How do you achieve highly effective AND long-term change when working multiculturally? The best place to start in making sense of others is by making sense of you! This includes knowing about your own culture (National & regional) and knowing how you as an individual fit the national generalisations (Are you typical of your national/ regional culture?). In addition, other aspects to consider are your professional culture (Legal, HR, Accountancy, etc.) and your organisational culture (Hierarchical? Task-driven? People-centred?). From the answers to these questions you should be able to build up a personal, cultural profile.
Now let’s look at the ‘others’. By knowing the other culture or cultures you are working with you can begin to understand why they do what they do and think as they do. Part of this is of course the country background (History, language, customs, place in the world, etc.) but more importantly, it must take into account the ways and practices of doing business. This includes the general communication style (Direct, indirect), the attitude towards issues involving the use of time, attitudes towards hierarchy, group or more individualist orientation preferences, attitude towards tasks vs. relationship orientation and how they deal with emotions in the workplace (freely and visible or unacceptable?) and finally the attitude towards rules and regulations, is it hard and fast (the law is the law regardless of circumstances) or is it much more dependent upon the context and prevailing circumstances?
Now you have the above you can begin to formulate a way forward that acknowledges the place you are coming from (Self) and where the people you are working with are (Others). Where does your cultural/ personal preferences and those of the others overlap? Where are the gaps? How do you navigate those gaps?
When introducing change into a multicultural or bicultural business context look at how you are planning to ‘sell’ your idea and initiatives. If you are replacing a local practice or approach your best skills are listening and good questions. Use these skills to find out about what is currently going on locally. How are things done here and why? Consider whose way is best? Ours? Theirs? A combination? Or neither? The key is – what is the medium/ long term business objective? A single global system, better customer service, or what? Once you have that clear you can work backwards from there to developing a change process that will be effective.
Finally, be aware of the ‘happy compromise’. Do not use a notion of ‘fairness’ to develop business processes –use ways that draw on the best that is on offer from all sides that are effective whilst at the same time paying due respect to all sides. And, if you still opt to introduce ‘your’ way ensure that you ‘sell’ it into the various cultural contexts in a way that shows understanding and respect – your effort will be rewarded by improved trust locally, and a greater chance of the change being embedded and successful.