When organisations ‘go global’ we often think of the formal networks that need to be stretched and expanded to accommodate the increase in communication that results. What we often fail to realise is that as individuals, we now need to network on a global scale as well, in order to maintain the effectiveness of our role. Having teams spread out across the globe, having key opinion leaders in remote offices means that our influencing skills can be severely tested as we try to continue applying them but now mostly virtually instead of face to face. The time and distance factors combine with cultural differences to create untold hurdles to ‘getting things done’ in the time frames and in the well-ordered ways that had been the norm only a short while back. You can find yourself, on occasion, regretting the globalisation process and wishing for less complicated times of yore! So what are the key characteristics of a ‘global networker’?
Getting curious about the people you work with
In the UK and a number of other countries the norm is to keep separate the personal from the professional. Being curios can be interpreted as being ‘nosey’. However outside of these cultures the norm in a large number of countries is that you need to get to know people well in order to work with them. Therefore being respectfully curios and interested in someone and in their culture always generates a positive response. By being curious we send out ‘respect’ signals and once we move beyond the surface histories of ‘Heroes & Holidays’, (the kind of information you get in short introductions to a country in guide books or on tourist websites) we can move to the second level of ‘cultural values’. This is about what people in that culture believe is important in the realms of human interactions, families, communication, how to get things done on a day to day basis and so on.
Are you ready to reciprocate?
Curiosity about cultures needs to be a two-way thing. So be open with information about your own culture, prepare yourself – take a few simple books abroad with you that will help explain or illustrate what you are talking about. These books can also make excellent gifts as well.
Don’t ask why (Why not?)
A word of warning here. Be very careful of the question “Why?” in any cultural context. It usually generates a defensive response – because behaviours need to be justified. Also, simple explanations may not always be forthcoming. When you are ‘inside’ a culture your fellow national don’t usually discuss these kinds of things in that way. It simply is that way! As a Brit I am regularly asked why we in the UK drive on the left. It took me some research to find out why. It is not a question we would ever ask ourselves in the UK! Again, in a number of countries around the world I have been asked why we in the UK put milk into our tea. Again – not information that is readily available in the national consciousness.
Feel enriched through meeting people
This is the bit about ‘work life balance’. What else can you get from working in a global environment? If you follow your curiosity you will learn much about the world first hand that you couldn’t by staying at home, despite all the news channels pumping stories into our homes through the TV. This is the bit that others who don’t travel talk about when they find out that you travel abroad regularly for work purposes. But what do you actually see or experience? For some it can be just the inside of a taxi and then a hotel followed by an office meeting room. Eventually all these environments merge and you could be just about anywhere and it wouldn’t really matter where you were. It doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t turn down invitations to socialise just to go back to the hotel to check emails! Take the time to meet people, visit places and do things that may enrich you personally whilst helping to build relationships with those you leave behind once you return home to the Head Office.
Improve your ability to make connections between people, ideas and concepts
Being able to see connections is a necessary set of skills in today’s business world. Thinking outside of the box in an intercultural context is an absolute necessity. Why? Because it is ALL outside the box if it’s a different culture, or at least outside YOUR box. Gaining cultural leverage is often a good result of making connections. Outsourcing decisions are an example of this. Seeing the potential of moving certain business functions to certain countries to gain a number of market and cost advantages requires the ability to make connections on a number of different levels. Another example is the ability to see how transferring staff globally by matching key skills and areas of expertise to priority roles elsewhere (particularly those moves that go against the trend of Head Office to foreign subsidiaries) can increase productivity or quality where it is most needed.
Keep channels of communication open
In relationship oriented cultures (That’s everyone except us Anglo-Saxons) people spend a lot more time involved in formal and particularly informal ‘networking’. Attending functions, having coffee and so on. In more tasks oriented cultures there is a tendency to only contact people when we need their input or support. This is looked on rather poorly in other cultures. Open channels may mean different things in different cultures. In formal cultures such as the Chinese it will mean ‘cultural events’ with sponsorships and so on to manage your contacts in government whilst formal banqueting activities are the rule with immediate business partners, joint venture partners and clients. It is said in China that if you eat alone then your business is in trouble! A good tip is when you next arrange a trip to Asia or Latin America or Africa, build in time to have social occasions and events with key contacts. This means more than just dinner at the end of the day with the Japanese of Chinese team leader. Increasingly the personal and the professional are becoming more and more intertwined as we work across cultural, time and distance borders. Developing your global networking skills will pay off for both you and the business.
To get in touch with Richard Cook email him on: firstname.lastname@example.org