Category Archives: Cross Cultural

Managing Your Personal Career Transitions

Most people have changed jobs at least once and for some, they have even changed career to start afresh in an entirely new role. For example, a number of ex military people have joined the financial services industry.  Change implies experiencing a certain level of discomfort and confusion, even though you have a successful track record in your past work experiences.

Working for a new company means meeting new faces and being part of a new team. Though you may know some of your team members professionally or personally, working with them on an almost daily basis would imply an adaptation period and learning curve to go through.  The novelty of the new workplace can be exciting and stressful at the same time. Coping with stress successfully depends on whether adequate resources are available and your coping style suits the needs of the situation.

Each company has its own culture with implied set of rules and behavioural norms. At the start, you may feel like “a stranger” learning to “fit in” with your co workers. You are hoping that, after a few months, it will no longer be “me” and “them”. It will simply be “us”. This period of adaptation comes with moments of discomfort at times when you ask yourself: “Have I made the right choice?” There are also moments of satisfaction when your personal contribution to the team is largely appreciated.

Some corporate cultures facilitate the integration of newcomers by allowing organizational boundaries to be permeable. Businesses add new people to their team in the hope that they will induce changes to the existing corporate culture. Such changes can be positive as it can lead to the emergence of new perspectives on existing challenges or innovative ideas about the business.  In this scenario, newcomers, in building rapport and trust with their fellow co workers, will perceive themselves as core organizational members over time.

At other times, you still feel like “an outsider” even after a year in the job. It may not be necessarily your lack of skills.  It can be your personal perception of things. It is also sometimes due to the corporate culture of the business that does not provide for the integration of new members.

A more challenging move for progressing your career is making a career shift.  Skills and knowledge are transferable so making career changes is doable. The perceived level of difficulty is higher as there may be no existing comparative framework in your existing repertoire of past work/life experiences. You may find many things to be challenging such as the “ways of doing things” and the “language used” in the new career you have chosen. Each industry has its own “jargon” or technical terms used.

As a result, you feel like a “Newbie” even though you have been working for a number of years. Having the status of a “beginner” can actually be an opportunity for you to bring a fresh approach and allow you to stand out. It is your choice of whether you would like to be “one of them” or being “you” and still be part of the industry community.

Perception with your set of beliefs and values sometimes determine how far you can go in your new career or in a new job.  In both cases, your successful integration relies on your behavioural flexibility, level of critical thinking, humility and openness. Your level of emotional intelligence is another determining factor. Reaching out to people who have had similar experiences or working with a mentor, whose career you would like to emulate, can help you assess whether you are on the right track or not.

It is also important to bear in mind that every culture is dynamic whether it is corporate culture or that of the industry at large. So, timing is sometimes critical and making the wrong choice once does not mean that you won’t be able to carry out the desired changes. It means that you would need to continue on looking for the opportunities that allow you to progress your career.

Managing Your Learning Curve

For the past few decades, the economic landscape has changed with the automation of many manufacturing processes. Online shopping, e books and internet banking has led to the closing of many high street shops/bookshops. Banks have cut down their number of retail outlets. Jobs such as running a printing press and shorthand are obsolete. Concepts such as digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship have emerged and their corresponding skills set are now “in demand”.

To survive in this new world, you cannot possibly be expected to have all the skills and knowledge needed throughout your entire career. Most people have had to adapt to the continuous change in their job requirements over the years. For one to have a successful career, you need to have retained the love of learning and exploration. Progress depends on new ideas and challenging the status quo. Having a creative and courageous mindset and being resilient when making mistakes are important. The ability to accept the unknown and to remember that we always have a choice of turning back and choose another route facilitates your learning curve. Being in touch your emotions allows you to check in with yourself and understand what your learning style is. Learning by doing is one approach. Mind mapping or listening to podcasts are other strategies used for learning.

As part of a team, you can leverage the collective wisdom of the team for your professional development. It is sometimes a good way to fast track your learning curve as each team member can contribute to the pool of knowledge and skills. This is why it is critical to acquire the skill to work within teams. A group of people with different skills set, personality types and life experiences working together allows for divergent thinking – generating as many solutions as possible.

However, not everyone enjoys working in teams and it takes a lot of hard work to be a great team player.  Collaborative skills can be challenging to acquire for a number of people. Groups of people may start as equals at first. Over time, a drift towards inequality of participation emerges with people segmented into roles and ranks: leader, moderator, chronic objector, advancing ideas, etc.

For some people, winning at all costs is what matters. They seek to dominate others and they fail to learn by experience. They are “sociopaths”. Unfortunately winning means that there are losers and focusing on winning dampens creativity as trust, safety and fairness is not part of the equation. An obsession with score keeping constrains thinking and undermines the very innovation it hopes to spark. Sociopaths are unable to change as they don’t see the need to and they tend to have poor judgement of wrongdoing.

People with Asperger Syndrome also have persistent difficulties with social interaction and communication. They process information differently from the “mainstream”. There are a number of strategies that they can use to communicate better. Contrary to a sociopath, someone with Asperger Syndrome can add huge value to a team if they are aware of their personality and have received training to make up for their lack of social skills.

Your learning curve can be fun if you are able to continuously fuel your internal motivation. For example: the energetic desire to make a great contribution or to make the most of what is given to you can facilitate your professional development.

This post has been inspired from the book: “A Bigger Prize” by Margaret Hefferman.

How Does My Dual Cultural Heritage Influence Business Practices?

How Does My Dual Cultural Heritage Influence Business Practices?

There are a number of us living at the cross roads of 2 or 3 cultures. We may have parents of 2 different nationalities and have grown up in a third culture. The most typical example would be that the parents or grand parents migrated to another country and have brought with them their ancestral heritage. Their children or grandchildren grow up with a mixed cultural heritage. Growing up as adults sometimes brings up a few soul searching questions as to who we truly are.

When Eny Osung and I met, our discussions inevitably led to Africa, a passionate subject for both of us as the continent brings up memories that have largely influenced our lives. I have spent a number of years travelling to various parts of Africa for work and Eny was brought up in Nigeria.

I have invited Eny to share with us how his cultural heritage has shaped his life.

How Does My Dual Cultural Heritage Influence Business Practices?

The Oxford Dictionary defines cultures as ‘The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of Ia particular people or society’. Coggins goes further in stating that ‘Culture is the values, attitudes, and ways of doing things that a person brings with them from the particular place where they were brought up as a child. By definition, culturally, I am a confused nomad as I have been brought up in two distinctly different cultures, United Kingdom and Nigeria. Perhaps you may conclude by the end of this post that I am better categorised as ‘culturally schizophrenic’ in my outlook and behaviours.

If asked, I would instinctively answer that I am more a man of rational decision-making based on the situation rather than conforming to any particular pattern of beliefs and behaviours. However, writing this post has been a journey of self-discovery, moving from assumptions through the process of analysing and documenting my ideas, approaches and practices in my life today as the owner and managing director of Small Business eMarketing Ltd, a growing digital marketing consultancy that I founded two years ago. I want to know am I quintessentially British or Nigerian in my outlook and behaviours? Am I the product of one dominant cultural influence or perhaps a mixed hybrid version of common beliefs and approaches of the two?

Answers to these questions matter in the context of Investopedia‘s assertion that “Corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviours that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.

So within the context of being a business owner, the big question is whether the corporate culture I have developed, the way I treat people and run my company, is determined by the British or Nigerian culture? As with any journey of self-discovery, it is impossible to know exactly where I will end up. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the conclusion is that I am more of a freak than I care to believe.

Let’s start with a brief background of my childhood and how I came to be a British child raised in Nigeria and then living and growing old as a British adult into my now middle age. I will then examine the parts of my life where the evidence of cultural influences is clearly evident before concluding with insight into the effect of my cultural experiences on my business approaches and practices.

Background

That’s me in the middle with sister (front) and uncle (right)

 

My story begins at birth to a pair of academically successful parents (Dad a doctor and mum a professor in a multinational food manufacturer) who moved to the UK in the late 1960s. Their busy work schedule and burning ambition saw my sister and I taken to Nigeria at the age of two and one respectively, to live with our maternal grandparents.

Mum and Dad soon divorced. Mum re-married a British man and started a new family. Inexplicably, she promptly forgot about us two children that were in Nigeria, apparently because we were safe and happy with our Grandparents. We had the good life in Nigeria, living as the privileged first grandchildren to a world-renowned Doctor and village royalty – Granddad owned several hospitals with orphanages for children whose parents were not able to care for them and was also a village Chief with large expansive compounds to boot. We spent our childhood befriending and playing with the children in the orphanages and the servants’ children.

After years of our father begging annually to be given custody of his children to bring back to the UK  we eventually left village life in Nigeria aged 11 (me) and 12 (my sister)  to live in Tooting, South London. Granddad would go on to be Nigeria’s Secretary of State for Health soon after we left the country. To our dismay, coming back to the UK soon saw the three of us living in one room in a Bed & Breakfast Hotel in posh Wimbledon Village. Spending the remainder of our childhood in state care as ‘looked-after’ children cemented this period as the most traumatic we had experienced up to then. My sister and I survived children’s homes and then foster care, before both moving into our accommodation (bedsits) on our 16th birthdays. So ours was a childhood of neglect as babies, followed by living in luxury with a sense of superiority over less-privileged children in Nigeria, to teenage years in the UK living a similar existence to the orphaned children we grew up with in Nigeria. At least we were somewhat prepared for the lifestyle reversal!

A degree and Masters later I have since married a British wife with whom I have three dual heritage children, Crystal, Perry and Kobias.

Identity

I am certainly thankful that my sister and I came back to the UK when we did as I fear the outcome of staying in Nigeria for even one more year and the difficulty that would have presented in my efforts to re-integrate into British society.

Looking back, I always identified myself as British even when I was a child because I was born in Woolwich, East London and always dreamed of coming back to the UK. In my mind, Nigeria was always going to be a stop-gap in my upbringing. I can admit that in my youth, I used my Britishness to justify my privileged status and lifestyle in my mind. I have often described myself as more British than most other British people because of my good spoken and written English as well as my enjoyment of British foods, values and general way of life.

Cultural influences

Now 30 years on it feels like the right time to reflect with eyes wide-open. Am I am more British or Nigerian in my outlook, beliefs and business practices?

Without a doubt, my childhood in Nigeria plays a large part in many things I enjoy and who I am. However, as I intimated earlier, I would like to think that my life experiences both in the UK and Nigeria define me in equal measure for reasons that I will outline in the remainder of this post. Let’s look at the evidence

Personal life

On a personal level, my upbringing in both Benin City and London has affected these areas of my life:

 

The Benz

Any Nigerian worth their salt is judged on one fact only: owning a Mercedes – it doesn’t matter how old or the condition of one’s Merc as long as you drive the car with that star on the bonnet. To paint a picture, Granddad only ever drove or travelled in his Mercedes. Furthermore, one of my uncles, Vasco was a very wealthy man who owned every Mercedes model from the two-door to the jeep, all gold-coloured, obviously. Yes, he had them all parked in his heavily protected garages every evening.

I can safely say that I achieved this Nigerian goal in my late 30s when I bought my Mercedes E240 Avantgarde. Now my quest for driving heaven has been satisfied, although admittedly, I break out in a cold sweat at the thought of what my next car should be – I cannot contemplate driving any other vehicle to make until my dying days.

 

Education 

I grew up with nine uncles and aunts in Nigeria – four doctors, two accountants, one architect and two lawyers. So education was always going to be a priority for the family and I. Learning and getting qualifications was even more of priority given the fact that Nigeria does not have free education at any level, so Granddad had to pay our fees. Furthermore, schooling is Nigeria is essentially a process of learning to pass exams as failure resulted in physical punishment, disapproval of the fee-payer and subsequently staying a year behind your age cohort, which could go on indefinitely. There was a 16-year-old man with disabilities, Elise, the Head servant’s son, who failed the end of year exams so many times and repeated year after year until I caught up with him when I was ten years old, for example.

I have approached and been relatively successful academically in the UK because I brought ambition to succeed academically as well as the skills to pass exams, thankfully. I lived for test and exam days at high school and university, with a little inherent interest in attending classes or the learning process itself. I was even awarded a Professional Doctorate at 21 years of age!

 

Food

While I enjoy tasty fish and chips, Sunday roast, bangers and mash as much as any other British person, I have to admit that I would climb mountains for good old jollof rice and meat stew! Give me a plateful of incredibly slimy okra soup and pounded yam and I will be your friend for life! In fact, I am a sucker for anything with chicken and gizzard stew and rice or yam with cow foot stew (See pictures).

My passion for spicy Nigerian food is so strong that I keep healthy relationships with some Nigerian people for no reasons other than the fact that they are willing to cook my favourite dishes every so often.

 

 

Distrust of government

You’d have to be living in a very deep cave not to have heard about the plague of corruption that is virulent in Nigeria. In fact, David Cameron was recently caught discussing this with the queen. My experience of living in Nigeria is that corruption has and continues to cripple the country. It is endemic at all levels of Nigerian society from the average member of the public right up to government levels. Put simply; you have to pay someone a back-hander to get anything done.

Consider an entrepreneur who wants to open a new petrol station in the oil-rich country, which sounds straightforward, but is nothing of the sort! He would first have to buy the land for the petrol station, which cannot happen until he pays a bribe to the local chief to stave off unwanted attention from the authorities and criminal gangs. A bribe also has to cover the local Police for them to guarantee the safety of the enterprise. The risk includes staff, facilities, products, deliveries and operation. The State Governor obviously has to be paid off to give permission to the business, as does the relevant Secretary of State. Depending on how far the materials have to travel, it is likely that other chiefs, state police and regional officials also want their cut too.

Indeed it is hardly surprising that few people start innovative businesses in Nigeria.

The putrid corruption machine in Nigeria led me to have a deep distrust of government and authority as a child. For better or worse, this distrust is now part of who I am today. The effect is that I can’t bring myself to vote for any government that I believe is not on the side of the average man on the street -not the squeezed middle class but staunchly socialist and firmly on the side of ‘benefit man, wife and children’, even if that bankrupts the country.

 

Parenting

My youngest son can’t help but accept his is partly Nigerian as he has a Nigerian middle name that he happily recites to my delight when asked his name. I have done my best to drum being the Nigerian into my children, spectacularly unsuccessfully in the case of my older twenty-something offspring.

I have deliberately stayed off the over-controlling practices that many Nigerian parents typically exhibit behind closed doors. They include routinely physically chastising children, believing that children should be seen and not heard, and assuming that they know best what is right for their children. The over-zealous parenting does not stop there. Add the dreadful insistence that the children must go to fee-paying private schools in Britain and a ridiculous demand that religious belief must be part of children’s control mechanism and you get the picture of ‘healthy’ love for children in Nigerian culture!

You will see the most Nigerian part of my parenting  in two areas:

 

  1. Good manners

My kids also know that I am a fanatic for manners – that the quickest way to cause a meltdown in the home is to forget to be courteous to anyone older than them. However, a simple ‘hello’ ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ virtually gives them a free pass to have a joyous day.

 

  1. Ambition and academic effort

Another essential part of my Nigerian identity that my children cannot ignore is my focus on academic effort. Again while I accept individual differences, they know that I will not accept anything less than them trying hard to do well in any academic task. Admittedly this has been a challenge for my two older children. Initially, I sought to make them adopt my values but quickly realised that doing so would require me to be everything I hated about the adults in my life when I was growing up – over-dominant and resorting to corporal punishment at the drop of a hat when they didn’t do things my way. However, it quickly became evident that taking a harsh stance with them was placing an enormous strain on our relationship so for better or worse, I chose to back off and used a light touch parenting technique instead.

 

Religion

One part of my Nigerian heritage that I have sought to leave behind is the irrational religious belief that appears to afflict Nigerians. As a child, I dressed up in my best clothes and went to church with the family every Sunday. I have to admit there was a sense of status turning up in our Mercedes and sitting in our allocated seats; such was my granddad’s influence and status in the community. I also admit that I regularly failed to put all of the money that grandad gave me into the collection bucket. Instead, I would sneak out to the shop to buy sweets/snacks.

My reasoning was simply that the church did not need the money given that the priest had his own Mercedes, a lovely big house and dressed far too smartly for a poor man. As I grew up, I began to see the church as a corrupt organisation that was part of the oppression of the people rather than a force for help and good. Materials I read about things like the slave trade and colonisation of the third world when I got back to England reinforced this belief. The incredible sight I witnessed when I went back to Nigeria as an adult in my early 20 further reinforced my doubts about the church. I saw the entire village trooping off to church several times a day with all of their worldly goods, including food, to give as offerings in exchange for Holy Communion.

The following poster beautifully captures my distrust of the church.

This distrust has fuelled my passionate belief in taking action to achieve anything in life or business. Never will anyone hear me pray to a divine being for anything, much less when things do not go as planned. My belief in taking action is one of the most important things I have actively encouraged in my children. We live by the mantra of self-sufficiency and taking personal responsibility for everything that happens; we never resort to praying or hope for divine intervention. I believe this has a massive impact on our outlook on life in that every day; we strive to be better and achieve more each day.

 

Impact of cultural heritage on business

Picking out discernible cultural-specific business practices is difficult. However, I will highlight three here that are important to me: Business with a conscience, customer service and management.

From as long as I can remember I have always had an entrepreneurial streak in me. My uncles and aunties reminded me that as a little boy, I started a business reselling sweats and food to other children with a huge markup, naturally. My struggle to understand why I am so determined to succeed as a business-owner in my current business was the hardest part of writing this post.

I eventually found the answer many months after I started writing in an article by Bisila Bokoko. It is that “African entrepreneurship is unique and laudable in the fact that at its core, profitability and gain are not bigger than the will to substantially improve living conditions of local communities… providing the impetus for economic growth and social equality.

Here’s how this entrepreneurial mindset plays out in my my digital marketing business.

 

Business with a conscience

Having spent most of my childhood playing with children in the orphanage in Nigeria, it was a stunner to find myself living on the other side as a child in care in the UK. I am enormously grateful to Social Services for actually raising me, regardless of the challenging experiences that go with the care system.  Both of these experiences have resulted in me having deep empathy with people, especially children, who are less fortunate. I turned my back on the typical Nigerian parent’s ambition for their child to be a doctor, accountant or lawyer, much to my father’s annoyance – determined to put right the wrongs of my childhood for children in care and disabled children. In fact, I spent 15 years (most of my adult life) managing Advocacy Services and doing business development roles for the charity until I set up my digital marketing consultancy.

My digital marketing company is motivated in large part by this empathy for those less empowered small businesses and start-ups who are handicapped my market forces in the digital marketplace. Put simply; most consumers are online these days, and if a business is not online, they are as good as finished. However, most local small business owners do not have the expertise to make the Internet work for them. Neither can they afford the exorbitant prices that many professional marketing agencies charge. As a consequence, local small business’ Do-It-Yourself (DIY) marketing typically leads to wasting ridiculous amount of time to stand still or worse still, lose money and sink. The alternative option is no more palatable because it involves spending a king’s ransom that they cannot afford with digital marketing agencies that do the bare minimum and more often than not, does not bring a Return on Investment.

You have to know Rachael’s story to understand what fuels my perspective.

Rachael’s story in brief

  • Child in care
  • Became her advocate at 13 years of age to secure funding for university course in contemporary dance
  • Advocated successfully on her behalf of financing for books, materials, course trips, accommodation on school holidays, etc.
  • Paid Rachael’s’ tuition fees for Masters course
  • Rachael starts company making handmade Union Jack brogues
  • Rachael can’t get buyers despite having a website, mentor and bank loans

The reality is Rachael is not the only entrepreneur with a brilliant idea and products for whom the Internet seems rigged against getting customers online, making a profit and growing their business. The plumber and electrician you know, and the local shop near your home, have the same problem as Rachael. The Digital economy is passing them by while the big businesses with large marketing budgets and teams dominate every sector – do a quick Google search for any area you like and you will see that only large companies appear in the top results!

I am driven to change the equation by providing professional results-driven digital marketing that will enable local small businesses to compete with the market leaders!  The challenge is finding the digital marketing formula that gets sales online consistently and replicating that cost-effectively to clients. My mission is to give 500 businesses the knowledge and services to reach their ideal customers online and get sales by 2020.

The following graphic illustrates the current situation of the company at the time of writing this post, two full years into my mission. 

This graphic is significant in highlighting the reality that the road to achieving our mission is a journey that involves continuous improvement and frequent changes of strategy based on applying the best knowledge and expertise that we have at any particular moment in time.

 

Customer Service

I am a staunch believer in exceeding customer’s needs and expectations. I exist to delight my clients and leave every one with better systems and processes to benefit in the digital marketplace. To that end, I am probably more American than either British or Nigerian in that sense as I feel both are lacking when it comes to delivering exceptional customer service as a norm.

My customer service ethos comes from some Harvard Business Review articles I came across in my early days in management consulting. We reflect this in our firm by the enormous sense of failure that we feel when a client leaves because we have not delivered to their expectations.

A forensic examination of what went wrong and ways to improve for the future typically follow these experiences. To be honest, it is usually one of many reasons that are not always down to our poor performance. The issues include not being clear about what we can deliver, and not explaining the complexity of achieving the client’s goals. On the other hand, the issue could be not being forceful in getting the client to do their side of the commitments to make marketing work, etc.

As you will see in the following section, we actively take steps to address the issues that arise in the business.

 

Management

I have been to the proverbial entrepreneurial well and drank from it! I have lived the startup life in which every day was a challenge full of ups and downs, feast and famine, etc. To be honest, I quickly realised that trying to do everything myself was getting me nowhere except exhaustion and burnout. Something simply had to change!

That change came from talking to other business owners in the digital marketing sector and beyond. Perhaps business coaching has had the biggest influence on the way I run my business today. One of the first and best pieces of advice I got was to read books. Michael Gerber’s E-Myth was a massive eye-opener that gave me understanding of my journey up to that point and how to move forward.

I have since read many books and attended many coaching sessions that have emphasised being deliberate, structured and consistent in behaviours and actions being the foundations for growing a business. Implementing the strategies have involved getting rid of my lax approach to time that results in being late to every appointment which I blamed on African time.

Another essential part of managing my business is empowering my team by using participative management style. Other effective business practices I adhere to include documenting/testing/refining systems and adding more structure to everything I do by working to a set weekly diary, building a team, delegating tasks and working on my business.

I feel it is important to emphasise my dislike of paying tax –in fact any mention of the word or indeed HMRC brings me out in a terrible rash. That is not to say that I avoid paying the tax I have to pay. However, like most small business owners, I am happy to take advantage of any opportunity to delay and reduce my tax bill by any legal means necessary!

 

Conclusion

This post has been a therapeutic self-reflection in which I hope you agree have kept my promise not to be my judge and instead leave it to you to decide if my Nigerian or British upbringing primarily dictates my outlook and behaviours. Maybe you can see a mixture of both cultures or perhaps neither. I totally accept that I addressed this topic (cultural influences) based on personal and therefore anecdotal evidence. Doing so runs the risk of irking British and Nigerian people who may feel that my representation of the culture does not do justice to them. Rest assured, my aim is to inform, educate and entertain in equal measure.

Am I a cultural schizophrenic? It is over to you!

 

Bio

Eny Osung is Founder and Managing Director of Small Business eMarketing Ltd (http://smallbiz-emarketing.com), a Croydon-based digital marketing consultancy that provides email, social media, search optimisation, Pay-Per-Click, Video, and Mobile App marketing as well as coaching for small businesses to reach more people on the Internet.

He is passionate about helping business owners get essential services, knowledge and skills – which he satisfies through his marketing business, business networking group (South Croydon Omni Local Business network) and his podcast show: Eny’s Happy Hour that goes out on www.businessradio.co.uk at 12 pm every Wednesday

 

 

 

 

Self Awareness Is The Best Tool In Periods Of Transitions

Self-Awareness is the ability to observe yourself without any judgement. You accept everything about you: your strengths and your weaknesses. Everything about life is about ups and downs and this is reflected in human nature. What is dangerous is not making any effort of nurturing a strong relationship with yourself.

How you relate to others is more to do about how you relate to yourself. Managing your fears and hopes, learning new skills, using your guts instincts are all part of managing your relationship with your own self. Assuming that there is nothing that you can do about your own personality and everything is about others’ attitude towards you is more about being the “victim” and not being your own master. How many of your existing relationships do you have where you feel comfortable to be in your own shoes? If it is over 90%, then you are living true to your spirit. On the other hand, if it is a struggle to interact with people around you whether at work or in your personal life, then it is time to raise your self awareness.

Self awareness takes you out of your comfort zone as it challenges you to think differently. Your set of values and beliefs may need re assessment. What has served you so well in the past, may be getting in the way of you achieving your goals. There is no need to discard everything and adopt new ones. There is always some fine tuning to be done. Flexing your behaviour is not achievable if you are not ready to discard your pride. It is your pride that “tells” you that your past achievements give you the right to think that you know best. Each level of success requires you to go through a learning curve and that can be done most effectively when you are ready to be the “student”.

You have to take risks: to be in that place where nothing is for sure – you can be winning or losing. Whatever the outcome, it is the experience that matters. It may sound cliché. The human brain – all it knows is limits, potential, options. If you show the way to a range of possibilities then the mind gets used to think out of the box. There will be less “what ifs” on the next round. Of course, failures have a negative impact. They can stop you in your momentum. It is not your potential self that is stopping you. It is that part of you that is all about “know it all”. Well, that is part of your limitations. Your potential self is more excited about adventure, getting to do things differently. There may be parts of your personality that you will get to know better when you are willing to open your horizons.

Of course, there will be those moments where you feel inadequate as a true beginner is. You are used to know what to do next and you are now totally confused. This state of confusion, if taken too seriously, undermines your confidence. If you tackle it by making it more as a game then the pressure eases off considerably. At some point in time, you will feel that this is becoming something of second nature to you. Getting used to not knowing everything is a great skill when you start a new job, make a career change, relocate or start a new phase in your life.

Taking steps towards goals are real affirmations as your unconscious can actually “witness” your actions. The more steps you take towards your goals, the more you are comfortable in doing them. That raises your self confidence, boosts your morale when you focus on your ease in doing them rather than the missed attempt.

As Lao Tzu once said: “Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it. So, be like water:).

How To Build A Strong Performing Team Across Different Cultures And Borders?

With cloud computing, web conferencing and other technological tools, more and more people are expected to work in virtual teams. Teams are often set up for a specific purpose such as an investment transaction and they are then disbanded upon completion of the transaction. It implies that the newly set up team have to learn to collaborate, within a short space of time, so as to be able to complete the tasks or project that they have been assigned to. Team work now takes a whole different meaning.

Virtual teams are sometimes large in size involving 50 people or more, based in various countries and coming from different professional background. How to ensure that such teams are able to live up to the expectations of their employer(s) ?  Working in such teams requires a number of soft skills: flexibility in behavioural style, ability to put yourself in the shoes of others (empathy), keeping an open mind and self awareness. They are skills that are not acquired through technical training but mainly through trial and error, coaching and commitment towards oneself if you intend to pursue a career in multinational companies.

It is also the responsibility of the employers to create an environment that encourages a collaborative culture and minimises intercultural disharmony. When employees are valued for their contribution and value based behaviour, they are encouraged to be a valuable team player. Incentives that focus on credentials and age are restrictive as they do not reward those who go the extra mile to ensure team cohesion. It is true that some cultures value seniority and hierarchy. Building team cohesion in these cultures would mean encouraging the senior executives to set the right example. A great performing team would certainly lead to more career advancement for everyone including the team leader and the senior executives involved.

Efficiency needs to be measured by how the team as a whole has reached consensus in making choices. Rapid and fast decision making sometimes leads to frustration amongst the team members as they may feel not being listened to. Frustration, anger can lead to disruptive behaviour from those same team members. Implementation of any decision becomes more of a challenge as no team consensus was reached. Decisions will then have to be reviewed or changed at a later stage leading to additional unexpected costs.

Culturally diverse teams are indeed more complex to manage and lead. It is important to set certain ground rules: conflict resolution, setting up and running meetings. As human beings, we tend to pay more attention to negative information because it is a sign of danger. Unresolved conflicts or tension amongst team members of different cultures may lead to the wrong assumptions being made about these cultures: “They are incompatible and cannot work together”. All efforts of building a strong team spirit have then been wasted and having to start from scratch once more is very disheartening for those involved.

A great team is one which can regularly attract the right talents because people are more than willing to join them. The team dynamic is such that it encourages the right attitude amongst the team members. Performing teams are able to resolve day to day issues on their own and lean towards their team leaders or senior executives for strategic direction. Team leaders do play an important role in helping the team members resolve issues. Mentoring and coaching become embedded in their attitudes towards managing their teams.

Encouraging and nurturing social relationships amongst the team members is an important investment to make as it helps them to bond and build trust from within. Over time, they tend to genuinely care for each other and are open about what works and what does not work in terms of team dynamics. When the team, as whole, become conscious of their weaknesses and discuss openly about them, they become stronger as they are willing to face their inherent challenges and find solutions that work for the team. Hiding behind excuses or blaming others actually undermines the respect that outsiders have for the team members.

It is essential that team performance is not limited to quantitative targets such as number of investment transactions achieved or level of sales attained, time to implement or complete the project. Other indicators such as level of absenteeism amongst the team members, regular review of the soft skills set of each team member, how well each team member know each other are important to assess the team’s performance. Incentives need to ensure that the interests of the team members are all aligned and they are meant to cooperate and not compete with each other.

Mixed Marriages/Interracial Relationships Are About Being With Each Other.

I would like to thank all those who participated in the survey. Your feedback is very useful and I am grateful that you have been willing to share something of your personal lives. A big THANK YOU!

50% of the respondents have been together with their partners or spouses for more than 15 years. One third of the respondents have been in a relationship for less than a year. There have been more women taking part in the survey than men.

Interracial marriages require a lot of personal commitment from each partner or spouse. Based on the responses received, some couples have overcome challenges to be together. They have had to face family dissent in some cases and have remained firm in regards to their personal engagement towards their partner/spouse. It shows that mixed marriages/relationships are more about breaking down the barriers of cultural ignorance and learning to be with someone, more for the person as he or she truly is.

Two thirds of the respondents chose “shared core values” as one of the foundations of their relationships. Common interests seems to be the second most important factor in building strong bonding between the two partners or spouse. “Love, adoration and respect” has been the basis of the strong bonding according to another respondent. In this case, mixed marriages/relationships do not seem to be any different from any other relationship that someone builds over time. Friendships, family bondings, business partnerships also require some of those ingredients for them to last over time.

Listening to each other and continuous communication have been chosen as the means to resolve conflicts between the partners/spouse. Over 80% chose to resolve their disagreements internally. Very few have chosen to use an external party to help them and in a few cases, time heals the rifts between the partners/spouse.

For those who have children, raising their children is about teaching them their shared core values. Some couples have chosen to give their children the freedom to choose their own religious faith. None of the respondents choose to educate their children in both religious faiths, indicating that religious education is not a priority. It is difficult to imply anything as I have not made any survey for marriages/relationships of the same race.  However, it is true that most parents educate their children those core values that they believe their children need to endorse.

The main advice that the respondents give, based on their own experiences, is to focus on building the bonding between the two partners/spouses. What others think is less important. It is also important to be aware that a mixed union comes with different challenges and be prepared for them. Being curious about each other’s cultural background helps to nurture mutual respect for each other.

My biggest take away from the various responses received – interracial marriages or relationships are about being with each other as they truly are… it is not about the partner’s social status or what he or she represents but more for the person as he/she is at the time of the relationship. Because of the additional complexity of the challenges, it is difficult to be in a relationship if the motivation is anything other than strong feelings of love and respect. I hope that the results of the mini survey is useful to the readers and gives you some useful insights as well.

Mixed Marriages/Partnerships/Relationships – the Reunion of Two Worlds

Mixed Marriages/Partnerships/Relationships – the Reunion of Two Worlds

Mixed marriages or interracial marriages have been the subject of a number of political and social debates. In United States, interracial marriage became legally possible in June 1967 when Richard and Mildred Loving won their legal battle. The Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Alabama was the last state to repeal the law prohibiting interracial marriage in 2000.

In real life, mixed marriages have been the subject of much controversy because a lot of attention is focused on the cultural gap to be filled in between the two spouses or partners. The preservation of one’s cultural identity, religious faith becomes at the forefront for the families of each spouse. More practical issues such as what food to cook at home, how to raise the children are some of the challenges facing couples with different cultural and religious background.

As major capital cities such as London, New York becomes more culturally diverse, mixed marriages gradually become less of an exception. At the end of the day, any married couple is made up of two people sharing common interests and similar core values, coming from similar socio economic background and having similar hobbies. Bonding takes place easier when more attention is given to similarities than to differences.

As a cross cultural coach, I believe that mixed marriages have a lot to teach in terms of cultural intelligence, religious tolerance and social harmony. I am fascinated to learn more about what makes the key ingredient of a great interracial marriage. Is it truly the dynamics of two people in love with each other or is it the ability to flex one’s behaviour for the sake of the other or is it the creation of a unified identity rather than a melting pot of diversity?

I have prepared a small survey of 10 questions for those who are or have been in mixed marriages or relationships and who would like to share their feedback on an anonymous basis. The website link – please click here

The survey will be available over next week for those who want to participate. Please share it with your friends, colleagues and family members. The more people responding to the survey the greater the collective wisdom!!   The results of the survey will be shared shortly after in another blog to be posted in the week of 25th July 2016.

The Concept Of Time

Time is considered to be a limited resource due to the speed at which information is disseminated online. There is now an easy access to emails due to smart phones.

There is a general belief that “there is not enough time” and any delays we encounter becomes a source of anxiety, frustration. According to Deepak Chopra, time is the movement of thoughts. So, allowing technology to dictate our use of time and our pace of life can lead to time management being a continuous source of stress.

In the “Western” world, to meet deadlines, to be punctual and good timekeeping skills are highly valued. More attention is paid to the tasks at hand, to stick to the agreed agenda and not much is done to build the right kind of rapport with the counterparty. It is assumed that if we do what is expected of us, then we have demonstrated our commitment and professionalism.

In other cultures such as Japan, punctuality is interpreted as a gesture of respect and courtesy. On the other hand, in India and in many other parts of the world, it is expected that meetings will start behind schedule as being late is considered as “normal”. Building rapport and creating trust amongst the parties are more important than punctuality. They will spend the time needed to ensure that the meeting ends at the “right” place. Relationships are the determining factor in growing your business and time keeping may be considered a trivial matter.

However, there may be different rules applied depending on whether you are local or you are a foreign visitor. In Madagascar, for example, the locals will not be expected to arrive in time if they are meeting their countrymen. On the other hand, if the counterparty is a foreign visitor, punctuality becomes a must as a sign of respect.

Time is also measured differently. In East Africa, you have the KiSwahili time. In our part of the world, time is usually counted as from midnight to midday. In East Africa, time is from dawn to dusk. Seven o’clock in the morning, in the Western World, is actually one o’clock in the morning in KiSwahili. It is assumed that the sun rises at around 6 am and sets around at 6 pm. If you want to know more about KiSwahili time, please click here. In most East African countries, people are used to the Western approach of measuring time when it comes to business meetings. However, when it comes to dealing with the local tradesmen, it is useful to ensure that you all have the same concept of timekeeping.

Time is in continuous flow with no limits and boundaries. The social norms of each culture have given it different interpretations. When meetings run late, trains are delayed or deadlines are not met, it is probably useful to take a deep breath and step back. What matters most to the person you are meeting and what compromise are you willing to make?

Cultural Etiquette – An Important Ingredient In A Multi-Cultural Environment.

In today’s world, there are more and more people looking to relocate for a better future. London is a good example of a diverse cultural workforce. You have people with Jamaican, Nigerian, Spanish, French cultural background working and living in London. Their kids will be of a hybrid cultural background. Over time, more and more of the younger generations will all be of mixed cultures. London is not the only place where there is a melting pot of cultures. Some countries such as Singapore, Mauritius were populated by migrants from various parts of the world. People born and raised there, had to create a new cultural identity over time as they found themselves different from their culture of origin.

Social cohesion is sometimes not only a result of economic prosperity or the fact that most of us are all law abiding citizens. Cultural etiquette is also important when we live in a multi-cultural environment. There are boundaries to be respected and an awareness that our behaviour can offend without us knowing why. Learning about other cultures can sometimes be difficult because of the tendency to stereotype. Sometimes, people are not so willing to share their cultural heritage because of a lack of trust. So, here are a few tips to bear in mind

1. Time and Space
People’s relationship with time varies. Punctuality is not always upheld as some people are more focused on leaving the meeting on a good note. As long as they feel that they have not yet built the rapport they need, they may prolong the meeting. In their views, relationships are what matters most.

Personal space is not always easy to respect especially at peak times in public transport. When it comes to making friends or reaching out to people, it is useful to know that some people do not like any friendly pats on the back or being physically close. Hugging is also very uncomfortable unless you have known each other for a while. People may see that more as a violation of their personal space. Though they may not say anything, it is starting the relationship on the wrong note.

2. Clothing
We all have different tastes in clothes, some more obvious than others. Respecting people’s choices is important though their choices may seem alien to us. I was agreeably surprised when I went to New York for the first time. It was amazing to see such a freedom of clothing style. This would not be case in some other parts of the world where people tend to conform to certain implicit norms. No matter how people look different from each other, they all seek the same thing: happiness. They are all trying their very best to achieve their goals. This is what is most important to bear in mind when it comes to meeting people with a dress code different from ours.

3. Language
We all speak English and yet we don’t always understand each other. Speaking English with an accent or using slang or professional jargon can make communication more difficult. Using simple language and speaking slower build better rapport with others. Getting used to different accents are also useful as what matters is the strength of the rapport that you build with the other person. That same person may become a great friend over time or it may be one of your best clients ever.

20 years ago, it was a novelty to find so many different languages spoken in one location. Today, we have a number of cities, across the world, where you can listen to French, German, Japanese, and many other languages being spoken all in the same place. Learning to be “politically correct” is essential if you want to raise your profile in a culturally diverse environment.

Finetuning Your Mindset To Be Successful In The Global Arena

The world has shrunk thanks to social media (Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) and to the emergence of cloud computing. Today, your team members, located in various countries, can work on the same documents online and you can all converse via Skype, Webex. The work place can now be a virtual office. Your website is a showcase to the whole world as e commerce is becoming a way of life for busy people or for people looking to buy goods and services not available in their home country.

Your next client is not necessarily living in the same country as you. Speaking the same language does not imply that things will go according to your expectations. Misunderstandings can get in the way and therefore, affect your personal performance at work.

To reap the rewards of working in a multinational team or to capitalise on your online commercial presence is about adopting a mindset that improves your cultural intelligence. Your cultural sensitivity starts with a genuine respect for other cultures, no matter what their outward appearances, their accents or way of life are. Withholding judgement and having great active listening skills are necessary for the right connections to be made.  Many cultures favour an indirect style of communication where body language gives you important cues about what is truly being said.

The quality of relationships is also considered as an asset by many business communities across the world. It is not about how many people you know but how truly you know your business acquaintances. The strength of the rapport determines whether they will do business with you or not. Because English is spoken widely, people tend to assume that there is no need to know about the customs and traditions of their counterpart.  This is totally wrong. Getting to know their social values and customs helps to understand their viewpoints and helps you to create win win outcomes for all parties involved. It actually reduces the complexity of doing business outside your local borders.

Working in a multinational environment requires a high tolerance for ambiguity and an ability to maintain performance during periods of uncertainty. There will be times when you will be spending a huge amount of time in meeting and discussing and yet no outcome is being reached. Your ability to influence will be tested in these situations and losing your cool can be seen as disrespectful and immature. Diversifying your range of negotiation skills will allow you to be more versatile and makes it easier to achieve your goals.

Building your psychological fortitude helps to manage the unexpected. Going into uncharted territories rarely goes as planned. Being humble allows you to accept that mistakes are inevitable and are opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Finetuning your mindset is all about acquiring soft skills, reviewing your beliefs and making regular self assessment of where you are in your journey to position yourself in the global arena.  Using personal development tools such as The International Profiler helps as it is an objective benchmark and comes with the professional support of a cross cultural coach to whom you can be accountable.

In today’s world, the past is no longer a prediction of the present or the future. Your approach to building your business or career will need to evolve at the same pace as society is evolving and that includes the whole world.

 

Self Promotion: Valerie is licensed to train using The International Profiler and she is a professionally qualified cross cultural coach and trainer