Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Tale of Two Hamburgers was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams…

David Livermore tells a story of a problem McDonalds had when they started operating in India. The company motivates work teams in the USA and Europe by rewarding hardworking employees with the distinction of “employee of the month.” It was very successful in America where people want to be noticed and individualistic…it was a total failure in India where people want to blend in and be part of the group in a collectivist culture.

In this series on multi-cultural leadership, we have been talking about the important subjects of  communication, trust, and human resource policies. Today I will share some ideas about the subject of how to approach motivation in different cultural situations.

As we saw in the example of McDonald’s trying to motivate their employees, well-intended motivational plans can sometimes cause more harm that good.

Motivating employees to accomplish more in both quality and quantity is one of the most important jobs that a leader or manager must do. And it often is not easily done when working in one culture, but complications are magnified in a multicultural setting.

2 Kinds of Motivation

Motivation is usually divided into 2 types: extrinsic (outside of oneself) and intrinsic (inside oneself.)

The rewards gained from extrinsic motivation will “push” an employee to do tasks that he would normally find boring, unlikeable, or even disgusting. These rewards may be something as little as a smiley face on a daily assignment written by a 3rd grade teacher, to all-expense-paid vacation for meeting a large sales goal, a raise in salary, or a job promotion. Often, people think of these as financial rewards, but they can include many other things such as notoriety, fame, parental or coworker approval, etc.

This varies by culture. As an example, lets think about parents wanting to motivate their child to do better in school. Extrinsic motivation in the United States and other Western countries would typically be to provide an external reward (an ice cream cone or more TV time) for better grades. External motivation in a “shame and honor culture” (like some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures) would be to criticize, scold, or punish the child for disappointing grades. For an excellent TED Talk on the subject, you can watch Dan Ariely.

Intrinsic motivational rewards are positive feelings received from the task itself simply because the employee enjoys the work. My wife is intrinsically motivated to solve Sudoku puzzles. Me…not so much.

Where Culture Meets Motivation
As if motivating employees wasn’t hard enough in one culture, it is greatly complicated when dealing with multiple cultures. I only have time to share 2 today.

1. Choice– More choice typically is very motivating for employees from individualist cultures and generally decreases motivation for those from collectivist cultures.

2. Competition– Having a more competitive environment will usually motivate individuals from individualistic cultures while it normally will demotivate workers from a collectivist culture.

For the multicultural leader, we must think through the important issues of motivating our employees of different backgrounds. It’s hard work, but the “rewards” (intrinsic and extrinsic!) are great.

The Banana Verses the Banana Pepper

Banana and Banana Pepper-smallI was shocked every day when it came to the multicultural event of eating lunch. It was my first job and I was only a young teenager. I worked washing trucks for a meat packing company and several of the employees were Mexican immigrants. As a white suburbanite, I was used to pretty bland food and my new friends were used to very spicy food. I never got used to seeing them put hot sauce on every bite of every kind of food they ate. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw one guy put a drop of the spicy condiment on a banana. It makes me smile to think about it even now.

This series is about multicultural leadership and we have looked at communication issues and     trust issues so far. Today we’re going to talk about human resource (HR) policies.

We can only scratch the surface here, but these are just a few important areas to consider when developing HR policies for multicultural teams and businesses.

1. Corporate culture versus local culture- For a multinational corporation, one important aspect is creating a corporate culture across the entire enterprise. If (probably more likely “when”) some of the corporate culture issues clash with local culture, which one takes precedence?

2. Employee relations- How deeply and and how people interact is somewhat determined by culture. This will effect relationships between employees when they come from different cultures. One example is handshakes. In America, a firm handshake is considered essential for making a good impression. In the Arab world, handshakes are very loose. How to reconcile the myriad of cultural differences that effect employee relations is important to consider.

3. Family practices- Family systems in different cultures vary immensely. Working spouses, maternal/paternal leave, vacation policies, and childcare are only a few of the major considerations. I remember sharing with a friend from another culture that 2 of our sons work at the same bank in the USA and he replied, “That would not be allowed in my country.” In China, I would often talk to spouses who were raising their child by themselves because the husband or wife was studying overseas for many years to benefit the extended family, while I know of few Americans who would make that kind of sacrifice. This shows the greater importance of the extended family in China and the nuclear family in the USA.

4. Career planning- Culture effects career planning in many ways. It is well known that an American will move a great distance away from their family for a relatively small bump in salary while and Indian will not be willing to move to another city or country for a much larger salary.

These are just a few of the problem areas that HR managers face in multicultural settings. They are serious matters and have great impact on any business or team working across cultural boundaries.

What’s the Worst Way to Win the Nobel Prize?

leukemia-dreamstime_5630117-smallDr. Robin Warren and Dr. Barry Marshall, who won the Nobel Prize in 2005, were convinced that the H. Pylori bacteria was responsible for stomach ulcers when most of their colleagues were convinced that stress was the problem. To prove their point, Marshall drank a dose of of the bacteria that they had collected from several stomach ulcers and proved their point. That is one way to be a leader and change culture. Let me just say I’m glad I study culture and not ulcers!

In this series of posts we have been talking about how to become better leaders of multicultural teams. In my last post, we looked at 5 things that can break trust in multicultural situations and today we are going to look at how we can build trust.

Remember that trust is the foundation of all human relationships and must be cultivated and developed. One of our main jobs as multicultural leaders is to create an atmosphere where trust can develop between ourselves and the team and between team members.

Trust is ultimately an ethical issue. Not only do we have to maintain high ethics to build trust, but we have to be aware of what ethics are involved in the various cultures of our team members and live ethically according to each of the cultures involved. How is this done? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Study- Learn and try to know as much as you can about the cultures of your team members and what their idea of ethical behaviors is in their context and culture. Ask questions and be a student.

2. Dialogue- Take time during team meetings to address these issues where they conflict between cultures of team members. Bring the issue to light and try to help everyone on the team understand each other better.

3. Be Agreeable- Help the team members agree on a common team culture that supersedes each individual team members’ culture and see that everyone commits to live up to the standards of the common team culture.

4. Release- As a leader, we can lead by example and let go of aspects of our culture (which are important to us) that cause problems and pain for other team members. That is true leadership. We also need to release control of how we think others should act according to our cultural framework.

5. Be Vulnerable- In every culture I can think of, trust is built by being vulnerable and “real.” As leaders, we don’t need to hide our faults and and our failures, but we need to be transparent and open to share our defeats as well as our successes. For some reason, most people have the idea that we build respect by never appearing to have problems and failures, but the opposite is actually true. By sharing our defeats, team members are drawn to us in a greater way.

In the next post, I’ll talk about how we can be better leaders in the area of human resource policies as it relates to multicultural contexts.

“That’s Me!”

Discussion-dreamstime_1466208-smallerI was conducting a seminar in Egypt for multicultural leaders and dealing with the subject of cultural differences. The audience was almost completely North American and Western European (individualistic cultures) and I was sharing about how people from collectivists cultures tend to think and interpret the world differently. During one of the breaks, Carlos, one of the few Asians in the room, came up to me and said, “Man, that’s me! That is totally the way I think”

Differences in interpreting the world around us are just one of the difficulties we face in multi-cultural leadership. The current series is about how do be a better multi-cultural leader. Part 1 was an introduction, Part 2 was about high-context and low-context communication.  Part 3 and   Part 4 were about direct and indirect communication. In Part 5, I talked about the importance of trust and things that break trust, and today I will share some specifics as to why cultural differences create trust problems.

Quick review: Trust is the foundation of all human relationships and can take a long time to build and be quickly destroyed.

So for today our question is: how do cultural differences make building and maintaining trust even more difficult? Here are a few reasons.

1. Communication is harder. In this blog from the past I talked about communication differences between cultures. These differences can be seen as withholding information which is known to break trust (from my last blog.)

2. Ethics are different. Different cultures tend to view relationship and responsibilities differently, which can lead to misunderstandings about honesty and dishonesty. As we discussed in the last blog, this can break trust.

3. Western reliance on contracts and non-Western reliance on relationships. Westerners value contracts in a business relationship and non-Westerners value relationships. For non-Westerners, the relationship is what matters, so agreements can change as the relationship changes. Not wanting to have a contract or not abiding by the written contract can be seen as deceitfulness and unreliability to Westerners– something that will break trust.

4. Leadership values and styles. Leadership and management styles differ greatly between cultures. Westerners working for non-Western managers tend to feel controlled by management and want more independence. Non-Westerners working for Western managers usually want more guidance, instruction, and oversight than the Western manager is willing to give. Both situations destroy trust.

5. Different attitudes toward time. Some cultures are “clock time” cultures in which appointments are governed by the clock and tend to be exact. Other cultures are “even time” cultures and starting times tend to be very loose according to the clock. This is a problem because lack of promptness or precision in deadlines and meetings often destroys trust in Western people’s thinking.

These are some important issues to think about and deal with in multi-cultural leadership.

Next time we will talk about how the leader of international teams can build trust among members.

I Punched Myself In the Nose

defiance-dreamstime_1117360-smallThe kid was much older than me and was the bully of the neighborhood, but I thought he was cool and wanted to please him. So, when he told me he wanted to see how strong I was I trusted him. When he told me to hold my palm up and make a fist, I trusted him. When he told me to pull up as hard as I could so he could test my strength, I trusted him. When he quickly pulled his hand away, I punched myself in the nose. I never trusted him again.

Trust is the foundation of all human relationships and is made more complicated when team members  are from different cultures. We’ll talk more about that in just a minute.

This series is about how do be a better multi-cultural leader. Part 1 was an introduction, Part 2 was about high-context and low-context communication.  Part 3 and Part 4 were about direct and indirect communication. Today I will talk about trust.

4 Things That Break Trust
Unfortunately, trust can take a long time to build and can be destroyed quickly in one instant. That is why we need to constantly keep in mind how to build and maintain trust among our co-workers. The following 4 things will quickly destroy trust and should be avoided at all costs.

1. Talking about others behind their backs (gossip.) Most people enjoy hearing juicy bits of gossip about others, but we always walk away with the thought, “What is he saying about ME when I am not around?” This will destroy trust. Don’t do it.

2. Not doing what you say you will (undependability.) Trust is built when we do what we will say we will do at the time we say we will do it. Not being dependable will break down trust. Don’t do it.

3. Giving false information (dishonesty.) Even when it comes to small things (“white lies” we call them in American culture), falsehoods never lead to trust. When someone is dishonest, even in a small thing, we always wonder, “What else is she lying to me about?” Dishonesty kills trust. Don’t do it.

4. Withholding information (secrecy.) The old adage says: knowledge is power. We’re wrong if we believe and practice that principle because it destroys trust in relationships. Withholding vital information hinders trust. Don’t do it.

Wow! Just NOT doing those 4 things can be really hard because of old, bad habits we have been practicing. I believe it’s important, though.

On top of that, building trust is even more difficult in a multi-cultural situation. We’ll look at that next time.

Question for discussion: Think of a time when trust was broken in a relationship you had. Was it because of one of the 4 trust-breakers mentioned above? Please post your thoughts and comments.