I’m struck by the fact that some companies still send people to key positions abroad without ensuring they have the skills to survive in a totally different world and be successful. Of course it often doesn’t work. And the mistake is hugely expensive. Making it internationally takes a whole lot more than making the numbers back home. But you’ve got to have the right people.
So at ICM we decided to find a way to help our clients identify those people who are most likely to make it internationally. We use a web-based questionnaire to provide feedback on three different sets of key facets, all crucial to operating as high-performing “culture bridgers”. Our statistically valid and robust set of data assesses Culture Bridging Skills© (CBS©) in candidates for overseas assignments. The data analysis has identified four profiles.
The Local Champion
These are managers who usually get excellent results in their local environment. But although they are aware that international careers are important for their development, international travel and cultural differences are just not their thing. They get irritated when people who speak other languages, or work differently, want to do things their own way. They are not ready to give up on successful recipes in exchange for some unknown, untested (by them) approaches. Local Champions like being at home. They’re not keen on learning a new language or being far from their home base. If they absolutely have to move, Local Champions will do everything they can to recreate conditions in the new place that are as similar to those back home as possible. Their learning curve for successful overseas performance is likely to be steep and long, and some won’t make it.
The Friendly Backpacker
Friendly Backpackers are always ready to move. They love it. They are curious about new people, new cultures, new foods, new climates, new clothes, new behaviors and they tend to mumble a few words in more than two or three languages. Their tolerance for differences is probably greater than that of many of their colleagues.
Friendly Backpackers sometimes find business demands difficult to handle. They don’t want to “impose” ways of doing things on people without making any allowances for difference. Their tendency is to make allowances for people who “might not have understood” what you meant; or who “are used to doing things differently”; or who “have not been trained in the same cultural environment” as head office. This can jeopardize the kind of team leadership their organization expects and they know this might also jeopardize their career development. But it is a price they are willing to pay.
The Cultural Professor
Cultural Professors know everything about cultural differences on paper and read up a lot about the countries where they are going. They enjoy learning and debating about values, political and religious realities (when possible) and other subjects of this kind with local colleagues. They also feel that international work has its downsides. For example, Cultural Professors might master several languages but they are far more at ease with reading in these languages than taking the risk of sounding silly speaking it. They don’t enjoy the challenge of having to rely on people who approach things in different ways. Cultural Professors get irritated when cultural theory doesn’t play out in practice. In short, they’d rather discuss the cultural basis for different decision-making processes than have to deal with them! They might not be the best types to recruit for stressful operational positions as they are more at ease with the theories of difference than with people who are different.
The Culture Bridger
Culture Bridgers are the excellent and effective leaders at home and internationally, combining personal pleasure in meeting people who are different with adapting to the challenge of doing things differently. They often wonder about whether they are “doing it right” but they also have a way of keeping calm, gaining people’s confidence and finding out how to do things that makes people want to follow them and work with them.
Culture Bridgers are attracted to different people, places and things and feel that their life is enriched by entering into new and different relationships and testing out new ways of doing things. So they actively look for how to go to and integrate into new environments. They are also clear about their own values and so don’t feel personally threatened by other world views. Deep down Culture Bridgers believe that building trust and a shared sense of belonging with people who work together wherever they might be is the most important success factors in a cross-cultural, international business context. And they are successful!
So, who are you? Wouldn’t you be interested in finding out? And wouldn’t you like to have an idea of your corporate culture bridging index? All of this is possible.
Stay tuned to www.icmassociates.com to learn more over the coming months about our Culture Bridging Skills© diagnostic, the profiles and facets and how it might help you make the right choices first time round.