Do you have a strategy for managing diversity in the workplace?
With the recent news about the 2015 Immigration Plan in Canada, we can see that our population will become increasingly diverse. So I hope that business leaders are becoming more aware of how our workforce is changing. And additionally, businesses need to consider that our customer base is changing. So it is timely for organizations to start developing a strategy around Cross-Cultural Leadership for Managers.
What IS Cross-Cultural Leadership?
For most of us, we have developed our leadership skills in a workplace based on our own culture. We make assumptions that people “just know” what is expected of them. But there are many different approaches to communication and interaction. These in turn are influenced by the culture in which we were raised.
Cross-Cultural Leadership requires that managers recognize these differences. And further, that they put processes in place to help people work together effectively. And it is not just about helping people from other cultures to adapt to our existing culture. It goes much further to integrate the entire workplace (“old” and new).
Many people associate culture with different appearance (colour, size, etc). Additionally, we look at differences in languages, religious practices, food, music and clothing But these outward appearances can be misleading. And often, have little significance compared to real cultural differences.
These real differences are based on different beliefs and values. These beliefs and values drive our behaviour – both consciously and unconsciously. Cross-Cultural Leadership requires the ability to recognize, analyze and influence behaviours in a positive way.
Is Cross-Cultural Leadership different than Intercultural Leadership?
There are many aspects which are the same. But I believe where it differs is in the scope of diversity. For example – intercultural could be interaction between 2 cultures. Whereas I believe the scope of cross-cultural can be more wide ranging. In my research, I looked at the number of different countries of origin on the team as a measure of diversity. In some cases, each member of a cross-cultural team may be from a different country. So it can become very complex!
Thus, I have focused my diversity training courses on this complex cross-cultural scenario. And specifically – looking at the specific tools, techniques and processes for managing widely diverse work teams. This needs to be built on the foundation of “regular” cross cultural or intercultural leadership. But then it takes it a step further. It requires managers to assess what processes need to be changed to accommodate a more diverse work forced. Managers of culturally diverse teams will need tools to help their employees perform well in this new environment.
Are there disadvantages to Cross-Cultural Leadership?
We hear a lot about the advantages of diversity for innovation and creativity. But it takes much more than just putting people from different cultures together and expecting them to work effectively. Integrating workers from different countries and cultures can be difficult. There is the increased potential for conflict and misunderstanding. And you can’t expect people from other cultures to just “know what to do”. Leading people from different cultures requires specialized skills. And you may need to adapt your communication and other processes. So like anything else that’s worth while – it will take some time and resources to be able to gain the full benefit.
How do we develop Cross-Cultural Leadership for Managers?
As with any management and leadership competency, Cross-Cultural Leadership requires a combination of approaches. Professional development needs to be based on these 3 pillars:
First, we need new knowledge about cultural differences. We need to understand how culture develops. How does it impacts people’s behaviour and performance in the workplace?
Second, we need a deep self awareness of our own cultural conditioning (beliefs and values). We all have it, but often aren’t aware of it. But once we recognize it, we can then choose to act differently.
Third, this knowledge and self awareness needs to be applied. By definition, a competency is a demonstrated skill. So while we can start with some case studies and exercises, we must eventually take this into the real world.
5 Steps to develop Cross-Cultural Leadership for Managers
While there is much written about the concept of Cross Cultural Leadership, managers also need the practical tools for day to day management. That is – how do we actual implement Cross Cultural Leadership in our business units?
Here is where I have integrated my research and experience:
- The relationship of cultural diversity and team performance
- The relationship of culture, strategy and organizational performance
- My training, knowledge and experience as a Manager
This lead me to develop a 5 step approach for developing Cross Cultural Leadership. This is outlined in my book How to Manage Culturally Diverse Work Teams. And it forms the basis for my online cross cultural leadership training.
There are many benefits to intercultural awareness training for people at all levels and positions in an organization. But here, we focus on developing cross-cultural skills for managers based on the following 5 steps:
1. Develop knowledge about the dimensions of culture
This is really the foundation of cross cultural awareness. How is it that people from different cultures can perceive things so differently? Why do we have different values? What causes unexpected actions and behaviours? I introduce Geert Hofstede’s dimensions of culture and other related research to build this understanding. And we specifically assess how it impacts the work place. This knowledge positions managers to interpret how culture influences beliefs, values and behaviours.
2. Understand the dynamics of diverse groups and team
Once managers understand the basis of individual variation, we now consider team diversity in the workplace. We learn to analyze how these differences influence interaction between individuals and groups. We begin to understand how conflict can happen, and why we need to actively manage diverse teams.
3. Assess our own cultural conditioning
We all have some level of cultural conditioning, which impacts our decisions and actions. So managers need to assess how we bring these into play in the workplace. From that awareness, managers can make more conscious and effective decisions. We can improve our ability to interact with people from different cultures.
4. Develop new skills in cross-cultural communication
Now that we understand our differences, we can look at how to communicate more effectively. We can begin to diagnose where and why communication may break down between people from different cultures. One of the most important things for managers to learn is setting clear expectations. And to confirm that employees truly understand what is being asked of them.
5. Develop and implement specific business practices and tools
Building on Cross-Cultural Leadership (which we have developed in the first 4 steps) we can now examine our business processes to determine what needs to be modified. We can implement and/or modify existing management tools for managing cultural diversity in the workplace. For example, tools such as a Team Charter can help set expectations within each team. A workplace code of conduct clearly communicates expectations for all employees, and the consequences of non-compliance.
Be patient about developing Cross-Cultural Leadership and Management Skills
Managers of intercultural teams need to develop a plan to increase their skills over time. In my book and course, I guide managers through assessing their skills and setting goals. It’s important that each Manager set an actionable and measurable plan to increase their cross cultural leadership competency over time.
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