When a project manager I knew and had worked with on other projects started the conversation with “How soon can you come to Houston?” I knew something was not right with his current project. I had worked with him in the past on other local projects, and I knew that he was working on a new global effort, but I could also tell by his voice that he had a problem, a big one.

After a few minutes of discussion about the project, I could see that the issue was larger than a plane ticket to Texas.

“So, you’re just now rolling out your project in two pilot sites?” I asked.

“Yes, we started two weeks ago, one laboratory in Houston, and the other one in Singapore.” He said.

“You say that the Houston roll out is not going well?” I asked.

“It’s awful, we’re having significant people problems outside of our risk plan.” He said.

“How is the Singapore pilot going?” I knew what he was going to say, as I reached for the travel department telephone number.

“Oh, Singapore is going great, we asked them yesterday and they said everything was great. We don’t have a problem there, just in Houston. Everything seems to be going wrong in Houston with the people side of the project. We’re getting terrible feedback. How soon can you get here?”

There is an old saying that you could put out a forest fire with a tea cup of water, if you applied it at the right time. Most companies don’t see the value of change management until too late, lucky for my project manager friend, we fixed the issues in both pilot programs – it was clear after a few probing questions that Singapore wasn’t going well either. With the fix, the project became a great success for the company.

The missing elements were due considerably to the cultural differences.

The project team was made up mostly of equipment manufacturing representatives from central Europe (unbalanced team decisions). The introduction video was hosted by a 20 something (no status + rank) who pointed their finger at the screen (offensive in many countries). The gamification focused on teams in America and individuals in Asia (backwards). The specific behavior changes needed were not identified nor tailored for each country (corporate / department culture).

To have effective change programs you must understand the whole picture of what a change may entail, who it will affect, the national context of stakeholders and how individuals sense their environment.

Knowing different values, viewpoints and outlooks that different cultures have will help  properly design a change and save time by not having to repair misunderstandings and allowing the focus on achievement rather than dealing with misunderstandings and cultural mistakes.

Working with international stakeholders can be challenging, as they will see situations and communications through their view based on their cultural frameworks. Complicating the situation are that personal cultures vary from country to country and involve many layers of communication meanings, views of time, what they value and even how they have fun. When you add in the business part of the mix, you begin to add the dimensions of group norms and behaviors based on a business framework.

When we speak of ‘culture’ in business, normally that really encompasses three areas, Personal, National and Corporate cultures.

There are three models that help in clarifying these culture complexities.  Each has its own origins and efficacy, and they’ve been in use for many years and have been successfully employed for cultural analysis in their specialty focus areas.

Personal Culture

Gerard Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist, former IBM employee, and Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Hofstede developed his original personal model as a result of using factor analysis to examine the results of a world-wide survey of employee values by IBM. The model consists of six dimensions that measure how individuals perceive their environment.

The Hofstede Model is best used for understanding multicultural teams and how they interact and view goal attainment at a personal level. This model is useful for managing international stakeholders (team members).

National Culture

Richard D. Lewis – expanded these concepts following a period of living and working in Finland and Japan. His grouping of National cultures describes how, in general, people in countries view and respond to information. The Lewis model is usually represented by a triangle with three dominant modes, Reactive, Multi-Active and Linear Active.

The Richard D. Lewis Cultural Model is good for planning, at a country level, to shape messaging and engagements on a large scale.

Corporate Culture

The Competing Value Framework developed by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn at the University of Michigan, measure a company’s (or department) culture in four types along with management competencies for each type. It generally is what people describe in the corporate environment as, “How we do things here.” By looking at their four culture types you can assess and analyze ‘where the organization is’ and then map ‘where the organization wants to go.’

Using these models to affect change generally would focus on:

International Teams Hofstede
Communication & Engagement Lewis
Corporate Culture & Behaviors Competing Value Framework

Understanding the context of culture from all three areas (Personal, National and Corporate) is important for the big picture in regard to complexities, and allows you to plan your change accordingly.

Achieving goals in multiple cultural situations is complex, requires careful analysis and planning, and above all, extensive cultural awareness.

Most importantly, understanding YOUR frame of reference and the cultural norms of the people, nations and business setting will allow you to be effective, efficient and credible when delivering change efforts.

Need help with crafting culturally sensitive change programs? Get in touch today.

“We see things not as they are, but as we are.” – H.M.Tomlinson

Please Note: This blog is part of a series of articles focused on change leadership

  1. How Do You Make Tomorrow Different?
  2. The Importance of Culture