2 May 13
With many markets especially in Europe and North America established companies are now looking to expand into new and developing countries. Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia are becoming vital to their future growth. However, multinationals are not necessarily equipped nor understand the need for communicating and collaborating across many cultures. In her presentation on April 24, 2013 to IABC members and AUP students Dr Karina Jensen outlined the strategies that can be adopted based on her two-year study of nearly 40 multinationals.
Karina is the founder and principal of Global Minds Network and a Professor in Innovation and Leadership at Reims Management School. She has herself studied, lived and worked in many different countries.
She began by outlining some of stories where companies have failed to understand local cultures. Electrolux, who were introducing a new vacuum cleaner in the US, had the unfortunate campaign ‘Nothing sucks like Electrolux’. Cisco was launching a new product in Japan but didn’t check out the office space where it would be located. Nike was using images of dragons in their marketing campaign to bring a new sports shoe to China but this offended Chinese mythology and implied a takeover! With marketing and communications professionals in these international companies why didn’t they spot the connection, questioned Karina.
Karina interviewed 120+ global project leaders in 38 multinational companies in 12 countries across North America, Europe and Asia. These senior managers had been selected because they had responsibility for cross-cultural teams in planning and launching new products.
She discovered the following results:
- Over 70 percent of the respondents said that the trust-building occurs in the the front-end activities (validating and execution) were centralized
- Most of the communication flow is initiated by headquarters with limited initiation by local teams and subsidiaries
- 82 percent believe that national culture affects the knowledge sharing behaviors
- Despite increased social media there continues to be a strong preference for traditional formal and informal contact rather than virtual
- 88 percent listed culture as a predictive element in global team processes
Karina introduced a number of cross-cultural collaboration mechanisms that includes a collaborative vision (leadership and strategy), dialogue (knowledge sharing structure and communication process) and space (organizational culture and climate) across the product lifecycle.
She said there should also be a mix of cross-cultural leadership styles of empowering (ideation phase), inclusive (planning phase), decisive (validation phase), communicative (global project management). Consideration must also be given to cross-cultural team performance.
Knowledge sharing and learning is done through having an effective infrastructure, interactive workflows, collaborative tools, live forums and communities, knowledge facilitator, and spontaneous sharing.
Most effective use of technologies should be adopted.
E-mail (for day-to-day updates, action items, status), live meetings (live interaction for project start and milestones) and web conference (web meetings and weekly updates) continue to be the major technologies. She pointed out that there is scope to develop web 2.0 and social media tools: Skype, wikis, texting, video conferencing and telepresence.
In order to improve cross-cultural communication and collaboration Karina gave a number of best practices and solutions:
- Cross-fertilization and cultural immersion
- Brief exchange meetings via video conference
- Idea pooling workshops with team members
- Networking events led by local experts
- Host country meetings and regional events
- Global and local customer forums
- Internal programs celebrating various cultures
Knowledge-sharing and communication tools
- Water cooler webcams
- Video conference and telepresence for promoting interaction and discussion
- Pop-up meetings for select conversations
- Optimize internal social networks
- Identify internal experts and collaborators for focused sharing
During the discussion Karina gave further examples of what companies and organizations are doing. At Toyota managers are spending extending time periods in Japan at headquarters while Japanese managers go to the US and Europe to understand local cultures and customers. Employees at Google are encouraged to come up with ideas that could be developed as projects but they must have a strong business case. Large electronic boards in each office are used for writing ideas that are connected to all offices around the world. Many of the top business schools are now offering as part of their programs courses in managing internationally across cultures and virtual teams.
But how can individuals make an impact and to really change the foundations of a company? Eileen Lee Lavergne responded that each person has 15 percent influence on everything. We can start with our close allies and spread the change, then to show proof and the business potential.
Kristen Sukalac said that the starting point should be “what’s in it for me” and focus on how to solve problems.
Other examples of mistakes by companies were mentioned. Cisco were launching a new product in France that the wording implied ‘human trafficking’ while State Farm Insurance were using an image of families in houses in suburbs for their business in China but it was pointed out that Chinese families have one child and live in apartment blocks.
You can view and download Karina Jensen’s presentation on IABC France SlideShare
Photos from the evening are available on IABC France Flickr