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While not exactly a New Year’s resolution, which usually wind up in the trash anyway before the first month of the new year is out, this is a realization of sorts. If I’m doing anything other than focussing on the business, I’m not only wasting my time, but also that of my contact.

Okay, this seems like a patently obvious statement, but there’s a situation in particular that I’d like to relate. Earlier on this blog I’d spoken of my plans to start an Interfaith Dialogue here in Almelo. My goal is to do in my private life what I do for business, namely: facilitating those from different cultures to work together for greater understanding and benefit. I related in my post from 15 September, 2010 (“The Imam says . . . “) my first visit to the mosque to discuss the possibility of a cooperation with my own church. Why the “business-like” approach should even be a question says a lot about my approach until now.

It suddenly dawned on me, as I was sitting with the Imam and the Board Secretary for a follow up visit on the last day of 2010 that I hadn’t stated my case clearly enough: what’s in it for them? Worse yet, I was waiting for them to offer me something. Why? For some reason I had the idea that they would welcome an enthusiastic non-Muslim in their midst. As if they were sitting and waiting for me all this time. Somehow I was expected a hearty handshake, a brotherly slap on the shoulder and shouts of, “Welcome!” Instead, their attitude was somewhat suspicious, as if my motive was to try to sell them something. Or, worse, to convert them. After some time of circling around the main issue, the Secretary confided in me , “Listen, we’ve got plenty of volunteers. That’s not the problem. What we need, however, are volunteers with vision, experience and education.” Ha! Bingo! The light suddenly switched on – of course: if the added value is not crystal clear, why invest in it? Just because it’s my so-called “free time” doesn’t give me the right to waste their time. Time is valuable, whether it’s for business, pleasure, personal or private. 

So that means back to the drawing board. Or, rather, to the drawing board for the first time. Project proposal, official position from the church (something like “Intercultural Dialogue Coordinator”), and presentation to both church boards. Let’s get to work!

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Resolve cultural conflict? Smooth things over? Why? This is a waste of potential creative power. By using the energy inherent in cultural conflict, it is possible to leverage the differences for added value.

The model, based on the research of Prof. Joseph DiStefano and Prof. Martha Maznevski, both of IMD. A summary of this research can be found here  https://srleosalazar.wordpress.com/resources-and-links/ as well as on the IMD site: http://www.ft.com/businesseducation/imd

This posted on the LinkedIn group site, “Creating Results From Cultural Diversity”. The question, from Leah Smiley, was: “What are the differences between diversity practices in the US and Europe?”

Hello Leah,

I’m curious to see what responses you get here. I can give my perspective, but there are two caveats: 1) it is difficult to generalize about “Europe” in terms of societal trends and business practices, and 2) it is difficult to make a direct comparison between countries in Europe and the US. Dramatic differences in historical population and societal development make it clearly a case of apples and oranges.

Having said that, however, I can make a few statements about the Netherlands, the country in Europe that I am most familiar with. As in the US (or because of the US, depending on who you talk to), all economies in Europe are suffering in varying degrees because of the economic crisis. Because diversity policy is not firmly anchored and reinforced in government or business policy, many companies have simply ignored their diversity practices the past couple of years, arguing that their “priorities are elsewhere” and “it’s a question of survival”. The fact that the companies even have this choice says a lot about the state of diversity policy in this country.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the Netherlands is comparable to the US in the late 1950’s in terms of awareness of the importance of a culture that encourages diversity. The Dutch constitution is clear when it comes to equal rights, but there are very few laws in place that enable diversity policy to the individual level. Most companies that do have a constructive diversity policy are the same ones that are busy with sustainability and CSR: it’s the morally right thing to do and it bolsters their image. Not because there is a legal imperative that compels them to do so.

The media reflects a society that is overwhelmingly white, and there are no charismatic leaders amongst minority communities. In fact, most minority communities are strangely silent when it comes to fighting for their equal rights.There is not a strong private litigation culture in the Netherlands and there are very few who take action if they feel they’ve been discriminated against. In fact, there is an active public service campaign that is currently running on Dutch TV that explains to people what discrimination is and what to do if you feel you’ve been discriminated against (even though it’s in Dutch, the pictures say a lot: http://www.discriminatie.nl). This campaign seems to me to be clearly targeted towards those being discriminated against, rather than those doing the discriminating.

It will be interesting to watch developments in the coming months. The right wing politician Geert Wilders of the PVV party has gained significant ground by blaming minorities for the current problems in the Netherlands. Only now, after months of negotiating to form a new government, have any of the potential coalition partners said that the policies that the PVV espouses are anathematic. And then not necessarily because of the rights of minorities themselves, but more how it would look to trading partners of the Netherlands, most obviously Germany. In other words: there was an economic rationale rather than a moral or societal rationale.

And this is the key to promoting positive approaches to diversity in the Netherlands, in my opinion (and that’s why I do what I do): prove diversity as the wise economic choice. Increases in innovation, creativity, added value and increased access to diverse labor and consumer markets; decreases in personnel turnover and employee health issues. These are the drivers the Dutch understand. Don’t tell them it’s the right thing to do; tell them how it effects their bottom line.

I’ve found the best quote in this article to be “Unless a company can connect diversity to business goals, it’s tough to keep investing in it.”

The only real business solution to diversity is to 1) recognize the differences, 2) link those differences to one’s own behavior and 3) integrate this behavioral change into business processes. This way it is possible to use the differences inherent in diversity to generate added value. This makes diversity investment a true investment that delivers returns, rather than a cost. Even more importantly, it justifies even more investment when times are tough, rather than reduction.

Read more: The business case for diversity – Washington Business Journal

To exploit overseas opportunities, multinational corporations must usually transfer executives into them. Yet these expatriates—a scarce and very dear resource—often fail, and many leave their employers even after they succeed overseas. What can multinationals do to protect their investment (which, according to data provided in the article, can run upwards to $500,000 per year)? Some solutions proposed in this article are:

  • Unlocking talent by having clear partner-family policies for expatriates, such as adequate and in-depth preparation, rewards for local interaction during the assignment, and easy access to housing, schooling and feedback mechanisms as an ongoing policy.
  • Sourcing creatively such as finding talented expatriate managers in previously run joint ventures, sourcing outside of the corporate home market, and having permanent on-site teams to help facilitate operations.
  • Considering that 70 percent of failed assignments result directly from personal and family difficulties rather than incompetence on the job, having an early assessment program in place is essential.
  • Keeping the expatriates and their families well connected with corporate home base by facilitating a two-way transfer of knowledge.
  • Clear evaluations by involved senior management with visible and well-explained metrics for performance are essential.
  • Retaining the talent within the company: according to one survey, a stunning 91 percent of returning expatriates felt that their companies didn’t value their international experience. The result of this is repatriated managers in the US leave their companies at twice the rate of managers with purely domestic experience, usually within one year of returning.

The article has a great deal of data to substantiate both the problem as well as the proposed solutions. Even though it was published in the McKinsey Quarterly over 10 years ago, the lessons are now more valuable than ever. Considering the increased trend towards globalization and the even scarcer resources because of the economic downturn, it is ever more important to make the small investments necessary to protect the larger business equation.

The article can be found online here

“Are you taking your expatriate talent seriously?” by Tsun-yan Hsieh, Johanne Lavoie, and Robert A. P. Samek, The McKinsey Quarterly, 1999 NUMBER 3, p. 71 – 83.

What matters to CEOs and corporate learning: it’s all about the business results (T&D magazine #learning #results #ROI): http://ow.ly/1nkjK

An article by the training ROI authority Jack Phillips in the January issue of T&D magazine shows the results of research among a large number of CEOs regarding what they want to see from their corporate learning investments. Even though a whopping 96% want to see the results of learning and development back in their business impact data, only 8% claim to see it now. This demonstrates an enormous mismatch in L&D investments and providing business leaders with what they want to see.

The article lists a number of practical steps that we as learning professionals can now take to start showing business results. Even though Phillips is renowned for his admittedly complex training ROI calculations, the solutions he mentions are practical, immediate and can be undertaken with a minimum of investment. Among others they include focusing on objectives, integrating personal learning scorecards, providing success stories and building evaluation early into the L&D design.

“Confronting CEO Expectations About the Value of Learning,” by Jack J. and Patti P. Phillips, T+D 64 (2010) 1 (Jan); p. 52 – 56 (5p.)

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