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.

Balancing the Global and the Local – the ‘What’ and the ‘How’

Balancing the need for consistency of process globally with the need to adapt to and respect local culture is a common challenge in global workplaces. However, this is not as simple as an either/or proposition. Sometimes there is the expectation that ‘When in Rome’ you should do as the Romans do.

mining safety-534517_ORIGINALWhen we are managing global workforces, the ‘what’ is often non-negotiable and universal. For example, in the mining industry, safety is a non-negotiable ‘what’ or practice. Yet, ‘how’ we achieve safety needs to be adjusted to fit into the local cultural context. In some cultures, there is a belief that nothing is ‘real’ or mandated until it is put in writing from management, and key safety processes need to be documented and distributed. In other more oral cultures, nothing is considered ‘real’ or significant unless it is heard from the mouth of a trusted friend or colleague. In such cultures, safety processes need to be discussed on a regular basis among teams.

What motivates is also a highly culturally specific thing. For example, avoidance of bringing shame onto ones’ own group will motivate appropriate behavior in some cultural contexts, whereas in other cultures such as that in Australia individual responsibility is emphasized. Particularly when it comes to performance incentives and motivation, cultural differences can have a huge impact on what works and what doesn’t. To try to introduce 360 degree feedback into a hierarchical culture can be disastrous and be a disincentive rather than engendering positive feedback.

So to ensure your global workforce is achieving, don’t forget – the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. And if you’re not sure ‘how’ and to adapt to local cultural norms, ensure you get specialist advice.

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!!

 

Overcoming Unconscious Bias and Getting to Yes

One of the biggest challenges we face when working with diversity is the capacity to engage in dialogue with people we disagree with, without demonising the other.  As demonstrated so clearly by the impasse in the Australian parliament this week regarding the asylum seeker issue, our capacity to negotiate with, and reach agreement with people we may not agree with can be a matter of life and death.

As we learn more about neurology and perception, we know all of us are unconsciously biased in some way towards others who are ‘different’ to us.  Race, gender, sexual preference, disAbility, hair colour, political party – you name it, there is a bias towards it.  Test the theory by taking the Implicit Association Testhttp://www.iat.org .

There is always a risk of patronizing lecturing and ‘you should’ in conversations with ‘the other’.  Recent brain research also shows us that we look for reinforcement of our world view and discount evidence to the contrary.  Unfortunately, we are far less rational than we think.

What works to minimise bias, and assist in overcoming difference

  1. The capacity to empathise and relate on a human level, despite disagreement.  Jonothan Haidt in his new book ‘The Righteous Mind’ describes how politicians whose children are at the same school and are required to interact on a personal level are able to better distinguish between the person and their job.  Once the capacity to empathise on a one to one level is removed, politics gets nastier and less functional.
  2. The capacity to resist labeling, demonizing and judging.  To simply be able to say “I disagree with you on this” and accept that it is not necessary to demolish the other person’s credibility or attack their world-view and values is critical.  Attacking the world-view or values (regardless of the evidence base or logic) of the other person serves to reinforce their position.  When under threat, human beings reinforce their position, bunker down, look for allies and may attack in response.
  3. Taking an Appreciative Inquiry approach.  A willingness to put aside partisan perspectives and think rigorously about options often works best when we start with what we agree upon and what could be done. To focus on what doesn’t work, or what can’t be done, or critiquing other options from the beginning shuts down productive problem solving capacity.
  4. Engaging in values based negotiation – In other words, a recognition that if we collaborate together, we can make the pie bigger for all of us, rather than fighting over our half of the pie now.  Either/or win/lose negotiations are destined to be limited in results for all parties.  Values based negotiation takes a long term approach and looks for mutual benefit.
  5. Testing the validity of our approach through reversal.   Would it be appropriate if we were to be recipients of the approach we are recommending others take?  Really?  Think about their political and broader stakeholders.

Of course, for any of these strategies to be implemented or succeed, there must be: the genuine intention to address whatever issue is at hand, the self-esteem to acknowledge that we are not 100% right 100% of the time, and the interest in achieving a mutually beneficial outcome.

My Favourite Poem – To an English Friend in Africa, by Ben Okri

Be grateful for the freedom to see other dreams. Bless your loneliness as much as you drank of your former companionships. All that you are experiencing now will become moods of future joys. So bless it all.

Do not think your way superior to another’s. Do not venture to judge, but see things with fresh and open eyes. Do not condemn, but praise when you can, and when you can’t, be silent.

Time now is a gift for you. A gift of freedom to think and remember and understand the ever perplexing past and to recreate yourself anew in order to transform time.

Live while you are alive. Learn the ways of silence and wisdom. Learn to act, learn a new speech. Learn to be what you are in the seed of your spirit. Learn to free yourself from all the things that have moulded you and which limit your secret and undiscovered road.

Remember that all things which happen to you are raw materials. Endlessly fertile. Endlessly yielding of thoughts that could change your life and go on doing so forever.

Never forget to pray and be thankful for all things good or bad on the rich road; for everything is changeable so long as you live while you are alive.

Fear not, but be full of light and love. Fear not, but be alert and receptive. Fear not, but act decisively when you should. Fear not, but know when to stop. Fear not, for you are loved by me. Fear not, for death is not the real terror, but life magically is.

Be joyful in your silence, be strong in your patience. Do not try to wrestle with the universe, but be sometimes like water or air, sometimes like fire, and constant like the earth.

Live slowly, think slowly, for time is a mystery. Never forget that love requires always that you be the greatest person you are capable of being, self-regenerating and strong and gentle–your own hero and star.

Love demands the best in us. To always and in time oversome the worst and lowest in our souls. Love the world wisely.  It is love alone that is the greatest weapon and the deepest and hardest secret.

So fear not, my friend. The darkness is gentler than you think. Be grateful for the manifold, dreams of creation, and the many ways of the unnumbered peoples.

Be grateful for life as you live it. And may a wonderful light always guide you on the unfolding road.

Parents Understanding Asia Literacy

Tom Parker and I are gearing up to deliver a series of 15 training workshops to networks of over 220 parents from around Australia in 2012 focusing on the why and how of Asia literacy.  The project will establish a network of parents who can work collaboratively with school leaders to build student demand for knowledge, skills and understanding of Asia and increase opportunities for them to be exposed to high quality and sustainable teaching programs.

Click here to listen to project leader Ian Dalton, and BI Consultant Tom Parker discuss the project on ABC Life Matters.

As parents of school age children, Tom and I, are deeply committed to Asia literacy in our schools, and concerned about the lack of momentum on this issue.  In Australia, Asia focused curriculum content and language competencies are both really important.  It’s vital our children understand the geographic region they live in; are well rounded individuals who thrive in the diverse cultures of Australia; and have the requisite skills and knowledge to be global citizens.

Parents play an important role in the subject choices of their children, and have the capacity to influence important choices in their local communities and schools regarding Asia literacy.  In recognition of the role of parents, this exciting new program is funded by the Department of Education and Workplace Relations to build parent understanding and advocacy for Asia literacy.  A consortium of providers consisting of Beasley Intercultural, the Asia Education Foundation,  the Australian Parents Council, The Australian Council of State School Organisations, the Family School & Community Partnerships Bureau,  and Erebus are working together to design and deliver the program.

To find out more or register your interest at the project website click here.

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.

Our Parliamentary Submission & Global Leadership

Click here to read our submission to the recent Australian Joint Standing Committee on Migration.

I have been really enjoying reading Geoff Aigner’s book ‘Leadership beyond good intentions – what it takes to really make a difference’    So many of his points resonate with the experiences many of our clients are having with leadership in complex global contexts.  Aigner tells it how it is – leadership these days can be tough!  Leaders are faced with both the ‘fantasy’ version of the leader as ‘rescuer’ or ‘hero’ which is simply impossible to live up to, while being required to lead in a context where there are numerous complex and adaptive systems changes required.  While tempting, it is not possible to simply work harder and technically excel in such contexts.  Rather, leaders are required to: engage and connect with people who have very different world-views and ways of operating, navigate increasingly complex and dynamic markets and global systems; and concurrently transform the core systems of their organisation to ‘work’ within the new context.

Aigner explores the dynamics of power/compassion, authority/freedom, betrayal/trust/and identity among others.  I found a lot of parallels with the core Beasley Intercultural model which anchors so much of our work.  In globalising organisations and complex intercultural situations, we use our model SURF™

Stop & suspend judgement

Use your observation & listening skills

Recognise & respect common ground

Find common ground & be flexible in your approach

So much of the core skill required to perform in these contexts really comes down the the personal capacity of individuals to connect with others and be self-aware enough to negotiate difference.

 

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.