Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cultural Intelligence

Working Successfully With Diverse Groups

When you're working in an international environment, you need to make a real effort to understand the cultural backgrounds, beliefs and attitudes of the people around you. If you don't, you'll struggle to get things done.
Some people – those with high "cultural intelligence" – are good at spotting cultural differences, and they adapt their behavior accordingly. This is a key skill when working with culturally diverse groups.
It's very possible to develop cultural intelligence. In this article, we'll look at what it is, and we'll see how to build it.
Common sense and sensitivity play an important role here. You may not immediately understand the reasons for a colleague's behavior, but you can build a great relationship if you keep a friendly manner and an open mind.

What Is Cultural Intelligence?

Christopher Earley and Soon Ang introduced the concept of cultural intelligence in their 2003 book of the same name. They define cultural intelligence as someone's ability to adapt successfully to a new cultural setting.
Cultural intelligence is related to emotional intelligence, but it goes a step further. People with high emotional intelligence can pick up on the emotions, wants, and needs of others. Those with high cultural intelligence are attuned to the values, beliefs, attitudes, and body language of people from different cultures; and they use this knowledge to interact with empathy and understanding.
People with high cultural intelligence are not experts in every culture; rather, they use observation, empathy, and intelligence to read people and situations, and to make informed decisions about why others are acting as they are.
They also use cultural intelligence to monitor their own actions. Instead of making quick judgments or relying on stereotypes, they observe what is happening, and they adapt their own behavior accordingly.

The Advantages of Cultural Intelligence

There are many reasons to develop cultural intelligence.
First, building cultural intelligence helps you work effectively with people who are different from you. Whether you're working abroad or leading a culturally diverse team, it can mean the difference between success and failure, and the difference between solving problems and creating them.
High cultural intelligence will also help you build rapport with a new team, adjust to a new department, or work well with a cross-functional team.
Last, high cultural intelligence is a predictor of strong job performance in a new culture. Research shows that professionals with high cultural intelligence are more successful in international assignments. They work more effectively with different groups, and they adjust more easily to living and working in the new culture.

Developing Cultural Intelligence

Anyone can improve their cultural intelligence. According to Dr David Livermore, an expert on cultural intelligence and author of the 2011 book "The Cultural Intelligence Difference," there are four things that contribute to it:
  1. Drive.
  2. Knowledge.
  3. Strategy.
  4. Action.
According to Livermore, you must develop each of these to be culturally intelligent. Let's look at how you can do this.

1. Drive

Drive is your motivation to learn about and adapt to a different culture. People who aren't interested in what shapes a particular culture are unlikely to adapt well to it.
But think of what happens when you make an effort to learn about this new culture. Your mind is open, and, instead of seeing difference as a difficulty, you see it as something that you want to learn about.
To strengthen your drive, make an effort to explore new cultures and communities. For example, try the following:
  • Get to know people in different neighborhoods and social groups.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Keep an open mind when talking to people who are different from you, whether they're from a different culture, ethnicity, political or ideological group, or simply a different organization.
  • Volunteer for projects that put you in contact with different departments, organizations, or cultural groups.
Confidence is also important, because interacting with different cultures can be challenging. Build self-confidence by setting and achieving small goals, and by putting yourself into new situations.

2. Knowledge

Cultural knowledge isn't about learning a new culture inside out. Rather, it means learning about how culture in general shapes someone's behaviors, values, and beliefs.
To broaden your knowledge of this, start by learning about a culture that you're interested in, or that you're working with. Books such as Do I Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands? will give you a good overview of cultural differences, and you can also deepen your understanding by observing how people from different cultures behave.
Whenever possible, watch people from these different cultures interact. Pay careful attention to their body language. For example, do specific gestures and facial expressions mean different things to different people?
If you work with culturally diverse team members, use tools such as the Seven Dimensions of Culture, Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions, and Wibbeke's Geoleadership Model to understand what makes colleagues' cultures different. And research the significance of particular behaviors, beliefs, and rituals to understand the way that they are likely to affect your working relationships.
It's also important to learn about how a culture's history affects people's values and actions. Again, begin with a culture that interests you or with which you are familiar, and explore how past events drive current behavior.
Tip 1:
It's especially important to understand a country or region's history when relocating there, or when putting together a local team. Try to learn about the background of the region, nation, or ethnic group that you're going to interact with.
Even a basic understanding of past events can give you more of an insight into people's values and behaviors, and it will help you avoid obvious faux pas.
Tip 2:
Use our ' Managing in...' series of articles to learn more about working in different countries.

3. Strategy

The "strategy" component of cultural intelligence describes the (often instinctive) planning that you do as a result of being culturally aware. It involves taking what you have learned from being aware of cultural differences, and making robust, culturally sensitive plans as a result.
This is actually quite simple - if you make a habit of thinking about cultural differences and their impacts, they will naturally feed into your planning.
There are several ways to build this habit into your daily life.
First, question your assumptions about why things happen differently in different cultures. Use a technique such as the 5 Whys to get to the heart of what you're seeing or hearing.
  • A colleague in Japan sends a polite reply to your email asking him to do something, but then doesn't start the task. Why?
  • Your Japanese colleagues may consider that saying "No" is impolite. Why?
  • This is part of their cultural heritage, which also applies in the business environment. Why?
  • Japan's traditions have developed over thousands of years, and are deeply rooted in people's daily lives, including in the workplace. In addition, Japanese workers tend to identify strongly with their employers, and are unlikely to do something that could cause offence to colleagues and managers.
This example shows how an understanding of Japanese culture could help you to phrase requests in a different way in the future. It also shows how the concept of politeness differs across cultures. A manager who understands this would change the way that he asks people to do things, when working with colleagues in other cultures.
You can also improve your awareness of cultural interactions, whether at work or in public, or by studying local media, movies or magazine articles. This reveals new insights into how culture affects people's working lives.
Livermore suggests keeping a diary of your cultural observations, noting down your frustrations as well as your successes. You can then use your notes when you are solving cross-cultural challenges.

4. Action

The last part of cultural intelligence relates to how you behave, and, in particular, how well you adapt when things don't go according to plan.
Cross-cultural interactions won't always go smoothly, so it's helpful to be able to think on your feet, and to stay in control of your emotions.
Learn about business etiquette in the culture in which you're working; this will help you with the culture's social and business rituals, and it won't go unnoticed.
When observing a different culture, pay close attention to what people say and do. For example, explore their voice intonations, body language, and conversation style. This will give you a deeper understanding of them, and help you interact with them in a better way.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Understanding Workplace Values

Finding the Best Cultural Fit

Your newest recruit, Brandon, has been working with your team for several weeks now, and you're wondering if you made a mistake in hiring him. His workplace values are very different from those of your team, and from the values of your organization as a whole.
Your core team members care passionately about doing work that helps others. They value teamwork, and they're always willing to pitch in or stay late if someone is behind on an important deadline. This has led to a culture of trust, friendliness, and mutual respect within the team.
Brandon, on the other hand, wants to climb the corporate ladder. He's ambitious and ruthless, and he wants to focus on projects that will either build his expert status or achieve a public win. The problem is that his core career values clash with the core values of your team. This divide is causing infighting and bad feeling within the group.
We all have our own workplace values. And, while you can't always make sure that each person's values are perfectly aligned, you can try to hire people who fit. In this article, we'll look at how you can better recognize and understand these values – the attitudes that "make them tick."

The Importance of Workplace Values

Your workplace values are the guiding principles that are most important to you about the way that you work. You use these deeply held principles to choose between right and wrong ways of working, and they help you make important decisions and career choices.
Some (possibly conflicting) examples of workplace values include:
  • Being accountable.
  • Making a difference.
  • Focusing on detail.
  • Delivering quality.
  • Being completely honest.
  • Keeping promises.
  • Being reliable.
  • Being positive.
  • Meeting deadlines.
  • Helping others.
  • Being a great team member.
  • Respecting company policy and rules, and respecting others.
  • Showing tolerance.
Your organization's workplace values set the tone for your company's culture, and they identify what your organization, as a whole, cares about. It's important that your people's values align with these.
When this happens, people understand one another, everyone does the right things for the right reasons, and this common purpose and understanding helps people build great working relationships. Values alignment helps the organization as a whole to achieve its core mission.
When values are out of alignment, people work towards different goals, with different intentions, and with different outcomes. This can damage work relationships, productivity, job satisfaction, and creative potential.
The most important thing that you need to do when interviewing someone is understand his or her workplace values. After all, you can train people to cover skills gaps, and you can help people gain experience. But it's really hard to get people to change their values; and they will be "problem workers" until they do.

How to Identify Important Workplace Values

Before you learn how to identify the values of others, make sure that you understand your own values. For example, does meeting a project deadline take priority over delivering exceptional work?
Once you have a thorough understanding of the values that are most important to you (see this article for a list), you can better understand and identify others' values. Your goal in identifying these is to raise awareness and encourage good behavior and habits.
Start by talking with your most respected team members about the workplace values that they feel are important. Ask them to brainstorm the values that they believe are most prevalent among good performers, and list these on a whiteboard or flip chart for them to see.
Once they have come up with their ideas, work together to cut the list down to the five most important workplace values. (Use Nominal Group Technique if you have any problems reaching consensus.)
Next, discuss how people demonstrate these values every day. How do they make these values come to life? And how can you encourage more of these behaviors?
You can also talk to team members one-on-one to get a better idea of their workplace values, coach them to explore beliefs and values, or simply study their behavior. For instance, team members might say that they value teamwork, but it's the people who stay late to help a colleague who actually demonstrate this.
Also, check your employee handbook or rule book. Organizations often list their values in these documents. Pay a lot of attention to these.
You can also identify organizational values by looking at how people work within the company, and by looking at the actions that the organization has taken over the last few years.

How to Understand People's Workplace Values

To create a cohesive team, you need to identify people who will fit best with its culture and values.

Ask Focused Interview Questions

When you're interviewing potential team members, do what you can to identify their workplace values – this is usually the most important thing that you need to explore at interview. There are several ways to do this.
First, ask questions focused around your own organization's workplace values. For instance, imagine that you want to find a team member who, among other values, is highly tolerant of other cultures.
You could ask questions like these:
  • "Describe a time when you had to work with a wide variety of people. How did you go about identifying and understanding their points of view? How did you adapt your own working style to work more effectively with these people? What was the outcome?"
  • " Has there ever been a time when your beliefs clashed with someone else's on your team? If so, how did you overcome these differences?"
These questions encourage interviewees to open up about how they approach these issues. See our article on structuring interview questions for more on this.

Use Role-Playing Scenarios

When you're interviewing a new recruit, use techniques such as role-playing, or an Inbox/In-tray Assessment to see the potential hire in action.
Set up scenarios or problems that are subtly centered around the workplace values that you're looking for. People in role-playing scenarios have to think on their feet, which means that it's difficult for them to adjust their behaviors to the ones they think you want to see. This means that you're more likely to get an accurate look at how they would behave in your team.

Look at Past Work History

You also need to look at the potential recruit's past work history. Examine the organization that they worked at previously to identify any possible clash in values (this might be most obvious if they've worked with a well-known competitor).
Keep in mind that while most people can be coached to adapt to a new working culture, some professionals will find it hard to shift their priorities. Deeper values may be very hard to change.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Zero Defects - Quality management

Explaining the Idea

Zero defects is a way of thinking and doing that reinforces the notion that defects are not acceptable, and that everyone should "do things right the first time". The idea here is that with a philosophy of zero defects, you can increase profits both by eliminating the cost of failure and increasing revenues through increased customer satisfaction.

While this will probably be true, it may not be true in every case!

"Zero defects" is referred to as a philosophy, a mentality or a movement. It's not a program, nor does it have distinct steps to follow or rules to abide by. This is perhaps why zero defects can be so effective, because it means it's adaptable to any situation, business, profession or industry.
The question that often comes up when zero defects is discussed, is whether or not zero defects is ever attainable. Essentially, does adopting a zero defect environment only set users up for failure?
Zero defects is NOT about being perfect. Zero defects is about changing your perspective. It does this by demanding that you:
  • Recognize the high cost of quality issues.
  • Continuously think of the places where flaws may be introduced.
  • Work proactively to address the flaws in your systems and processes, which allow defects to occur.
Zero defects is a standard. It is a measure against which any system, process, action, or outcome can be analyzed. When zero defects is the goal, every aspect of the business is subject to scrutiny in terms of whether it measures up.

"The quality manager must be clear, right from the start, that zero defects is not a motivation program. Its purpose is to communicate to all employees the literal meaning of the words 'zero defects' and the thought that everyone should do things right the first time."
"Quality Is Free" by Philip B. Crosby (McGraw-Hill Books, 1979)

When you think about it, we expect zero defects when we are talking about items or services that we use. If you buy a fancy new plasma TV and your pixels start burning by the thousands, you demand satisfaction. When you take the car in for brake service, you expect that the mechanic will install the parts exactly as the manufacturer prescribes. No defect is an acceptable defect when it affects you personally.
So why then, is it so easy to accept that "defects happen" when you are the one producing the product or providing the service? This is the interesting dichotomy that presents itself. Zero defects is one of the best ways to resolve the discord between what we expect for ourselves and what we can accept for others.

Be very careful about where you apply zero defects. If what you're doing contributes towards a mission critical or complex goal, you'd better adopt a zero defects approach, or things could quickly unravel.

However, if you fanatically follow a zero defects approach in areas which don't need it, you'll most likely be wasting resources. One of the most important of these resources is time, and this is where people are accused of time-destroying "perfectionism."

Adopting Zero Defects

There are no step-by-step instructions for achieving zero defects, and there is no magic combination of elements that will result in them. There are, however, some guidelines and techniques to use when you decide you are ready to embrace the zero defects concept.
Management must commit to zero defects. Zero defects requires a top down approach: The best-intentioned employees cannot provide zero defects if they are not given the tools to do so.
  • When you decide that zero defects is the approach you want to take, recognize that it likely represents a significant change to the way people do things. Manage the introduction using the principles of change management.
  • Understand what your customers expect in terms of quality. Design systems that support zero defects where it matters, but don't over-design if the end-user just doesn't care.
  • Zero defects requires a proactive approach. If you wait for flaws to emerge you are too late.
  • Create quality improvement teams. Zero defects must be integrated with the corporate culture. Zero defects needs to be accepted as "the ways things are done around here".
  • Learn poka – yoke (POH-kay YOH-kay.) Invented in the 1960s by Shigeo Shingo of Japan, it translates to "prevent inadvertent mistakes". It's an approach that emphasizes designing systems that make defects almost impossible or, if they can't be avoided, easy to detect and address. To implement zero defects, you have to have strong systems in place.
  • Monitor your progress. Build mechanisms into your systems and methods of operating that provide continuous feedback. This allows you act quickly when flaws do occur.
  • Measure your quality efforts. It is important to express your progress in terms of the bottom line. Take baseline measurements so you understand the cost of defects in your organization, and can measure the benefits your achieveing in eliminating them.
  • Build quality into your performance expectations. Encourage members of your team to think about how they can achieve zero defects, and reward them when they're successful. 
  • Recognize that although zero defects is a destination, circumstances keep changing. Monitor, evaluate, and adapt in a continuous, never-ending cycle.