Building Cross Cultural Knowledgebase

“How do cultures affect management practices?”

Most organizations have some kind of business relations with customers, companies, employees and other stakeholders in other countries and cultures. It is not easy to get our message across and convince people with different cultures, and the challenge is greater when they have different values and beliefs, and communicate and perceive differently.

Let us go through the following real-time scenario to gain an insight about the importance of understanding cultures:

Organization ABC based out of Chennai, India was trying to locate an onsite resource for the client based out of Johannesburg, South Africa. The client Ms. Nancy asked the Project Manager Mr. Sekhar to send her, 10 profiles for evaluation for the post. Nancy shortlisted 5 profiles for further evaluation and asked Sekhar to set up interviews with the individuals. Over the next two days, Nancy interviewed the shortlisted candidates and did not shortlist anyone. She gave feedback to Sekhar that none of them were competent enough and she would want better profiles for the job onsite. Sekhar over the next 2 weeks arranged for profiles and interview, and Nancy did not select anyone again. Nancy was unhappy that Sekhar was not able to source good profiles to her.

Sekhar was not able to understand what the problem was, and decided to speak to Nancy to understand her feedback. The conversation was as follows:

Sekhar: Hi Nancy, how are you doing?

Nancy: Hi Sekhar! I’m doing really well. How are things on your side?

Sekhar: Glad to know that. Things are doing okay here, thank you for asking. Nancy, wanted to understand your feedback on the profiles we have sourced over the past few weeks. Would it be okay to ask you a few questions?

Nancy: Sure, Sekhar.

Sekhar: Nancy, in which areas do you think the candidates were lacking, what was the key reasons for not shortlisting them. Aren’t they matching your technical requirements?

Nancy: No Sekhar, all the profiles that you had shared are matching our technical requirements, but during the interview we found that the people were underconfident.

Sekhar: Nancy, if you wouldn’t mind, could you please help me understand why you feel the participants are underconfident.

Nancy: Sekhar, it shows in their tone and voice, they were speaking at a very low tone and it’s a clear sign that they are underconfident.

Sekhar: Thank you Nancy, for the feedback. I’m sure that we will be able to find the right candidate for you in the next 3 days.

Nancy: Thanks Sekhar! Looking forward to it.

Sekhar, immediately spoke to his Resource Manager and it was understood that what Nancy was perceiving as underconfidence is actually a cultural trait. Most of the Indians, speak softly which in the United States is taken as under confidence. Americans, on the other hand speak assertively and even loudly, which sometimes is perceived to be aggressive by Indians.

Sekhar arranged for 3 more candidates to be interviewed by Nancy two days later. Before the interviews, they were trained on how to speak assertively and in a higher tone. Next day after the interview 2 out of the 3 resources were selected and called onshore. Nancy was very happy with the candidates and appreciated Sekhar.

If Sekhar, would have known about the cultural traits he would have been able to save almost 2.5 weeks of time and effort to source the required candidates onshore. This could’ve been achieved had he had cross-cultural training and access to a cultural knowledge base.

As the marketplace is becoming more and more global, products and services offered worldwide by
organizations must face the multi-cultural environment challenges. These challenges occur not only at a customer relationship level but also at an employee level. These can be addressed by maintaining a cross-cultural Knowledgebase, which everyone can refer to.

Culture Knowledgebase needs to include implicit basic assumptions that guide behavioral types norms and values that guide the society, explicit artifacts, dos and don’ts of respective client’s culture. The Knowledgebase should capture the diversity across (but not limited to):

  • Centralized vs. Decentralized Decision Making
  • Safety vs. Risk Taking
  • Individual vs. Group Work
  • Short-Term vs. Long-Term Horizons
  • Stability vs. Innovation
  • Cooperation vs. Competition
  • High vs. Low Organization Loyalty
  • Informal vs. Formal Procedures

Sample cultural attributes:

United States Japan India (in a flux)
Freedom Belonging Family Security
Independence Group Harmony Family Harmony
Self-Reliance Collectiveness Parental Guidance
Equality Age / Seniority Age
Individualism Group Consensus Authority
Competition Cooperation Compromise
Efficiency Quality Devotion
Time Patience Patience
Directness Indirectness Indirectness
Openness Go-between Hospitality

Building cross-cultural knowledge base will help team members understand different cultures, avoid committing the same mistakes and manage perceptions better.

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