Sunday, January 30, 2011

What an International Manager Needs to Succeed

7:54 PM by nurliana purba · 0 komentar

During my professional career I have had the opportunity, and the challenge, of working and leading teams in various foreign countries. It has become evident that takes more than traditional managerial skills to guarantee success in the global business arena. It is a place where the "rules of the game" can easily vary from country to country.
Never minimize cultural differences 

When venturing into different geographic regions, there are different behaviors and norms called cultural differences. They can be easily under valuated and it is common to find managers who take for granted that a minimum time for adjustment is enough to shorten the cultural gap. Time is something that certainly helps, but when leading and supervising teams, a manager has little time to lose in gaining the trust of his team and aligning their common efforts. Cultural differences can seriously interfere with communication and alignment.
I have personally seen how Instruction A can be understood as Instruction B in one culture and Instruction C in other. It is something that may sound "crazy" but it does happen. Multicultural teams may fall in a Babel Tower where the leader is expecting something different from what the teams understand they need to deliver. The outcome on this scenario is failure due to reworks and inefficiency. To avoid such issues, a manager needs to research, understand, and be aware of any cultural gaps. He must plan accordingly and act before they occur. Through personal experiences a manager can learn many of the tips and tricks on this matter. Fortunately, there are also numerous online information sites and books available and worthwhile to read.
Communication: More than a nice talk
Good communication is not only being polite when talking and listening. Verbal communication is a critical business channel, but in today's world, e-mail, chats and conference calls are also part of our communication flow. Good communication must deliver the right message, at the right time, and clearly so everyone understands it. To achieve this you need to understand the cultural environment, mentality and the impact of different languages.
In some cultures having chit chats on non work related topics is both appreciated and expected before the start a formal meeting. However, in other cultures, they may be taken as intrusive or a waste of time. I'll exemplify this concern with a number of examples I have experienced:
Instant Message Example: I'm using an online chat as communication channel and I need Maria to send me a report. If Maria is in our office in the USA, I might send an instant message like this: "Hi Maria, please send me the report".
If Maria is in Mexico, I would send the following sequence of instant messages: "Hi Maria. How are you? - I'm doing fine - I need to ask you a favor - Do you happen to have the report ready? I need it, so could you please send it over? Approaching Maria with such an upfront request "send me the report", may be considered rude, generate a negative reaction, and Maria will simply send the report when she feels like it. Maybe it will be a couple hours or days later.
E-mail Example: I need to send an email to Robert informing him that we are scheduled to have an audit next month. If Robert is in Colombia, I may send an email like this: "John, we are having an audit review next month, so please be prepared and make all the necessary arrangements to show all the data the auditors need. Best Regards"
If John is in Brazil I would send and email like this: "Hi John, how are you! We are having an audit next month. I'm sure is going to be fine! But I just want you to be prepared because we need to show all the information the auditors need. Hugs. (Yes hugs...This person is not my relative, nor even a close friend, but I'll send hugs or kisses at the end of my message)
Meeting Example: I'm attending a business meeting with Juan, CIO and a potential client of ours. If Juan is in Panama, I may start the meeting by shaking hands, introducing myself and saying nice to meet you. If Juan happens to be in Peru, I would open the meeting with a kiss on the cheek, introduce myself, and a "nice to meet you". (Yes in Peru you may give kisses on the cheek to everybody. If you extend your hand for a handshake- it would be awkward)
Time perception
Time is a critical resource in business, projects and in day-to-day activities. In some cultures we think of time as a scarce resource that needs to be managed efficiently. However, in other cultures, even though time is considered as a scarce resource, people are more flexible on its management. In the USA for example, punctuality reflects value as a professional, and nobody would want to be 15 minutes late for a meeting. In LatAm, 15 minutes of delay is almost considered as being punctual. It's perfectly acceptable to start 15 minutes late and nobody will judge you. There is no need to feel guilty. If a manager does not understand this basic difference, there could be serious troubles when fitting in into multicultural groups. A manager needs to set real expectations according to the environment and team members he is working with. Adaption and changes to his leadership style is urged. In conclusion, time perception is extremely important in management. Understanding this will avoid unnecessary stress and improve collaborative work environments.
Language Gaps
No matter how fluent you are in a foreign language, people do not communicate in the same way as in their mother language. Managers need to understand this when supervising and leading teams. If they want to really take full advantage of their team's capacity and "pull out" all the knowledge and ideas they can deliver, they need to foster comfortable environment and ask questions in different fashions to make sure everybody is fully expressing themselves.
Nowadays, a manager should seriously consider learning one or two more languages as new markets are opening each day. We need more interaction and integration between different economies. Just a few "foreign words" that a manager might deliver during a meeting with foreign teams, will break the ice and will generate an smoother path for everyone.
It is amazing how many international managers can learn from their exposure to different cultures. There are also many challenges and difficulties to face as part of the learning curve. In conclusion, managers need to prepare themselves beforehand and most importantly, never minimize cultural impacts in any business endeavor.