THE KEY TO INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS SUCCESS : Cultural Skills for Business in the Global Mobility Arena...

With the rise of the Global Manager, and the importance of the adaptation of strategy for understanding and communicating from one culture to another, there has never been a more important time for Global Mobility Specialists to appreciate the importance of the contribution that Cultural Awareness makes on the pathway to senior leadership roles; for creating an agile talent pool; and to maximise the impact and efficiency required in every long term, short term or developmental assignment.

Staggering statistics indicate that at least one in every four International Assignments fail!

The reasons given are usually cultural challenges, family issues, homesickness and the inability to adapt to the local business culture, where a seemingly insignificant or trivial mistake can jeopardise working relationships and immediately affect business success.

An awareness of cultural differences and sensitivities, in other words, having a Global Mindset, will minimise and mitigate costly misunderstandings, promote better communication, and manage expectations ahead of the assignment.

But it’s not quite as simple as that…

What are the elements that impact on business relationships across borders? What are the critical elements for different cultures? How can assignees recognise these critical elements and ‘learn’ how to adapt their own approach in order to work more effectively with foreign clients, colleagues, counterparts, partners, suppliers or customers?

A recent study reported that 91% of Companies see a Global Mindset as ‘mission’ critical…

BUT do assignees really know and understand the Cultural Rules of Engagement, DO companies really understand the scale and importance of cultural issues, and are they really aware that most issues are both country specific and unique to each country or culture?

Every assignee will already have their own cultural mindset (the one that they’ve developed from birth, by exposure to the culture in which they’ve grown up) and every assignee will have their own pre-conceptions of other cultures. If assignees need a Global Mindset, for ‘mission’ success, then they need the Cultural Intelligence to recognise cultural differences. They also need country specific knowledge, and an awareness of business and social etiquette, in order to be properly prepared for their ‘mission’. This Global Mindset must be learnt, and it is unsurprising therefore, that the relevant training and support can make the crucial difference between an assignment’s failure and success. The relevant focus on those elements that increase an International assignee’s effectiveness in the target country, is therefore vital to a successful assignment…

  • It transforms the assignee experience

  • It provides valuable tools and strategies to expedite adaptation

  • It significantly reduces the risk of frustration and culture shock, by managing expectations within the cultural setting; and

  • It eases the burden of the Global Mobility Manager

With the expertise that Global Mobility training delivers, the benefits are financially tangible from recruitment and selection, to project support and repatriation, in fact, throughout the entire assignment cycle, providing a positive impact on relationships and productivity. It’s no coincidence that in a recent study of Business Professionals, the results conclusively showed that the impact that a Global Mindset had on professional success, meant that Professionals with that mindset:

  • Were three times more perceptive, adaptable and productive

  • Felt twice as valued as other assignees; and

  • Were four times more likely to be promoted

The challenge for any organisation doing business internationally is, therefore, not only to appreciate the importance of understanding cultural diversity, but to enable its integration within the business strategy, in the context of its business goals.

If a business needs to:

  • recruit or develop a Global Workforce

  • employ frequent cross border travellers

  • relocate people to other countries on temporary or longer term assignments

  • work with culturally diverse, remote or virtual teams; and

  • secure new International Business or develop existing International Business in the Global Market place

then to stay relevant and competitive, the correct Global Competency Framework is required.

What’s important is to achieve the right strategy, for the right people, in the right International Market.

Success will follow!


Business Success in ASEAN – Why Cultural Awareness is Crucial

Written by Jonathan Rice, Senior Consultant at Farnham Castle Intercultural Training

The ten nations of ASEAN are growing in economic power, and their markets represent a major opportunity for UK businesses, especially in our uncertain post-Brexit world. However, whilst it is a routine – if not necessarily easy – process, to work out the value of your products or services to the people of South East Asia, getting that message across is a far more complicated matter.

ASEAN countries may be close to each other on the map (although flying from, say, Manila to Jakarta is hardly a quick hop), but culturally they are very different, and there is a great deal of potential for unwary foreign business people to trip up. For a start, there are three major religions which shape the cultures of the region – Islam in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Southern Philippines; Buddhism in Thailand and Myanmar; and Christianity in the former French areas of influence of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, as well as in the majority of the Philippines. Singapore stands slightly apart in terms of the importance of religion in the daily lives of its people, but all religions are represented on the island, including Sikhism and Hinduism. It is vital to ensure that you are aware of the impact that these different faiths will have on your business dealings within the region.

Politics is another matter. In many parts of the region, religion and politics are closely linked, but in others they are carefully separated. The best advice is to steer clear of political discussions as much as possible.

Throughout the ASEAN region, you will find that people are less individualistic, and more likely to think in group terms, than we are in Western Europe and North America. Never talk up your own skills at the expense of others, and always be proud of your Company.

Alongside this tendency to identify with a group, comes a strong sense of hierarchy. Respect is given to people of a higher rank in a Company, and in wider aspects of society, simply because of their position. People are often referred to by title, rather than by name, so the title on your business card sends a powerful message. This respect for rank is something that visiting Westerners need to take note of, even though it is not the same across the whole region, being much more marked in Malaysia than in the Philippines, for example.

In general, you will find that family takes a very important place in the daily lives of the people you will be working with. Whilst we, in the West, try to battle with the work/life balance, with work winning out rather more often than it should, in Southeast Asia you will find that family events take precedence over work requirements, in a way that will seem surprising to the visitor. This sense of family is very strong, and the word itself does not just define the immediate nuclear family of husband, wife and children, but takes in cousins, uncles, aunts and so on. The ‘head of the family’ might be somebody’s great-uncle, an old man who many members of the family hardly know, but his role and influence in their lives can still be powerful.

Hierarchy, group identity, and respect for age and rank are common themes throughout the region, and these traits tend to create tight knit societies which can be hard to break into. Networking and getting to make friends of the individuals in the Companies you deal with, is important. This all takes time, of course, so patience and persistence are other qualities that are extremely useful in creating business opportunities in the region.

A final thought – practically all of the countries of ASEAN were for several hundred years, until only about 60 years ago, colonies of European powers, mainly British, French, Spanish or Dutch. This experience means firstly that there is an intense pride in their independence as nations, but also that there is a degree of shared cultural experience with Europeans that is very useful in building bridges of understanding. The superior Westerner is not appreciated. The person who adapts their business to the local cultural needs and habits, will prosper.

Celebrating the Festival Of Lights

Yesterday, Hindus celebrated the first day of Diwali: “Dhanteras” (Day of fortune). Observed over five days, Diwali, the Festival Of Lights, is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu calendar, celebrated by over 1 billion Hindus in and outside of India. The festival, meaning 'row of lights' in Sanskrit, brings together friends and families as Hindus celebrate the removal of negative forces from their homes and lives. Throughout Diwali, houses, shops and public places are decorated with lights, symbolising the triumph of good over evil. The small lamps, called diyas, are used to expel darkness and welcome prosperity, health and happiness.

ThinkstockPhotos-607753164 - Diwali lights.jpg

The high point of the festival is the third day, Diwali (Day of Light). The day of Diwali varies as it is calculated primarily based on the moon, and falls between the 17th October and 15th November. This year, Diwali is celebrated on Thursday, 19th October. It is marked by fireworks and is also the last day of the Hindu year in many regions. It is said that on this day, Lord Rama vanquished the demon Ravana in an epic battle. Upon his return, his people lit lamps throughout the country to guide him home in the dark and mark a new era of peace.

If you would like to learn more about Indian culture and business etiquette, please get in touch or keep an eye on our events section for the next open webinar.