Friday, August 15, 2014

Cross Cultural Solutions for International Business

Globalisation, the expansion of intercontinental trade, technological advances and the increase in the number of companies dealing on the international stage have brought about a dramatic change in the frequency, context and means by which people from different cultural backgrounds interact.

Cross cultural solutions to international business demands are increasingly being viewed as a valid and necessary method in enhancing communication and interaction in and between companies, between companies and customers and between colleagues.

Cross cultural consultancies are involved in aiding companies to find solutions to the challenges cross cultural differences carry.

International and national businesses are ultimately the result of people. As with incompatible software, if people are running on different cultural coding, problems can occur. Cross cultural consultancies therefore concentrate their efforts on interpersonal communication.

Different cultures and cultural backgrounds between a highly diverse staff base brings with it obstacles, challenges and difficulties. Cross cultural differences manifest in general areas such as in behaviour, etiquette, norms, values, expressions, group mechanics and non-verbal communication. These cross cultural differences then follow on through to high level areas such as management styles, corporate culture, marketing, HR and PR.

In order to overcome potential pitfalls, specialist attention is required in the form of a cross cultural consultant. As one would approach a doctor for a medical diagnosis or an accountant to examine finances, cross cultural consultants offer the expertise, experience and know-how to diagnose problems and provide solutions to interpersonal cultural differences.

Within companies there are many facets in which cultural differences manifest. Some key areas which cross cultural consultants deal with include, but are not exclusive to, the following:

Cross Cultural HR: HR covers a wide range of business critical areas that need cross cultural analysis. Consultants may offer advice on a number of areas including recruitment, relocation, international assignments, staff retention and training programmes.

Cross Cultural Team-Building: in order to have a well functioning business unit within a company, communication is critical. Cross cultural consultants will provide tools and methods to promote staff integration, reduce cross cultural conflicts and build team spirit. This is essentially done through highlighting differences and building on strengths to ensure they are used positively.

Cross Cultural Synergy: international mergers, acquisitions and joint-ventures require people from different cultural backgrounds to harmonise in order to succeed. Cross cultural consultants counsel on group mechanics, communication styles, norms, values and integration processes.

Cross Cultural Awareness Training: working with colleagues, customers or clients from different cultural backgrounds, with different religions, values and etiquettes can occasionally lead to problems. Cross cultural awareness training is usually a generic introduction into a culture, country, region or religion. The aim is to equip the trainee with the adequate knowledge to deal comfortably with people from different cultures, avoiding misunderstandings and mistakes.

Cross Cultural Training for Expatriate Relocation: staff that travel overseas need to understand the cultural basics of the host country or region. Knowledge of the country's history, culture, laws, traditions, business practices and social etiquettes all help to minimise the impact of culture shock and hence smooth their transition overseas.

Cross Cultural Negotiations: equipped with their knowledge of the two or more cultures that can be meeting around the negotiation table, a cross cultural consultant advises on areas such as negotiation strategies, styles, planning, closure and etiquette in order to increase the chance of a successful outcome, free from misunderstandings, suspicions and general cross cultural communication breakdown.

Cross Cultural PR Consultancy: brand image, public relations and advertising are all areas companies must be careful of when moving out of the national context. Tastes and values change dramatically from continent to continent. It is crucial to understand whether the brand name, image or advertising campaign is culturally applicable in the target country. Cross cultural consultants examine words, images, pictures, colours and symbols to ensure they fit well with the target culture.

Cross Cultural Language Training: Language training is an area where little investment is made by companies, but where the business advantages are great. Linguistic knowledge goes a long way in bridging cultural gaps and smoothing lines of communication. Cross cultural consultancies provide language training to business staff, moulding their learning to the business environment in which they work.

In conclusion, clearly the role and expertise of cross cultural communication consultants is important for today's international business. The potential pitfalls cross cultural differences present to companies are extensive. In essence a cross cultural consultant's primary objective is integration. This integration, between colleagues, clients and customers is crucial for business success. Equipped with experience, knowledge and above all objectivity, a cross cultural consultant creates bridges of understanding and opens lines of communication.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

International Business - Preparing For An Overseas Assignment

Selecting employees to work overseas and establishing proper career paths for overseas personnel is only the tip of the iceberg. Equally important is the training and preparation they and their families receive before and during an assignment.

If a high failure rate as well as sub par performance is to be avoided, certain guidelines must be followed. In particular awareness of two of the most common problems:

o Misdirected orientation that fails to take into account differences in individual perceptions of overseas environments.

o Organizational diffusion that afflicts any expatriate placement system that does not integrate selection, orientation and repatriation functions into a conceptually and procedurally cohesive system.

Individual Perceptions

Technical skills and professional knowledge are not at issue here: of the majority of expatriates who fail in overseas jobs, studies show that about 80 percent fail because or poor personal adjustment rather than inadequate technical or job skills.

For all levels of employees, however, the costs of mistaken expatriation include the costs of initial recruitment, relocation expenses, premium compensation, repatriation costs and replacement costs as well as the tangible costs of poor on the job performance. Evaluation of the reasons for overseas failure and a review of the burgeoning literature on this subject indicate however, that an important "first principle" of human relations is either ignored or insufficiently considered. That is the fact that individuals differ in their perceptions of the same reality.

This therefore, is the singular most destructive aspect of current expatiate cultural preparation. Regrettably information is delivered in a video or a one day talk by a self styled "expert" all of which fit neatly into the American mentality for the quick fix and thus have enormous appeal. Unfortunately these programs generally do more damage than good. They tend to leave in their wake individuals conditioned to respond to stereotypes rather than think for themselves. Instead of attempting to convey "the truth about Tokyo'' - orientation programs should make clear that employees and family members will experience their own Tokyos. No matter what they may have heard or read, their experiences will be unique. Consider how difficult it might be to describe the essence of America to a foreigner who has no reference points. How do you explain New York vs California or the South? If the right individuals are selected, they themselves will take the necessary time to study the country - its history and culture. In addition they will discover that local nationals, sensing genuine interest will go overboard assisting in their understanding. In the long term this is the only cultural orientation that is effective because each family assimilates it at its own pace and from its own perspective.


In the system suggested herein, the normally separate selection, orientation and repatriation processes represent a continuum through which employees are identified, oriented to their new assignment and when appropriate, prepared for their return to the U.S.. Repatriation in this system is functionally integrated with the selection/orientation process. Allowing those who help identify employees for overseas assignments to calibrate their judgment by knowing the "who what and why" of returnees--failures as well as "success stories".

As noted in an earlier paper, foreign assignments should be part of a company's overall well planned and well communicated career development program for certain pre-selected employees, instead of a "plum" available to only a few or a career interruption suffered by the unlucky.
In light of the perception problems discussed earlier, the orientation program should consist of three elements - all designed to provide the proper mind set. This would include:

An initial orientation

o Culture

A general overview of country traditions/history; government/economy; and living conditions, all designed to provide a sense of the country and its people with a strong emphasis on flexibility rather than rules for specific situations and the opinions (often erroneous) of others.

o Assignment

Job requirements and expectations, length of assignment, expatriate benefits including salary/allowances; tax consequences; repatriation policy.

o Relocation

Clothing/housing requirements; health requirements; visa requirements, shipping/packing of goods to be sent overseas, storage of stateside household; US home disposal/rental, overseas housing

A pre-departure orientation

Because the initial orientation often takes place a month or more before actual departure, a pre-departure orientation is recommended. This is to provide employees and their families with information they will need in transit and upon arrival as well as emphasize material that had been covered earlier. Also covered:

o A basic introduction to the language, more likely to be remembered when the opportunity to use it is close at hand.

o Further reinforcement of key behavioral values especially open mindedness.

o Enroute, emergency and arrival information.

Arrival orientation.

Upon arrival, the employee and his/her family should be met at the airport or other debarkation point by an assigned company sponsor to ease transition through the first month in country.


Too often expatriate orientation programs and policies lose sight of the fact that ours is a culturally pluralistic society made up of individuals with an almost limitless range of attitudes and reactions to what they see, hear and experience. Experience itself in the foreign environment without and overpowering and often misleading orientation program will ultimately determine the attitudes necessary to a productive and thriving adjustment.

Within this conceptual framework. an effective overseas staffing system has been suggested that unifies the aims and functions of selection, orientation and repatriation. Such an approach permits management to take advantage or the fact that all three processes are related and each corroborates the effectiveness of the other.