The Diversity Dividend – Getting with the Program!

Productivity and ‘high performance’ are key buzzwords in today’s economy.  Businesses and organisations must extract the optimal output from limited resources and achieve more for less.  We also have an aging population, and are entering an era of skills shortage and the global ‘war for talent’.

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 11.11.40 AMOne of the more underestimated areas of capacity in our economy is the capacity to better leverage the cultural diversity of our population, the upside of migration, and the benefits associated with our location in the fastest growing economic region in the world.

All too often cultural diversity in Australia is perceived to involve ‘being nice to people from different cultures’, ‘chopsticks and manners’ or ‘overcoming barriers such as language’.  To define diversity in such terms is to radically misunderstand our place in the world, our population and our economic future.  While it is critical to treat people with respect, such paternalistic attitudes demean the contribution of migrants and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the sophistication of skills and global knowledge of many who come to Australia seeking a better life for themselves and their families. As so clearly stated by Frank Lowy, and Rupert Murdoch in their recent lectures, migrants make an economic contribution which far outweighs any costs which may be incurred by the state in their arrival.

We are a diverse nation.  25% of Australians were born overseas. To understand diversity is to understand and service the Australian market.

In our work with ASX 200 listed and multinational companies, we frequently see leaders struggling to negotiate the complexity of operating in emerging markets.  We see managers challenged by creating inclusive and functioning team cultures when staff come from enormously diverse cultural backgrounds.

Research by Asialink business shows, less than 40% of Board members and less than 50% of senior executives in leading Australian companies have any experience in Asia.  Yet nearly 10% of Australians have Asian cultural heritage, and Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in Australia other than English.  Clearly, the diversity of our population is not being reflected at senior leadership levels.

Many organisations initially attempt to achieve ‘the numbers’ of diversity without recognising it’s a process of organisational change.  What’s the point of hiring senior talent from Singapore with high-level networks if that individual isn’t taken seriously in the Board room due to their lack of ‘local experience’ or capacity to talk about rugby results?

Going global requires reflection on the supposed universalism of communication processes at leadership levels.  The capacity to communicate with people who have different notions of rapport building, and to believe in the validity of anothers’ perspective without a shared sporting code or cultural approach to humour is critical.

Research, and experience tells us, that diverse teams can be more productive, more creative and more innovative than mono-cultural teams.  However, such benefits are only realised if teams can tap into the diversity dividend.  This means ensuring all team members are able to fully participate, engage and share perspectives, opinions and maintain a sense of their authentic self at work.

The capacity for leaders of diverse teams to create an inclusive and participatory high-performance culture is critical.  Key skills include: structuring meetings in such a way that all people feel confident and capable of contributing; creating a shared sense of vision and direction; enabling feedback on what’s working and what’s not; and most importantly, ensuring delivery and performance is not negotiable.

Recently, when I spoke at the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia Conference with Peter Scanlon on a panel session on productive diversity, I was struck by the lack of business participation in the forum.  It’s time for our business sector to realise that effective diversity management is effective business management and a strategic investment in productivity outcomes.

Diversity is the key to our economic future and a significant contributor to enable a creative, innovative and growing economy.

It’s time for our leaders to lift their game.  Diversity management is about productivity and effectiveness in a globally interdependent economy.  It’s about focusing on what matters to build a shared sense of vision to unite rather than divide.  It’s about building capability to engage with, understand and negotiate complexity, ambiguity and the cultures of our region.

Our economic and business future depends on it.

BI Update and the Program all Australians should watch

I hope your intercultural endeavours are going well. What an interesting time in terms of working in intercultural capability development and inclusion.

JakartaThe Q&A Indonesia program from Jakarta should be essential watching for all Australians. Click here to watch – and do so by 18 July when it is removed from the ABC website. A refreshing take on Australia’s position in the world from an Indonesian perspective, the program showcases some of the most entertaining and articulate panelists we’ve seen for a long time.

If you are interested in exploring intercultural capability and inclusion, there are lots of interesting forums coming up – come along. I’ll be presenting:

SwitzerFor some insights on realities of the ‘how’ of Asia capability, here are some articles/interviews we’ve done recently which may be of interest:

Also some resources and new thinking:

I’m delighted to introduce Bojana Tomcic, who is the hub of our ever travelling team. Bojana has worked with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Belgrade for more than 10 years and brings a wealth of experience. Don’t hesitate to be in touch if we can be of support through the provision of coaching, training, facilitation or consultancy services

Tamerlaine

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.

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.

The Australia in the Asian Century Whitepaper

The team at Beasley Intercultural welcome the release of the government’s ‘Australia in the Asian Century Whitepaper’. If ever there was any doubt about the business case for a greater focus on Asia, the whitepaper dispels it. The paper creates a cogent, coherent and compelling case for more strategic business engagement and integration with the economies of our region.

The challenge for Australian businesses which still remains will be leveraging these opportunities. The white paper clearly defines the ‘what’ of engaging in the region. The conversation about the ‘how’ to ensure Asia capability in our businesses is only just beginning. The challenge with any such government initiative is the implementation. Who will take the plunge and invest in enabling and creating greater Asia capability in our organisations, institutions and businesses? This is an investment in our future, not merely a cost to be written off.

We commend the government for committing in the white paper to educating all of our children in Asian languages, and cultural literacy. However, we need deeper Asia capability in our business sector now, and we don’t have time to wait until these children graduate and enter our workforce. While the report says “Australian businesses recognise their approach must be based on a good understanding of the region”, research shows* a significant lack of board members or senior executives with Asian experience or language ability in Australia’s leading companies. Many businesses do not yet recognise or understand the cultural differences and the impact these have on business relationships, process and outcomes.

It is critical for our business people to develop or access intercultural awareness, perspective, knowledge and capability. These Asia-skills will enable the strategic approach, development of nuanced relationships and adaptability it takes to succeed in the diverse markets of the region.

* The Asialink / Australian Industry Group survey found that businesses see capability issues as among the greatest impediments to planned expenditure or expansion into Asia. Less than half of the 380 businesses surveyed in 2011 report having any board members or senior executives with Asian experience or language ability.

Getting Diversity Right – It’s not just about the numbers

So often, the focus of ‘getting diversity right’ is about the numbers. Yet, we often forget that it’s not just the numbers which matter – it’s the interaction, collaboration and capacity to engage and achieve results among people from diverse backgrounds which matters.

Ian Dalton, Kirrilee Hughes and I at our session

I presented a session yesterday at the Australian International Education Conference, and was fortunate to attend another session on ‘Internationalising the Curriculum’. The conversation was vibrant, and highlighted the risk of just focusing on ‘the numbers’ to demonstrate internationalisation. It’s all too common to have huge numbers of international students from all over the world attending Australian universities, who can complete an entire degree with little or no interaction with fellow local students. The challenge with an internationally diverse group is to ensure we don’t end up with a ‘classroom of tribes’ where the Indian students sit together, the locals from the private school who know each other sit together, the Chinese from Hong Kong are at another table and also separate from the Mainland Chinese, with little or no interaction between groups. In such an ‘international’ classroom, global mobility does little to expand intercultural engagement or understanding, and can actually reinforce stereotypes of other groups.

One of the key challenges of getting diversity right, is to enable and facilitate the expansion of interactions beyond one’s own comfort zone and in-group. It’s not enough to simply reach ‘the numbers’ and assume internationalisation has therefore occurred. Intercultural learning, collaboration and engagement is a process of learning, reflection and challenging of stereotypes and assumptions. Intercultural capability requires the capacity to engage with others, to understand their world-view and perspective, and to demonstrate the behavioural flexibility to negotiate differences and find common-ground. These skills are the ones which make the difference whether working in international business, or with people from diverse backgrounds at home.

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!!

 

Good reading and listening on diversity, globalisation and Asia

It’s so important that we are constantly challenging ourselves in this space that we work.  The BI team are voracious readers and listeners and we frequently share favourites.  The conversations that ensue are always vibrant and we often disagree, and that’s the more interesting part!  So here’s what we’ve been into lately:

Monocle Magazine

We find Monocle Magazine fun and ridiculous in equal measure.  We love the focus on international affairs, politics and travel.  The articles about the best interior design of private fleet aircraft are a little out of our league in terms of potential benefit.  That said, magazines are escapism, right?  So, onto the private jet and off to have a chat to Kim Jong-Un about his basketball fetish and lavish collection of Nike trainers…One edition and series of articles worth a look is the March 2012 special on Australia.

The Social Animal, David Brooks

This book was our BI Christmas gift.  A controversial one as some of us loved it, and some of us hated it.  I liked the book for the perspective it provides regarding how people from diverse backgrounds often have insights others don’t have access to, and how important it is that we can tap into their perspectives.  It also explores power and how easy it is to surround yourself with people ‘like me’ and how dangerous this insulation is in terms of understanding the complex and diverse realities of the societies we live in.  That said, the method the book uses to explore these themes has a few drawbacks.  Here’s where we get to the hatred part – Brooks uses two fictitious characters as the narrative thread throughout the book.  These characters in the book are titled ‘Julia’ and ‘Rob’.  Among our BI team members,  Emma, Tom, (and Tom’s wife for that matter) found Brook’s characters immensely irritating.  Emma said she preferred watching Brooks on TED.  I saw him on TED and preferred his book!  Ramona on the other hand loved the storytelling style, saying she enjoyed how Brooks’ focused on the impact of early lessons and experiences influencing the people we become was fascinating.  We’d love to know what you thought if you read it?!

The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar

Ramona gave me this book for Christmas and it is great.  I prefer Iyengar when she delves into the depths of intercultural perception and attitudes toward choice, but much of her market share in the ‘business space’ I am sure is due to the value of her insights on consumer behaviour.  Iyengar is the source of the famous jam study – you remember the one where they tested purchasing behaviour when people had the option to taste and buy more than 30 flavours or just six?  Her results were so powerful, we see groupings of six or less in most consumer contexts to enable us to get our heads around the cognitive challenges of choice leading to action.  Iyengar has a compelling personal story.  She is the child of Indian Sikh migrants to the USA, and blind – a lifestory which causes her to reflect deeply on the cultural attitudes of her family and the navigation of choice in life. Well worth reading.

The Lady and the Peacock: The life of Aung San Suu Kyi, by Peter Popham

I loved this book.  What’s not to love?  A gripping story of an amazing woman, a very current and topical issue, and a focus on something we are all looking to learn more about.  These types of biographies have the potential to be a bit dry with endless historical recitations, but Peter Popham manages to tell the story of the person and her journey and keeps us interested at every turn.  Myanmar is rapidly changing and the removal of sanctions and ‘opening’ is creating a gold rush mentality in the business space.  At the Australia Thailand Business Council we’ve now appointed a ‘Regional Collaboration: Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia’ Committee Chair to keep us focused on this and the implications.  Christa Avery presented on the changes last week at our strategic business dialogue.  Christa lived in Myanmar in the 1990’s during the last ‘opening’ – we hope this round will be more long lasting.


Radio/Podcasting – Start the Week on BBC

Emma Kettle recommended this programme and what a discovery.  Start the week is hosted by Andrew Marr and features an extraordinary diversity of guests.  The episode last week on the science of creativity with neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer; author Joanna Kavenna; musician and sound artist Scanner; and chemist Rachel O’Reilly was one of Emma’s favourites.  I really liked the episodes on National Identity and China.  The Australian culture’ episode with Thomas Kenneally, Deborah Cheetham and Kate Grenville was a highlight for me.  It’s always refreshing and suprising to learn about your own culture as perceived by others.

Watch  this space – Our Business Book

I attended a Sydney Writers Centre workshop last week on ‘How to write a business book’.  Hopefully a BI book will eventuate.  Valerie Khoo, the presenter was very honest and I am back to the drawing board!  Watch this space…

BI Update – What we’ve been up to lately…

It’s been a while – our silence has been caused by the busiest two months ever in the history of BI.  A good thing, but we are looking forward to a little time to digest the experiences of the last few months and do some writing and publishing.  The BI team has been constantly travelling and we’re looking forward to the Easter break to spend some time with friends and family.

Tom and his China map!

What we’ve been up to:

– Rolling out ‘Unconscious Bias’ training to the entire staff of a large financial institution focusing on the skills to engage with and leverage diversity

–  Delivering ‘Global Virtual Team Effectiveness’ Programs to corporate clients

– Delivering the Parents Understanding  Asia Literacy program around Australia.   I also went to Canberra to meet with Peter Garrett to discuss business needs for an Asia literate workforce.  Click here to see his related press release

– Meeting with the Review Team to provide input, and writing our submission into the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ Government Review. Click here to read.

–  Delivering ‘Re-entry’ de-briefings, ‘Pre-posting Training’, ‘Intercultural Effectiveness’ training and ‘Working with Local Staff’ training for internationally engaged government departments

–  Advising the CEO’s and Senior Leadership teams of three large companies who are navigating key challenges in Asia

Tom, Judy, John and Ramona at BI Planning Session

–  Working with the leadership team and staff involved at a corporate client to facilitate transitioning key work to Malaysia

–  Submitting a tender to renew our preferred provider status with the Dept of Immigration & Citizenship

–  Working with a highly diverse team of an International NGO in SEAsia focusing on enabling better intercultural collaboration, dialogue and engagement

–  Planning for the Australia Thailand Business Council key event on 28 May, and the 14th International Conference on Thai Studies

Phew!  I promise our next blog post will be a review of the great books and podcasts we’ve enjoyed over the Easter break.  Hope you have a good one.

Tamerlaine