultural magazine for expatriates, I have had to learn to let all styles co-exist and resist the urge to take out a red pen for correction. As a result, the magazine has become richer with different voices speaking.
Starting with no, but or however: Excessive use of these negative qualifiers is a way of telling the world we are right and they are wrong.
When someone gives us an idea or a plan, if our reaction starts with “no, but…” it dampens their spirit. Each time we catch ourselves using these words, let’s levy a Rs 10 “fine” on ourselves and contribute the money to a kitty so that some good cause gets rich at the cost of our behaviour change! Global Adjustments offices in five cities in the country now have a jar for collection on the front desk and our New Delhi team recently sent an e-mail claiming they were “doing good by doing well”.
Speaking when angry: Using emotional outbursts to manage others.
A foreign client we once had, learnt the hard way when he spoke in raised decibels and showered angry words on a valuable Indian colleague. It ended in the colleague’s resignation and no amount of cajoling could get the Indian to change his mind. Anger is temporary madness, as our Hindu scriptures say, and it is best to raise one’s tolerance level instead of one’s voice. A thoughtful “one minute” reprimand as Kenneth Blanchard recommends is a good way, spoken after the wave of anger has passed.
Withholding information so that we have an advantage over others.
As an entrepreneur, my biggest challenge is how to get cross-selling to happen between various departments that are flourishing individually. Keeping the bigger picture of the company above ourselves would banish withholding of information.
Failing to say thank you: The worst form of bad manners.
Sometimes, the easiest things to do are also the easiest things not to do. When someone on our team does something worthy why not simply thank them?
Write it out in the old fashioned way on a card (Who can display an e-mail or SMS on their refrigerator door?). Saying, “Thank you for the terrific report; I am glad to have you on my team,” goes a long way and gives pleasure to the receiver and giver!
As I read Marshall’s list, I found myself thinking “Oh yes, I do this and this and sometimes even this….” I have therefore narrowed the list down and picked one area to work on this quarter — and hope you will too! It works at the office and at home as I have been discovering recently.