Posted by Julian Tan, Wednesday, 7th May 2014 @ 1:05pm
24 April 2014
How To Successfully Manage Across Cultures
SBPWA sheds no tears peeling the cultural onion
In today’s increasingly borderless world, studies have shown that 70% of ventures’ failures are due to cultural differences, 82% of multinational firms lose money in China, 90% of leading executives from 68 countries named multicultural leadership as their top management challenge. The cost of a first year expat assignment overseas is on $700,000 SGD, many of which fail.
The understanding and practice of Cultural Intelligence can be critical to success in the global village. It is a top management challenge for many leading executives in multinational firms. Recognizing this, the Singapore Business and Professional Women’s Association (SBPWA) on 24 April held a forum to introduce and discuss CQ (Cultural Intelligence: The capability to function effectively across various cultural contexts (national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc.) (Ang, Van Dyne 2008).
The event was attended by members from the association, affiliates, as well as invitees from prominent firms of diverse industries. Facilitated by Ms Vanessa Barros and Ms Ng Sow Kam, both of whom have had more than twenty international careers with Fortune 500 companies around the world, culture diversity was immediately highlighted when the role play suggested by Ms Barros had the guests greeting each other in the customary manner of various different countries. The forum also established that cultural difference is not confined by national boundaries, but pervasive across other aspects such as inter-departmental functions, inter-disciplinary faculties, industries or skills.
The proverbial onion was progressively peeled to uncover symbolism of words, tone, and gestures. What may be perceived in one culture as a show of respect and friendship could be offensive or inauspicious in another part of the world. Such faux pas, at any level whether corporate, industrial or government, may be the inadvertent cause of unnecessary misunderstandings. The outcome of these may be comical or embarrassing, or result in lost business opportunity, but in severe cases, they could lead to accidents, death, even war, when the costs of cultural mishaps become too big to ignore.
The culturally intelligent business executives are those who are able to harness four capabilities. They are motivated to learn and understand other cultures, apply the knowledge in their strategies and take action in a manner more aligned.
There is no right or wrong, good or bad, to be judged in any culture, simply that they are different. One’s words and deeds, borne from a set of pre-conditioned underlying assumptions, will invariably be interpreted by others according to their sets of assumptions. Knowing this is a good first step in the right direction.