Stakeholder engagement – How to make it work!

The challenge to find out what’s really going on and what people really think

incense1.jpgEnabling stakeholder feedback and two-way information flows can be challenging. However, intercultural communication skills and appropriate process are vital when engaging in stakeholder consultations with culturally diverse groups.

People in different organisational and cultural contexts have vastly different ways of interacting and engaging, and if you want to get feedback and know what people really think, there are some key strategies to ensure greater success:

1. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve

Don’t underestimate the power of thoroughly working through this with your team. Before embarking on stakeholder dialogue, ensure your team have a shared understanding of why  this is necessary and the process which will occur.  It can be immensely confusing to stakeholders and minimise trust if different reasons are mentioned by different representatives from the organiser.

2.  Engage with a representational group

Knowing who to engage with is critical. In many cultural contexts, the most accessible people may not be the most representational. They may be the most available, be the gender who are traditionally ‘spokespeople’ or the best English speakers.

Sometimes it’s better to use various engagement strategies for people at different levels. For example, a Country representative may meet for a formal lunch with senior Ministers or bureaucrats, while country staff meet with mid-level managers over a more formal casual lunch or small meetings.

3. Know how your intent might be perceived

In non-democratic political contexts, sharing information without permission can be risky.  What may be perceived as ‘sharing opinions’ in a Western context may be seen as criticism of the government in other cultures with potentially damaging personal consequences.

Don’t assume trust is a given or transparency and disclosure are easy.  In communist or socialist governments and in very hierarchical cultures, information is power and rarely shared openly. Instead it travels through trusted networks as a tradeable commodity and source of favour.

4.  Negotiate a process which meets everyone’s needs

When asking stakeholders what their needs are, sometimes it’s best to consult those with experience and knowledge of what works best.

For instance in most Asian cultures, putting people from different levels an organisation in a room and asking ‘what they think’ is highly ineffective. In many cases, the boss will speak on behalf of their team who will remain silent and share only positive information.

Often it’s more effective to have multiple smaller consultations rather than one large gathering. Wherever possible, ensure your stakeholders are in their comfort zone. Go to their world and where they feel comfortable.

5.  Ensure language is inclusive and relevant

Wherever possible, ensure stakeholders are speaking their first and most fluent language.  There are significant risks in conducting stakeholder engagement in English in non-English speaking countries.

Effectively engaging with local stakeholders can provide information to significantly influence project success and minimise the potential for violation of safeguards. Knowing in advance how your actions may be perceived, likely challenges and pitfalls and strategies to avoid them can minimise cost overruns, poor management choices and reduce risk.

The people ‘on the ground’ are the usually the most valuable resource in terms of insight and knowledge. Development of staff and employing specialist facilitators with the intercultural essentials of awareness, perspective, knowledge and capability, is critical.

What’s wrong with the world? Can you see it in this clip?

Watch the clip and see if you can work out what’s wrong with the world…

Recently, while searching for video for our new website, this clip was the best we could find.  I thought I’d found what we’d needed in finally locating a globe that didn’t start and end on the USA or Europe, only to discover some fairly significant issues.  Did you notice them? Tasmania is missing, as is half of Indonesia, and some rather strange things have happened to the Malaysian peninsula.

compass_imageIt is all too easy to overlook the local, or to define the world in the eyes of the beholder with scant regard to the ‘detail’ on the ground.  What did you do when you looked at the map?  Typically we first locate our home.  Once we have oriented ourselves, only then do we scan the periphery and ‘other’ spaces.  If our home space isn’t accurately defined, recognised, acknowledged and respected we turn off, log off, or react with anger.  Our respect for those who have ignored or misrepresented us is greatly diminished.  We can feel ‘unseen’ and invisible in the eyes of the other.

When operating globally it is critical we recognise, engage with and respect the local.  This does not only require defining the ‘boundaries’ accurately and seeing what is local, but engaging with local perspectives, opinions and ensuring collaborative and two-way engagement.  Such engagement enables honest feedback and the challenging of (mis) perceptions and an essential education on what’s really going on at the local level.

As was discovered by the US forces in Afghanistan, and as is so often discovered by multinational companies attempting to sell standard products in local markets,  the local matters.  The capacity to ensure local participation, engagement, collaboration and partnership can make or break a mission, project or business.  Skills in intercultural collaboration, cross-cultural engagement and partnership are critical and must be front and centre of any effective global/local engagement.

Building Workforce Capability for the Asian Century – Is knowledge what counts?

Last week I really enjoyed attending and presenting at the Asian Studies Conference of Australia.  Click here to see my powerpoint presentation summary Is knowledge what really counts? Exploring ‘Asia Capability’ and ‘Asia Literacy’ in Australian workplaces.  So often we assume that it’s knowledge which matters, and this focus on ‘Asia literacy’ can sometimes detract from the more important and bigger picture issue of capability.  When we are thinking about our future in the Asian Century, it’s not enough to be ‘literate’,  we also need to be ‘capable’.

People who are effective when working in complex intercultural workplaces demonstrate: high level interpersonal skills; tolerance for ambiguity; an awareness of the subjectivity of their own perspective; and the capacity to adjust and adapt as required.  These skills are not just formed through formal study.  In many instances, the nature of formal study in disciplines such as business, economics and commerce can detract from such tolerance for ambiguity, as people are taught about black and white ‘facts’, and ‘externalities’ are ignored.  The evolving world of the Asian century requires creative thinking, tolerance, negotiation skills, and a capacity to operate in an environment of uncertainty and ambiguity.  Great opportunities exist, but only for those organisations with the people capabilities to leverage them.

Some of the most interesting sessions at the conference addressed the broader issues of capability and Australia’s future in the region.  Dr Ken Henry’s session was well attended as he provided some insights into his White paper on Australia in the Asian Century which is soon to be released.  He emphasised  “change is not easy, reform harder still, yet a new mindset is required for the Asian Century, and the test will be how we adapt to it”.  He added “There has never been a more important time for Australians to understand the vast and diverse region in which we now live”.  A standout conference presentation was also from Emeritus Professor John Ingleson on the need for sustainable, long-term policy commitment to engagement with Asia.  His emphasis on the crucial question of  which institutions will responsible for the implementation of Australia in the Asian Century recommendations is a valid one.  Ingleson mentioned the critical role of the Australian Olympic Committee and Australian Institute of Sport in preparing Australia for the Olympics and asked, which institutions have a comparative role in preparing us for the Asian Century?  Ingleson also emphasised the valuable learning outcomes of cultural immersion programs for Australians in Asia, and of the need for longitudinal research on the impact of such experience.

There is a lot to talk about, and even more work to do on workforce capability for the Asian Century.  We’re looking forward to some more quality dialogue on the issue.  It’s been a long time coming!!

 

An Ode to the Local…

“Who are the people in your neighbourhood?…the people that you meet each day”

Our new office

We talk so frequently about the joys and realities of the global, yet an equal and necessary counterbalance is that of the local.  To belong and be a part of a community is so very important in this world of mobility, speed and change.  The capacity to connect and to be grounded in relationships that matter is essential for our wellbeing.  For our clients, the capacity to get involved with and belong to healthy communities, whether they be global or local, is essential.

What a joy to now have our business situated in the heart of a community of connected people who live and work in the one place. The capacity to have everything you need within a short walk, and so many close friends nearby is an absolute delight.  I travel interstate or internationally on an almost weekly basis, and there is nothing more special than coming ‘home’ to the community where our business resides.

The Marrickville main street is a vibrant mix of locally owned and run businesses.  McDonalds and KFC have both gone out of business here, and to sample some of the local food is to know just why. I often start the day with a coffee made by Sascha at Marrickville Road café – the guy who knows my family, and my kids. At the café, I’m guaranteed to bump into a few locals, our real estate agent, the beauticians from the local salon, or parents from the school. The alternative is Coffee Alchemy, known as ‘The Temple’ – a place where people come to wait and pay homage to the best coffee in Sydney.   At the time of day I was previously spending travelling to our city office in packed trains of cranky commuters, I now take my daughter to the local school.  At the assembly I, and a gaggle of other parents are greeted by 150 kids chorusing “good morning, parents up the back”.  The school teaches Vietnamese, Greek and Mandarin and is another hub of the local community.

At Beasley Intercultural we assist clients negotiate the challenges of traversing, engaging and working with highly complex and diverse communities. In recent months we have been fortunate to work with individuals involved in the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, also worked with senior corporate leaders in a multinational accounting company focusing on client engagement in complex, global contexts, and are preparing to facilitate discussions with the Community Detention Network in Australia with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Red Cross, The theme cutting across these contexts is that in our businesses and our organisations, we neglect the local, and the community at our peril.  The thread that binds, is the necessity of engaging with and acknowledging the existing strengths and resilience of diverse communities.

Community is what grounds us, what feeds our soul, and what enables us to be at our best.  Our capacity to get involved in, and connect with our community matters.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on China 2.0

An update – Rudd’s presentation was aimed at promoting his forthcoming trade delegation and mission to China.  Mr Rudd has since withdrawn from the mission from medical reasons, however it will be proceeding with Minister Emerson at the helm.  Here’s a video of Mr Rudd’s presentation given in Melbourne which goes alongside the slides posted below…

Last week I attended the briefing by Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Minister for Small Business Dr Craig Emerson.  The presentation was compelling in it’s case for engagement with China.  I asked Mr Rudd what he thought the challenges were for Australian businesses are in engaging with China and he said “re-imagining the future”.  Take a look at the presentation – I think you will get a sense of what he meant.

Tamerlaine

What does it take to be successful in Asia?

Watch Justin Breheny, CEO Asia of IAG Insurance discuss what it takes to be successful in Asia in this brief PwC interview Positioning – investing in the future by getting in now and taking a long term view is emphasised.   I agree – perserverance, patience and building relationships the key.  The process of dedicating time to doing due diligence and ensuring your model is locally customised and appropriate to the specific dynamics of the local context is so important too.  One size does not fit all.  Getting the right partner, and having realistic expectations matters.  The board needs to also understand this is a long-term play.  If you are after short term returns go elsewhere!

 

BI Update – What we’ve been doing, new people, transitions…

What we’ve been doing…

Emma Kettle in the Solomons

It’s been a busy start to the year.  I have enjoyed working with the Asia-Pacific leadership team of the International Committee for the Red Cross, delivering corporate keynotes, working with the leadership team of an ASX listed company and working with the ABC to facilitate the ‘Freedom of Expression’ event in Jakarta.  Emma Kettle has been in Honiara working on Australian/Local Staff Intercultural Essentials for an Australian client, Tom Parker has been delivering training on Intercultural Communication in and working on our new ‘Parents enabling Asia literacy ‘ program with peak parent bodies, the Asia Education Foundation and funded by the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations. Ramona has been working with an internationally focused government client on Values and Ethics – training their trainers to take our BI program in-house, as well as continuing to deliver ‘Intercultural Essentials’ programs around the country.  Robert Bean, our Adelaide based consultant has also been delivering ‘Intercultural Essentials’ programs for government.  John Fawcett, our NZ based consultant is currently directly engaged with the provision of counselling services to government in Christchurch.  After 30 years of post-crisis HR Consulting, this is the first time John has had to work in this capacity in his home country.

Joe Crumlin, our International Negotiations specialist has been working with our team to deepen our understanding of values-based negotiation. It’s interesting to note how the ability to engage with others, to find common ground and understand deep values not only underpins effective negotiations, it is also essential for good business, and effective intercultural engagement.

Honey has stepped into a new Client Relationship Management role at BI and is coordinating our service delivery.  It’s been a busy time for our home base in Surry Hills as we’ve also transitioned all of our IT systems and platforms and moved from PC to Mac.  We have even deeper empathy for our clients undergoing change and transition as a result!

Transitions and new people

Judy Hui

Emily D’Ath, who has done a superb job of Coordinating the BI team for the past four years has now taken up a position in Corporate Social Responsibility in Beijing as an AusAID Youth Ambassador for Development.   You can follow Em on twitter @EmilyDAth  We have a wonderful new Administration Coordinator at Beasley Intercultural.  Judy Hui loves excel spreadsheets and is keeping all of us organised.  She also happens to speak fluent Mandarin, Cantonese and English and has grade 8 piano.

Another intro – BI Consultant Tom Parker and his wife Rachel have just had their second daughter.  Welcome to the world Lila and huge congrats to Tom, Rachel and big sister Sylvie.  Lila will be speaking Mandarin in no time…Tom and Lila

Former BI Consultant and member of the extended BI Clan, Dr Melissa Butcher, who is now based in London, is finishing her next book – watch this space.  I’ve only read Chapter 6 so far and it is great stuff!  Will tweet when it’s out.

Freedom of Expression in Asia – ‘What Can I Say?’


Workshop discussion

Last week I facilitated a forum in Jakarta on  ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia.  Beasley Intercultural were supporters of the event alongside the ABC, BBC, PPMN (Indonesian Association for Media Development), the Ford Foundation and the Australian Government.  The gathering brought together media, journalists and bloggers from across the region.  The event coincided with the launch of the podcast/radio series ‘What Can I Say’ on BBC and ABC.  It is always deeply satisfying to facilitate dialogue among groups of people with great depth of personal knowledge and experience, and such important topics to discuss.  Click the links below to listen to the podcasts/programs:

‘What Can I Say?’ Thailand

‘What Can I Say?’ Cambodia

What Can I Say?  Indonesia

‘What Can I Say?’ Singapore

It was interesting timing, with events in Tahir square in Egypt unfolding at the same time.  The BBC broadcast live from the conference venue in Jakarta (albeit at 1am Jakarta time), interviewing panelists and crossing live to Tahir square to speak to fellow bloggers and social media specialists.  Concurrently, events relating to reactions to freedom of expression were also unfolding near Jakarta with the burning of two churches and the killings of three members of the Ahmadiyya movement.  Such developments focused conversations on the potential to mobilise groups through the immediacy of social networks, and the inherent freedoms and risks involved.

Key elements of the workshop discussion I found most interesting were the focus on the tension between ‘Freedom of Expression’ and ‘Freedom of Religion’ – what

Bambang Harymurti, CEO/Publisher Tempo Magazine

happens when expression challenges local religious truths?  Participants in the workshop explored the cultural sensitivities around interpretation and analysis and the necessity for understanding the audience.  Cultural change was also a key topic – how cultures are dynamic and do change, and an insightful discussion of power structures driving and benefiting from change ensued.

An insightful keynote presentation was provided by Mr Bambang Harymurti, CEO and Publisher of the Tempo magazine in Indonesia who reminded the audience of the importance of exploring alternate perspectives free of judgement.  Other speakers included: Mick Bunworth Executive Producer Al Jazeera English Asia-Pacific; Nezar Patria, Chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists in Indonesia; AlexAu Waipang and Supinya Klangnarong, political bloggers from Singapore and Thailand.  The most eye opening of presentations was on the depth of twitter and facebook penetration of Indonesia.  Indonesia is the biggest ‘twitter’ population on the planet, and the second largest Facebook, and the use of the platforms are having some fascinating impacts on social movements.

As one participant so eloquently put it – “Just because we have new platforms for communicating, it doesn’t change who we are.  A computer is just a vehicle, a piece of technology.  It is the human being who is the driver that makes the difference.  What we say, why and how we say it is what matters.  It is easy to forget with the proliferation of social networking that ultimately it is people, with human fears, needs and concerns which utilise these platforms”.

Tamerlaine.

Perspectives on the Thai situation

Without commenting on the accuracy or content of either, i’d like to share two wildly divergent perspectives on the current situation in Thailand.

1. Click here SMH Article 18May10 for Peter Hartcher’s op-ed piece in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “Scheming king unwilling to stop the violence on Bangkok’s streets”

2. Click here Ambassador letter in response for the full letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald (not published in the newspaper) from the Thai Ambassador in Australia Mr Kriangsak Kittichaisaree

I’ll leave it to you to interpret as you will. I’m sure you’ll agree, a highly emotive disagreement.

Australia’s future in Asia – understanding cross-cultural complexity

Participating in a diverse or global workplace is no longer a choice.  Australia is connected and culturally diverse now, and our economic future is in the Asian region.  Forty five percent of Australians were born overseas or at least one or their parents were.  The fastest growing languages in Australia are Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi.  Our children are growing up in an interconnected world where Asian economies are having increasing influence.

In my business, a large part of our role is educating our clients about the realities of Asia. When we were engaged by Austrade to research Australian perceptions of Asian markets, we found Asia was often seen ‘a traditional yet poverty stricken region which needs Australian ‘help’’, rather than a business destination.  It’s interesting to look at where these perceptions originate. Due to prolific tourism campaigns, Asian cultures are widely seen as ‘traditional’ with highly evolved local crafts and ‘cultural activities’ such as vegetable carving and local dancing.  Another key source of information about Asia is the news which features footage of frequent natural disasters and a risk of terrorism.  The perspectives of Australia one would receive through similar channels may feature the dangers of sharks, spiders, fires and floods, and oversimplified, or images of swagmen, convicts and aboriginal people throwing boomerangs.  Such imagery does not reflect the daily experience of life in Australia, nor in Asian cultures.  The images of Asia we less frequently see are those of people like you and me living their lives, travelling to work on the train (which in many Asian cities is a far more pleasant and reliable experience than in Sydney) and working in a globally connected environment with high speed internet (far higher speeds than we have in Australia). Asia is a key business destination, and many Asian economies are the fastest growing in the world.

Cultural literacy is not only about recognising the surface symbols and visual cues of cultural difference.  Such symbols can readily lead us astray, and we often hear cultural difference being minimised due to the appearance of sameness “Culture is becoming the same everywhere, people drink Starbucks and wear Levi’s”.  To understand cultural difference, one needs to explore: the difference of values, beliefs and world-views; their origins; and the implications for how people act and interact in the world.  For example, for an Australian engineer to be effective when working on an infrastructure project in China, technical skills are not enough.  Cultural literacy will often make the difference between a bridge being built or significant delays being encountered. To enable a bridge to be built, it’s important to be able to lead a cross-cultural team, to negotiate with senior bureaucrats, and to communicate clearly with key project team members.  Such skills are developed through an understanding of the world-view of counterparts, their cultural origins and ideally, local language capabilities.

Cross-cultural collaboration is increasingly complex.  We are being called upon to assist global teams collaborate in a virtual, online environment.  Last year we worked with the leadership team of a large multinational company which involved key team members from more than ten Asian cultures and one Australian office.  When the team came together, we worked with the team to discuss and agree upon shared process, common goals, and behavioural norms. Behavioural flexibility, an awareness of one’s own cultural preferences, and the ability to develop close working relationships with others are essential skills. The Australian team members committed to listen more than they speak, Japanese colleagues committed to share their opinions when asked, Thais committed to share constructive feedback. Cultural ‘awareness’ is not enough. If someone needs to be a good leader, we don’t invest in ‘leadership awareness’ training. Awareness is essential and the first step, skills development follows.  Extensive research shows, individuals who are most effective across cultures have highly developed people skills, empathy, self awareness and a tolerance for ambiguity.  Such skills make us better citizens and fully contributing members of society.  The ability to recognise the strength and validity of diverse perspectives, to negotiate difference and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes are essential skills for a rapidly changing world.  Deep learning about other cultures is a primary avenue of developing such skills.

The issues we face as Australians can not be solved by technical knowledge, or by ourselves.  Global challenges confront us:  the global economic crisis, global warming, and resource scarcity are just a few examples. Australia’s ability to thrive and prosper as a nation is dependent on our ability to collaborate with our neighbours to work toward solutions on shared issues.  Particularly in post-colonial settings, there is a resistance to outsiders ‘telling’ what should be done, or alternatively a passive acceptance of the aid revenue stream.  As has been so strongly proven through the ineffectiveness of so much international aid, technical ‘skills transfer’ and dollars alone do not effectively enable communities. Multilateral agencies such as APEC are rethinking their models of capacity building.  In 2008, we designed a framework for capacity building in APEC, commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which focuses on ‘Twinning’.  Twinning is a way of developing partnerships for capacity building.  The most effective capacity building, and development happens through incremental approaches which are tailored to the local context and involve partnerships for mutual benefit.  A good example of such partnerships in the education space is the Asia Education Foundation’s School BRIDGE project.  The project will involve 90 Australian and 90 Indonesian educators from 40 Australian and 40 Indonesian schools.  These educators will work together to develop intercultural understanding, improve professional capacity to support implementation of Internet-based collaborative learning and actively support language learning.

Education in Asian cultures is highly valued, and cross-cultural learning and language skills are recognised as the key to guarantee future employability and economic security.  Hundreds of thousands of Asian students are highly literate in the cultures, and languages of the west and also of their home countries and regions, and will be competing in a global workplace with our children. 543 000 international students were studying in Australia in 2008 (Gillard, cited in The Australian, Guy Healey, Feb 26, 2009).  There are over 300 000 Australian alumni in Malaysia, and over 95 000 Indian students currently studying in Australia.  These students become competent at traversing intercultural spaces, expect to have career paths which involve global mobility, and will be able to draw on their international networks to achieve results.

As mother of two children under four years old, I have a vested interest in contributing to the conversation about our future national curriculum.  I don’t envy the National Curriculum Board their task in such a rapidly changing context.  One thing we can be certain of in these times of change is that the world will be radically different by the time our children graduate.  The ability to navigate difference, to find common ground with people from diverse backgrounds, and to deepen our knowledge of our cultural starting point will stand us in good stead.  I truly hope the Australian education system provides my children with the opportunities to develop key Asia skills and language abilities.  I honestly believe these are the skills which they will need for the future.

By Tamerlaine Beasley
Managing Director of Beasley Intercultural