My personal experience from countless business interactions around the world was a useful starting point – but not nearly enough. I began to compile an extensive list of facts and inputs from a wide range of sources, from Hofstede, Trompenaars and the GLOBE study to negotiation-specific works, as well as many online resources like Executive Planet or Kwintessential, to name but a few. Based on the resulting collection of data, I structured the country-specific book sections such that they followed a consistent pattern and started writing. Inevitably, far more information is available for some countries than others, but I feel I ended up with at least a fairly comprehensive overview for all of them.
The final step was crucial: working through my network, I identified about 70 people with first-hand experience from working in one of the targeted countries, as well as in at least one other country, meaning they understood the difference between inside and outside perspectives. Everyone in this group was generous enough to review a country section and provide their feedback and suggestions.
It looks like the result proves the effort worthwhile: reader feedback has been very encouraging and today, the book to my knowledge is being used at more than 35 business schools around the world. Even the U.S. Marines and Air Force use sections of the book to prepare soldiers for overseas assignments.
Well, that book is another comprehensive reference, intended to let readers look up information when they need it rather than reading the book once and then stashing it away for good. But seriously, who wants to take a 450-page reference book weighing nearly two pounds along on an international business trip, which is when you need it most?
That is where the idea for the app came up: why not provide all of that content in a format that is easy to take with you? As a matter of fact, even more country-specific information is available in the app than the book, as the former also presents current time and temperatures, rates of exchange, and much more. Best of all, the value-for-money ratio is hard to beat: it’s free!
I think my biggest value lies in what I do not do: I stay away from offering cookie-cutter solutions. Today’s world is too complex for simple recipes, and everyone’s challenge is different.
Leadership Crossroads provides coaching, training, and consultation in areas such as cross-cultural negotiation, teamwork, project management and leadership, but I don’t believe we ever offered the same solution to two different clients. We try hard to understand a client’s situation and issues before making recommendations, and whether it is team learning or individual development the client is looking for, we work closely with the client to maximize the impact.
It makes no sense to celebrate great reviews from training participants if six months later the client struggles to see that the program made any difference.
My first e-learning experience came more than ten years ago, teaching a virtual class in an MBA program. Back then, online training was boring with a big B – nearly everyone hated it. But technology has made great progress and enabled far more complex approaches. Today, I conduct online training sessions in ways that are as rich and intense as good face-to-face training should be.
The strongest push came from a very large American client who insisted that we find a way to take a three-day training online that previously took place in a classroom. Their issue, common across many large multinationals, was that the groups and teams to be trained were spread out across several countries and time zones. Bringing all of the learners to the same location, not flying a trainer around, is what they considered cost-prohibitive.
Our answer was blended online training, which typically includes offline elements (complex interactive lectures, reading, etc.), team assignments where learners collaborate in virtual teams, and virtual class meetings bringing everyone together with an instructor. Since then, we had deliveries of this training that in some cases simultaneously included participants living and working in 12 different countries.
Allowing learners to be geographically distributed is only one advantage of this type of training: timing can be much more flexible, too. Where possible, we try to structure such training programs in ways that demand only 1-2 hours of learner time per day, a real benefit in today’s work environment as people can still handle much of their normal workload while continuing their development.
When a large European client asked for a series of face-to-face training events across several countries, we convinced them to integrate an online component, with the primary purpose of helping participants become more comfortable with online collaboration, a growing need in their daily interactions.
For my part, I am convinced that more and more people will discover online training not as a cost-cutting tool but as a powerful option for effective people development.
My ‘funkiest’ training so far was triggered by a short-term request from a long-standing client. My only way to fulfill it was by conducting an online training while on vacation. Imagine this: my wife was sunbathing by the beach, while I was sitting in a cabaña at a Costa Rican beach hotel, facilitating a webinar designed to help a group of Californians deal more effectively with a South Korean joint venture partner. Thomas Friedman got it right: the world is flat!
Our clients long ago started to use technology in order to overcome geographical distance. I think this is gradually becoming the standard in the training & development world, too. For my part, I welcome that arrival as it makes my life much more flexible. With more than 2.5 million air miles already behind me, how could I not see an immediate benefit in having to travel less?
No offense, but I don’t quite like the idea of a ‘global nomad,’ since to me it implies needing no roots. We all need our identity, which for the vast majority of people relates strongly to the place and culture that shaped them most. Having lived in Germany, Spain, and the United States, and having traveled the world very extensively, have helped me understand how my own identity is still strongly influenced by my German upbringing. Trying to become a ‘cultural chameleon’ and blend in well, no matter where you are, strikes me as a rather futile effort.
Working globally and bridging cultural differences does not require losing one’s identity.
To me, three aspects are most relevant for global success:
– Be an explainer. Help others understand your own intentions, habits and motivations, and create an environment around you that encourages everyone to do the same. That what we understand, we are willing to accept and tolerate much more readily, a fundamental requirement for global collaboration. This is a behavior and skill anyone can learn, which makes it transferable.
– Leave your ego at home. In cross-cultural interactions, confrontations and hurt feelings are frequently the result of simple misunderstandings, different interpretations, misaligned expectations or conflicting values. Once you decide not to take any of that personally, you have a foundation allowing you to find solutions and bridge gaps. This only requires a decision and a little bit of practicing, so while not completely transferable, it is still available to everyone.
– Care about others. Relationships matter a great deal in global business, and only fools believe that today’s technology changes anything here. Unless you demonstrate to people, on a continual basis, that to you they are more than a means to an end, that you care about them and are willing to work hard in order to build and preserve relationships, even when making tough decisions that affect them, you are bound to fail. Unfortunately, this last trait may not be transferable: it is a personal value many people have but a few do not.
My biggest motivation in what I do, personally and professionally, is the opportunity to learn and develop myself. Working across cultures stimulates introspection and forces us to question our views and decisions. That has helped me grow in ways I could not have achieved otherwise.
Some of the toughest cross-cultural situations in which I have found myself were also my biggest development opportunities, from working through a painful product quality issue in Japan that lay the foundation to a very productive business/personal relationship, to an extremely intense negotiation in Israel that gave me a new perspective on German directness (hint: it pales in comparison).
Working globally, you frequently discover how others perceive and interpret the same situation in very different ways and how outcomes, positive or negative, may have seemed unforeseeable but become understandable once you put yourself into the shoes of the other. To me, these discoveries are my greatest learning opportunities, and I am grateful for them.
About Lothar Katz
Lothar Katz is the founder of cross-cultural business training and consulting firm, Leadership Crossroads, and the author of “Negotiating International Business” and “The Global Business Culture Guide,” as well as other publications. He has a wealth of experience in achieving productive cooperation across cultures and driving business success on a global scale.
A seasoned former executive of Fortune 500 company, Texas Instruments, Lothar regularly interacted with employees, customers, outsourcing partners, and third parties in more than 25 countries around the world. He teaches Cross-Cultural Management and International Project and Risk Management at the University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Management, and is a Business Leadership Center Instructor at the Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business.
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