Category Archives: CQ

Global Collaboration Tips

A recent post on how to be a better global collaborator over on the HBR Blogs had some really great tips for those Supply Management professionals working with their global counterparts. My favourite tips were:

  • Be Prepared to Be Uncomfortable
    At least one of your global counterparts will speak or act in a way that makes you uncomfortable on a regular basis, and won’t even notice it because it’s normal behaviour for him. For example, he might get way too close in a conversation or always try to dominate the conversation.
  • Be Aware of the effect of Your Actions
    Similarly, there will be at least one global counterpart who will be uncomfortable with the way you speak or act from day one, and you will need to observe which communications or actions make that person uncomfortable and try to deliver them in ways that are less imposing to that person to foster a working relationship.
  • Prototypes are Not Perfect
    Your training classes will train you on the attitudes and behaviour of the average person. There is no average person. Maybe you were told that your Chinese counterparts would be relatively “shy”. And while most Chinese counterparts who are in subordinate positions might act “shy”, there are Chinese people who are very outgoing and aggressive. Be prepared to adapt to the personality and not the person.
  • Be curious
    Show an interest in them and their culture. Just remember what topics are sensitive and stick to the safe topics at first.

I’d recommend checking out the post on how to be a better collaborator. I know it’s worth your time.

The Impact of Culture on Transnational Interactions

The newly relaunched Negotiator Magazine has a great article by Charles Craver on the impact of culture on transnational interactions that is a great read for anyone looking to improve their CQ (Cultural Quotient). It’s a great companion article to SI’s 2009 series on Overcoming Cultural Differences in International Trade and SI’s 2010 series on Cultural Intelligence (which were both edited by SI’s resident expert on Global Trade, Dick Locke).

In SI’s classic series on overcoming cultural differences, we introduced you to Dick Locke’s eight key factors that govern the differences between your culture and that of your potential business partner (supplier, service provider, customer, etc.), which were:

  • power distance
  • uncertainty avoidance
  • individualism
  • polychronic vs monochronic time
  • personal/impersonal
  • buyer/seller rank
  • importance of harmony
  • importance of face

Charles reviews the common cultural differences of time (and punctuality), personal/impersonal (including the exchange of gifts), the importance of face and harmony, and individualism (and the difference between the approaches taken to negotiations by individualistic cultures and group cultures) as well as the importance of distance (as some cultures will need at least two feet, while others will want to be in your face), respect (including the exchange of business cards in some cultures), social events and cultural exchange (and the need for some cultures to build a rapport through bonding activitis before beginning negotiations), and wealth (and the need for the wealthier party to bring quick benefits to the poorer party) and provides some unique insights that not all Global Sourcing professionals are aware of.

In addition to explaining some key cultural differences that newly minted global supply management professionals may not be aware of, such as:

  • how it is unusual for people in Latin American or Middle Eastern countries to show up on time (as delays of thirty or forty minutes are acceptable)
  • how people from Middle Eastern countries want to be less than one foot away from you when they talk
  • how people from cultures that place great importance on saving face find displays of power to be crude and inappropriate and will hesitiate to initiate law suits or break off negotiations

the article makes a point of noting that a negotiator who speaks the language isn’t enough. The organization needs someone who also understands the culture and the nuances of the language. For example, when the Japanese say that “it would be difficult”, they are really saying they can’t do it. Since they can’t say no and save face, which is important in their culture, they have to convince you that what you are asking is difficult and hope that you will ask for something else instead.

The article also makes a great point of emphasizing the Preliminary Stage where the participants first work to establish a rapport with each other. In this stage, the participants should engage in non-controversial small talk to get to know each other and take advantage of any opportunities presented by the host to explore the city, history, and culture of the country they are visiting. This helps to dispel negative preconceptions and stereotypes on both sides of the table and increases the chances of a mutually beneficial relationship.

Is Great Leadership Culture Independent?

There’s a very interesting post over on the HBR blogs on Leading Across Borders that suggests that if you want to get it right, you don’t change a thing. The author, who has managed in India, the U.S., Europe, and Asia, states that while he was always advised that you don’t live in <blank> anymore, and the quicker you figure out the differences, the better, experience taught him that their warnings were totally misguided.

The author states that regardless of geographic location or culture, what drives people to the highest level of engagement is innately human and universal and that great leadership looks the same wherever you are because the most effective executives are the ones who draw energy from a clear sense of purpose and a set of deeply held personal values. Furthermore, they also energize their employees by ensuring that their expectations about three overarching elements of work — the natoure of the role, the work environment, and their professional development (RED) — are in line with the organization’s purpose. (In fact, the blog post author wrote a book on this theme: Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders.)

It’s a very interesting post, esepcially when he draws the similarities between Tony Fernandes, founder of Air Asia, and Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks, and their companies and how similar styles have led to success. I think I agree with the first commenter though — the what is definitely the same across cultures, the “how” probably does varie with local norms and values. For example, in Japan, the “role” is very dependent upon what the “group” wants, but in America, the “role” is very depndent upon what the boss wants. The environment needs to be very well defined in some eastern cultures, but can be wild west in some western cultures. And professional development desires vary too. Some people want to become “manager” as soon as possible to impress the future father-in-law, and some just want to cut code until the day they croak. It’s definitely worth reading and thinking about as you transition to a global operation in your quest to be a true Next Level Supply Management organization.

Innovation is Not Baloney

Unless, as this recent post on the HBR Blogs on the power of a common language, you don’t have a common definition and understanding of what innovation means to your company. At which point, one of you will be thinking “absurdity” while another will be thinking “lunchmeat”.

As the article notes, in order to achieve innovation, a company must have:

  1. An overarching, commonly understood, definition of innovation.
  2. Well defined innovation categories, and a primary focus.
  3. An owner for each innovation category, and each approved innovation project.

Otherwise, one team will be working on process streamlining while another tries to reinvent the process. And both will announce success at the same time, only to realize failure.

Interpreting Japanese Communication

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Dick Locke, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on International Sourcing and Procurement. (His previous guest posts are still archived.)

Note to readers of the Purchasing Certification Blog: most of this post appeared in this morning’s post on Japan’s Supply Chain Recovery: Interpreting The Estimates.

I’ve been watching and reading the various sources of information coming out of Japan and trying to interpret it after filtering it through the cultural differences that can impede communication and sometimes action. I see one apparent difference and am concerned about another potential difference.

One consistent complaint is that the various spokespeople in Japan seem to be understating the seriousness of the radiation hazards. It’s very likely that this is due to a cultural difference that strongly affects communication. The difference goes by various names, and I call it a “need for harmony”. It could also be called a “low score on a frankness scale”. A strong cultural need for harmony can make it difficult for people in that culture to deliver bad news directly. They will often resort to various expressions such as the Japanese “honto ni muzukashii“. That literally means “truly difficult” in English. However, people in Japan will correctly take it to be a very frank statement that something will not happen.

A classic example is in the Japanese Emperor’s speech to the nation announcing the surrender at the end of World War II. It included “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage”. This was after two nuclear bombs and a total collapse of manufacturing and logistics.

While Japan is especially strong in this need for harmony, it’s a fairly widespread characteristic among Asian and some Latin American cultures. Keep in mind that Japanese may be perceiving the messages differently than Westerners.

The second difference is just a concern at this point. There’s a well known cultural difference called “Uncertainty Avoidance”. It influences the willingness of people to make decisions without being sure of the outcome. It makes people much more comfortable with routine situations and incremental improvements than they are with dealing with the unexpected. While Japan is extremely high on the “Uncertainty Avoidance” scale, I really haven’t seen any indication of lack of creativity in solving the problems.

Now, for those of you who are trying to gauge potential supply disruptions:

If you can manage face to face meetings that’s clearly the best way to handle it. You’ll have to judge the danger of traveling to a particular Japanese supplier of course. Second best is video conferencing, so you can watch facial expressions and body language. Third best is telephone. In all cases, send some questions ahead of time by email. In questioning, be sure to probe assurances of continuing supply more deeply than you would with people from a frank culture such as Germany or the US. It’s best to ask open ended questions such as “how are the roads to the airport” or “how are your suppliers in the affected area” than questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no such as “is everything OK”.

You should also keep in mind that Japanese communicators are usually not being dishonest when they seem overly reassuring. It’s just that their culture makes it difficult to say some things too directly and they are seeing themselves as courteous.

Dick Locke, Global Procurement Group.