Holiday Reading – What’s good and worth tracking down

‘Indonesia, etc.: Exploring the improbable nation’ by Elizabeth Pisani.

PisaniIndonesia etc was a correspondent in Indonesia in the late 1980’s, returned a decade later as a medical researcher, and for a third time in 2011 to spend a year travelling the country. In her words “to look through the eyes of enough people in enough places…to piece the fragments together in to a portrait of the nation as a whole, to understand better the threads that tied the glorious disparity together”. To achieve this goal, Pisani committed to follow only one rule, to ‘Just say yes’. ‘Yes’ to invitations to tea with the Sultan, to sleep under a tree with a family of nomads, to join a wedding procession, etc.. And, as she says “because Indonesians are the among the most hospitable people on earth, this made for a lot of yesses…”. The result is a slice of Indonesia, the complex mix of islands, languages and ethnicities that makes up this improbable entity.

The book is written in a very engaging style, with fun and fascinating stories to keep things light while exploring themes of politics, change, globalisation and culture. Pisani’s humour, humility and genuine respect for the many cultures of Indonesia, and her fondness for the people she meets shines through in every chapter. I’d put it on top of my list.  But don’t just take my word for it, the Wall St Journal cite it as one of their ten best books of the year, The Economist also chose it as one of the nine best books on politics and current affairs.

‘From Vienna to Yogyakarta: the life of Herb Feith’ by Jemma Purdey

From ViennaWhat a fascinating man, and what a full life. Herb Feith has been a significant contributor to the Australia – Indonesia relationship. Herb’s family were WWII Austrian Jewish migrants to Australia, and the experience of his family contributed to his ongoing commitment to human rights and peace building. Herb first studied Bahasa Indonesia as a student in Melbourne in the early 1950’s and through a lifetime of academic work and commitment became one of Australia’s leading academics in the field of Asian studies and political science.

Herb worked tirelessly to further people-to-people relationships between Australia and Indonesia. He was the first Australian Volunteer to Indonesia, and a founding member of Australian Volunteers International, also being called upon to advise on the establishment of the Peace Corps in the United States.

The unsung hero in Herb’s life who really shines in the book is his wife Betty. The book is a fascinating look at the evolution and ebbs and flows of Indonesian studies in Australia. At 576 pages long it is lengthy, however an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

‘Wrong about Japan’ by Peter Carey

wrong about japanThis is by no means a new publication, published in 2004, however a recent discovery on my behalf.  Carey travels to Japan with his teenage son, Charley to explore the worlds of anime and manga. He meets leading filmmakers and experts in Japan, and attempts to delve into the deeper motivations and themes within the genre.   Carey also writes of the connection his son, an avid fan of manga has with a Japanese friend Takashi.

Carey, due to his fame, was able to access many of the leading players in the realm of anime and manga. Unfortunately he simply didn’t have the cultural, linguistic or interpersonal capabilities to make the most of these opportunities, in one interview explaining

“Mr Kitakubo responded to my written questions in the same style as every other damn Japanese I’d questioned. That is, he made it clear that nothing in this country was as I thought it was My misunderstandings were very interesting, he said.” ( p112)

Having travelled in Japan with my daughters recently, and visited Studio Ghibli which is featured, little of the magic was conveyed in this book. His exploration of his son’s connections and understanding of the genre and teenage friendship with Takashi are more insightful.

While it is one of Carey’s lesser-known and lighter works, this piece of writing provides a classic insight into the blunders, miscommunication, confusion and lack of understanding of Westerners in Japan.

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.

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!!