Our economic development will forever be defined as our ability to succeed internationally. PwC forecasts India’s real annual GDP growth until 2050 at 8.9 percent, Vietnam’s at 8.8 percent, and China’s at 5.9 percent. The list of fast-growing emerging markets goes on and on. The U.S. forecast is a meager 2.4 percent, comparable with most Western economies. The domestic companies that are likely to see incremental growth in the coming decades are those that are not only doing business internationally, but that are developing the strategic skill set to master doing business across cultures. Cross-cultural core competence is at the crux of today’s sustainable competitive advantage. If one day you’re asked to manage a supply chain in Malaysia, the next day you’re managing your virtual team in China, and the next you’re optimizing your company’s call center in India, you know that it’s just not possible to be an expert in every culture or geography in which you do business. What is possible is developing the mindset of a globalist — or, in other words, mastering cross-cultural core competency. If I tell you that when you engage in a sales call in the United States, the acceptable spatial proximity between you and your prospect is 2.5 feet, I have accomplished the equivalent of a fisherman giving you a fish. If I demonstrate to you, instead, how uncomfortable you feel when I say hello and proceed to shake your hand while standing 6 inches from your face, I have accomplished the equivalent of teaching you to fish. You now know that every culture has a specific, acceptable space proximity. By sheer observation, you have added this to your cross-cultural tool belt. The next time you get off the plane anywhere in the world, you will look around and observe how far apart people are standing, log that information somewhere in your busy brain, and proceed to your next meeting armed with information that will avoid instant discomfort and a potential disconnect that may jeopardize business with your international counterpart. Now imagine if you could augment this simplistic metaphor incrementally, to every aspect in which culture impacts business. A Framework for Understanding
Culture has many definitions. My own definition is that culture is our collective experience as a society, and its impact on our reaction and decision-making relative to every-day facts and circumstances. Why is cross-cultural competence critical to your professional future and the viability of your company? It’s omnipresent in every business interaction and strategic decision. According to a May 2006 Accenture study, optimizing this process through training can increase productivity by 30 percent. For example, if a company’s director of marketing embarks on a campaign demonstrating how speedy its service is, when the underlying cultural motivation of the international customer is almost completely focused on customer service, the value proposition consists of selling ice in the wintertime — there’s plenty of it, and it was never wanted to begin with. It is not feasible to be an expert on all the world’s cultures. It is possible, however, to incorporate a cross-cultural framework that improves cross-cultural understanding and interactions. One such framework, the Business Model of Intercultural Analysis [BMIA™], uses the following six “comprehension lenses” to examine enterprise-wide cross cultural challenges: cultural themes, communication, group dynamics, ‘glocalization,’ process engineering, and time orientation. Let us examine some examples of American executives interacting with Chinese executives to illustrate how a few of these comprehension lenses impact business. Cultural Themes
Every society has its own “cultural themes,” which have a substantial impact on how that culture does business. Chinese cultural themes are rooted in folk belief and Confucian values, including filial piety, thrift, endurance, and trustworthiness. These values are deeply engrained...
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