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“I firmly believe that whether you’re building a company or leading a country, a diverse mix of voices and backgrounds and experiences leads to better discussions, better decisions, and better outcomes for everyone.”

In the week following Republican candidate Donald Trump’s loathsome proposal to stop all travel in and out of the US based on religion, until “we figure out what’s going on” with “terrorism,” there have been a number of voices raised in protest. Finally. Trump’s brand of nationalistic fascism is nothing new,  and we’re seeing a resurgence of it around the world as crisis and change make people afraid. But Trump has hit a new low for Americans, at least since Japanese-Americans were interred and stripped of all possessions and dignity in the panic following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December , 1941.

One of the most eloquent voices is Google’s CEO Sundar Pinchal, who speaks with the voice of experience and authority. It’s worth the read for anyone who is concerned about allowing everyone from different cultures the possibility to be respected and to perform their best.

Let’s Not Let Fear Defeat Our Values.

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Earlier this year I had the honor and pleasure of hosting Aebi Schmidt at De Baak Seaside during their annual 2-day strategy meeting. Aebi Schmidt Holding (AHS) is based in Zurich, Switzerland, and 50 top managers from the global company came to the Netherlands for two days to take a look at the year past, reinforce their company values, and look at the way forward for 2012.

Aebi Schmidt is the leading system provider of innovative technical solutions for the cleaning and clearing of traffic areas as well as the mowing of green spaces on difficult terrains

Regular readers of this blog perhaps notice that I often take the intercultural view of doing business. I’m always looking for ways to help leaders to recognize differences and to leverage those differences for mutual benefit. And in preparing for Aebi Schmidt, my colleague at De Baak, Raymond Eilander, and I sought ways to highlight cultural value differences while helping the participants align to company values.

To my pleasant surprise, there was remarkable homogeneity amongst the values of the managers. Not cultural homogeneity — far from it. Amongst the Swiss, German, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Dutch and Spanish participants there was a great deal of difference. The homogeneity was among the company values. Regularly, consistently and pervasively, I heard the following values expressed:

  • The importance of innovation (how to find it, encourage it and enable it)
  • Building trust
  • Shaping change
  • Working positively towards solutions
  • Respect for others’ position and perspective

How was this possible? How were the cultural differences of seven different nationalities trumped by a strong company culture? Of course there are many reasons and causes to defining a culture, many if not most of them invisible and difficult to define. But in the case of Aebi Schmidt for me there was a very strong defining element to the company: the CEO Walter Vogel.

Mr. Vogel at first blush appeared to me, when I first met him in Zurich during the planning stages of the meeting, to be the epitome of the Swiss executive: impeccably dressed, formal, stiff and encouraging to deference. Even though I was on the mark regarding his sartorial taste, I was way off base about the rest. Walter (please don’t call him “Mr. Vogel”) put me immediately at ease and we had a very pleasant 2-hour conversation about what we should plan for his company.

Later, during the 2-day event, Walter clearly showed outstanding characteristics of an excellent leader. He was engaging, participative, continuously present but low-key, encouraging and supportive. During the entire 2-day event, he excused himself exactly one time to “tend to an emergency.” Within 15 minutes he was back and again in the flow of the program.

We’ve worked with many companies at De Baak. Some with success and some less so. Seeing the positive, supportive leadership style of CEO Walter Vogel was truly an inspiration and, in my mind, the well-spring of a strong, positive company culture. I find it significant that Walter’s #2 man, CFO Stephan Naef, has won Switzerland’s CFO of the year award. I can imagine the the supportive, encouraging leadership style of his boss had a great deal to do with it.

 

During De Baak’s “Who Are We: Reflections on Dutch Leadership and Society,” we reflected on what leadership in the Netherlands was and what, if possible, other cultures could learn from the Dutch.

On 15 March I attended a MoveOn rally in Riverside, California (US) to express solidarity for the public service workers unions in Wisconsin who were being stripped of their collective bargaining rights. Again I stressed the benefits of working together, espousing the “Dutch model” as an ideal way to achieve sustainable solutions.

You can find my contribution at 04:35 🙂

I was approached last week by a student from one of the professional universities in the Hague looking for information. She and her fellow students were preparing a fictitious case regarding a merger between KLM, Air France and JAL. Her task was to examine training possibilities to insure that the merger addressed cultural differences.

Coincidentally, I had a meeting planned for the next day, and one of the people planning to be there was formerly one of the directors of KLM during the actual merger with Air France a few years ago. One of his responsibilities during this time was defining training for cabin personnel in dealing with the cultural changes during the merger. A perfect match, in other words. I invited her to join the meeting.

The meeting went very well. The student, Marieke Harderwijk, was very professional and adhered perfectly to our agreed-upon protocol. Later in the day I received the following email from her:

Dear Mr. Salazar,

To begin with, I would like to thank you from my heart that I was able to be a part of the meeting today.

Secondly, I marvel over the fact that you, whom by all appearances seem to me to be a very modest and self-effacing man, have an enormous amount of knowledge and experience. You gave me, a simple student, just like that the chance to attend a very important meeting, sight unseen. There are few people on this earth who would have done that for someone.

I find it especially inspiring how you use your knowledge and experience also in daily life to make the world a better place, such as your project you mentioned between the church and mosque.

Thank you so much!

With warm regards,

Marieke Harderwijk

Even though one doesn’t necessarily help others for extrinsic rewards, this email was certainly a reward for me. I was surprised, and humbled, to have received it. The following Monday was Martin Luther King Day in the US, and his quote sums up my feelings,

“An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ’What are you doing for others?’”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 11, 1957

I thank YOU, Marieke. From my heart.

The following “6 Simple Rules for Effective Global Team Management” are from a conversation I had with Sandra Biets, former Global Director, Product Quality Management, with Nike in the US. I met Sandra at an event organized by the WTC Almere, the Netherlands, an “Internationals Day,” at the end of June, 2010. We had a conversation with each other on 23 September, 2010, at Dauphine, in Amsterdam, to get to know each other better. This article is a result of that conversation. 

Background
Sandra Biets was asked by Nike in 2007 to manage their global product integrity team from the US. Team members were located in Europe, N. and S. America and Asia. Her experience with this team provide good lessons for intercultural team building. It’s a clear demonstration how the differences in the team were leveraged for added value, delivering results that far surpassed what might have been achieved by a homogeneous team.

Her qualities
Sandra found the assignment exhilarating. It fit perfectly to her strengths, which are process and project management, with a very structural and analytical approach to everything she does.

The assignment
In assembling this global team, it was the first time that she had brought together such a complex group: team members from three different continents (Europe, Asia and the US) as well as teams from two different divisions from each continent. This meant that not only did country cultures play a role within the six teams, but also different regional company cultures even within the same country.

The assignment for the team had to do with leveraging all tools available to drive/inform product decisions (i.e. sales data, trend reports, product integrity data, consumer insights, etc.); and coordinating product integrity within product conception, design and development. Because it was a global assignment, it was necessary to analyze and interpret mountains of data from various global locations.

The lessons
There were a number of significant lessons that Sandra took away from this experience.

  1. Build on team values: the team values were set very early in the process. She requested that they begin their project with a face-to-face and focused on defining the team values during this meeting.
  2. Create ambassadors: instead of directly managing each team, Sandra chose one team member as her surrogate. It was important that these were not direct reports, usually one level below her. These ambassadors managed their teams directly, and reported back to her.
  3. Open communication: Open communication crosses cultural boundaries. Every culture values open communication. The difficulty arises, however, in how “open” is interpreted. Often cultural signals are not explained and, as a result, can be misinterpreted. Under this heading of open communication there were a number of specific practices that created organically, from within the group, and in direct response to actual situations.
  4. Direct communication: No “triangulation” – even though she was team director, and encouraged members to communicate conflicts, Sandra always pushed the solution back to the participants, instead of going between. She would provide guidance and coaching, but ultimately they were responsible for solving their own problems.
  5. Simple techniques: By adopting simple yet effective techniques, Sandra got the team to focus on the positive interaction between the team members. For example, one of the techniques she used was to have the participants create index cards to help them as a handy reminder of conflict areas and agreements. The front of the card would show the value (i.e. “respect for each other”); the back of the card the method (i.e. “give room to allow everyone to express themselves”) needed to hold the agreements they’ve made with each other.
  6. Ownership: many of the practices that Sandra implemented consistently reinforced the concept of self-management and responsibility. The feeling of ownership – of the team, the assignment and the results – was, as a result, very strong within the team.

The results
The results of this team showed very clearly that there was a close relationship between performance of the team and support by the organization. Nike is truly a globally-thinking organization that spares no expense in getting the best from and with its people. Nike’s structure and culture reinforced these practices. As one of many examples, performance reviews were based 50% on achieving targets, and 50% how much a team player the employee is. This helped reinforce the cooperative aspect of intercultural teamwork.

Even though Sandra developed these rules for global team management in retrospect, they can be very effective in planning in advance. She was presented with a unique opportunity and made the most of both what the organization had to offer in terms of support, as well as the talent and commitment of the team members. This triangular relationship (Sandra, the Nike organization, the global team members) all worked together to create a remarkable success.

To contact Sandra Biets, her profile can be found on LinkedIn. If you wish her direct contact information, please leave a message on this site and she will contact you.

This http://nyti.ms/9a8r1I is an article that looks at the new “hybrid leader.” Aspects of leaders that combine old and new, hard and soft, formal and informal, etc. Leaders such as Barack Obama, Carlos Ghosn (Nissan-Renault) and Indra Nooyi (CEO PepsiCo) are embodiments of this new “emergent” style of leader. The qualities named of these new leaders are:

  • Listen zealously
  • Seek the universal
  • Vary your cadences
  • Be radically pragmatic
  • Know your truths
  • Think both/and

All good advice, and also good qualities of anyone operating in intercultural environments.

What bothers me about this article is focusing solely on “bi-cultural” people, to use a phrase popularized for a time at De Baak, as foremost examples of this new leader. There doesn’t seem to be much room for someone to become this type of leader – you’re either born into it or you’re not.

I hope that young, aspiring leaders see this article, and the many others like it that are out there, as a model to strive for, despite its implications. That they realize that one can also develop oneself to change and adapt, whether or not one has the natural-born ethnic cred or not.

Certainly this is the only way to develop society, to hope that we can enlighten each other and change towards an ideal.

It seems as though we have iPhone applications for pretty much everything these days. The spectrum runs from some outstanding business-related apps that can go a long way to improving your productivity, and some beautifully designed apps to enhance your creativity, to many apps that leave one wondering, “Why?”

Cultural dimensions iPhone app

Cultural differences app for iPhone

Where the CultureGPS app fits for you on this spectrum probably depends on how useful you find the cultural dimensions model of Prof. Geert Hofstede. For those unfamiliar with Prof. Hofstede’s work, you can read more here. But in brief, Prof. Hofstede, while employed as a researcher by IBM in the 1960’s, did studies comparing national and organizational cultures. The result was a 5-dimension model that has been used by culture and organizational experts for many years in classifying differences in culture. While still controversial, it nevertheless offers a modicum of structure for those looking for patterns in behavior that match to national differences. According to a Wall Street Journal ranking in 2008, Geert Hofstede is one of the top 20 most influential business thinkers.

The application, developed by Sales-Genetics Ltd & Co. KG of Düsseldorf. Germany, is currently available only for the iPhone. According to their website, other smartphone OS platforms are being developed.

Not only do 60& of Turkish small and medium enterprises don’t use email, 75% have no corporate website. When doing business with Turkey, check your assumptions regarding communication. More information: http://tiny.sm/dc

#lrnchat is an online chat over the social messaging service Twitter that now happens twice every Thursday: first at 4:30-6pm GMT  and then again at 8:30-10pm ET/5:30-7pm PST.

It is for learning professionals who come together to exchange ideas and thoughts that are prompted by questions posed by a moderator. The sessions last 1.5 hours, and in yesterday evening’s first session the overall topic was “The Intersection of Online and Inperson Education” and within this framework four questions were posed:

Q1) What are some great techniques for online educators to bring a personal element to their facilitation?
Q2) What are some modern techniques classroom educators can use to add digital depth to their programs?
Q3) Would you rather train online or in person, and why?
Q4) What do you prefer learning online or in person, and why?

It was a wonderful exchange with many great ideas. Online learning at its best!!!

RT @HarvardBiz: Leadership lessons from Indian companies: good preview of an very good article http://bit.ly/bpzusc

The question is: can the rest of us learn from their practices? As Peter Cappelli astutely observes, the lessons are not new, and even though many are based on circumstances found unique to the Indian business environment, there are nevertheless inherent lessons.

Especially: measuring and tracking training and development and creating a real sense of social mission, whereby employees can feel that their work has impact can have clear influence on the culture and success of any company.

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