Differences are certain to seed conflicts, particularly in the workplace. Organizations and markets are global in nature. That means that people are bound to partner with others who are very different from themselves. It is often here when people realize how different that value systems, communication styles, and behaviors can be. Marion Festing, a professor of human resource management and intercultural leadership at ESCP Europe is fond of illustrating this principle with an example: penguins using red balls to play golf in the arctic snow. “They ask each other, “Can you imagine that in other parts of the world, they play with white golf balls,” she jokes.
Festing will be one of the professors teaching this month’s most intriguing MOOC: Intercultural Management. Five weeks long, the course is a primer on building relationships at a personal level and buy-in at the operational level. That’s not easy, considering language barriers, let alone the history, belief systems, social practices, and assumptions embedded into culture. Naturally, cultures tend to view their ways of doing things as the gold standard — and measure alternatives against them. This, in turn, breeds misunderstandings at best and resistance at worst — particularly when one culture’s input is ignored or core values are challenged.
That’s what makes this course so valuable. Effective communication is difficult enough in homogenous organizations, which are saddled with the same ambiguous data, shifting priorities, albatross workloads, and whiplash deadlines. Introduce a far-flung workforce and the room for error is compounded exponentially. So too are the opportunities inherent to a culturally diverse team. The key to harnessing the value of diversity, of course, is good management. That starts with understanding that “what works here may not work there.” Humbling as it may be, American management models may not translate perfectly in all contexts. As a result, the course emphasizes listening and keeping one’s mind open to alternatives to achieving the same goals.
COULD A LACK OF CULTURAL AWARENESS TORPEDO YOUR CAREER?
Students are also encouraged to study the overarching themes in particular cultures. Germans, for instance, tend to prize organization and personal space. Many Asian nations sublimate the individual to the group, with personal recognition sometimes causing embarrassment. The resulting nuances or taboos must also be factored into both in one-on-one interactions as well as planning and messaging to groups.
That isn’t to say that cultural patterns are the end-and-be-all of intercultural management, either. Another factor is the embedded subcultures, which can be based on everything from regional identity to economic background. Of course, non-verbal cues, such as body language, have the potential to create distance beyond anything said.
Sound complicated? Daunting? Messy, even? Sure, but that’s management…or any relationship really. In the end, the communication always comes down to the individual notes Festing in a 2015 interview. That means managers must be constantly reflecting and adapting to build trust and have their message acted upon in a more global setting. “We have to decipher what certain behaviors mean,” she says. “We need to find out why people behave in a different way than we behave ourselves. Only then can we behave in an effective way.”
DIVERSITY AND CONTENT MARKETING HIGHLIGHT APRIL MOOCs
The theme of April’s MOOC offerings tends to be the increasingly diverse nature of business. On April 10th, ESSEC Business School is coming out with Diversity and inclusion in the Workplace, which looks at examples of how firms turned divergent backgrounds into competitive advantages. This contrarian spirit is further flamed in IESE Business School’s Strategy and Sustainability. Here, Mike Rosenberg, a consultant-turned-academic, examines how firms can meld long-term and short-term interests to add value to stakeholders, consumers, and activists alike. In addition, the University of Illinois is opening a new section of Subsistence Marketplaces , which takes a deep dive into how local entrepreneurs are launching successful ventures in impoverished nations.
There is more where that came from. Wharton is back with another edition of the ever-popular Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content, to help firms break out of the narrow commercial realm and into the news cycle. If you’re looking for doubles instead of home runs, Northwestern University is rolling out Content Strategy For Professionals: Managing Content to help firms enhance the quality and consistency of their content. In addition, you can also study supply chains and entrepreneurship from MIT, marketing from Babson, and scaling from Kellogg.
To learn more about these courses – and register for them – click on the links below.