Coaching Case Study By Masami Kanaguri
(Business Development in/with Asia/Asian, JAPAN)
Change Risks into Chances through CMB(Culture Management on Business) Coaching
Culture matters on business!
A lifetime ago, our business environment was not as global as it is today. There are thousands of multi-national companies that do business transactions outside of their home country. Especially in the last couple of decades, international transactions have rapidly increased because of the popularization of the internet around the world. Although it has always been a great chance to make business bigger by expanding market overseas — and some companies did succeed in making themselves grow — business people in the process of expansion have always faced difficulties that they hardly experienced in their home country. They are often caused by “cultural differences.”Even greatly successful business personswho are experts in the industry and have excellent language skills typically struggle to build successful business results because of cultural gaps between himself/herself and partners in local regions.
According to the Culture and ChangeManagementSurvey by PwC’s Strategy, 84% of global leaders say culture is critical to business success and more than 60% of them say it is more important than corporate strategy or operation models. However, nearly 50% of them say culture is not effectively managed and needs a major overhaul.
There is a famous quote by Peter Dracker, acknowledged worldwide as an effective management consultant, that says
what managers should do is the same across the globe but how depends on the cultures.
When I was working in Denmark, I experienced a huge culture shock which I had never experienced in my home country, Japan. I was working in a Japanese manufacturing company and the company sent me to a European subsidiary in Denmark to manage the site. After a short while, I held a meeting with managers. The meeting started at 3 P.M. The meeting agenda was about the European site’s middle term strategy. Taking the type of agenda into account, I anticipated the meeting would take at least more than an hour and believed all the participants were ready for it. During the first hour, the meeting was run smoothly thanks to all the participants’ active contribution. Yet, suddenly the moment came. One of the managers cut in the discussion and told me “Wow, it’s already 5 minutes past 4 P.M. I have to go now.” In Denmark, the working hours are typically from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. and those were the hours of this company. But we had not covered all the topics on the agenda so I asked the manager to stay for a little while more. He told me, “Sorry, I can’t. I have a plan and I am only scheduled until 4 P.M.’’
I felt I had been struck in the head. In my country, most employees accept over hours and typically people work longer than contracted hours. (Sometimes A LOT longer than contracted hours.) I had lived in such an environment before and had never left the meeting in the middle and never expected people to claim they needed to leave even though contracted working hours were over. After the experience, I realized I should not presume they work the same way as Japanese do. It is not good or bad. It is culture and it is different from mine. Ever since then, I became more careful in terms of what time to set up a meeting. But the next problem came up after a short while: Did the people at the headquarters understand it well? The answer is no. After that, I often had conflicts with the headquarters in Japan, especially when it was something that required an answer on the same day. Like I did, headquarters presumed all the employees accepted over hours easily. Obviously, there were working culture differences between Japan and Denmark and the difference created conflicts in the working environment.
As I experienced, typically people working in a global environment do experience culture shocks and in the worst case, these shocks can lead a business to failure. If you want to make a successful international business, you have to manage culture. Culture matters! But how do we manage it?
Now, I would like to introduce you my coaching niche. My coaching can be defined as CMB (Culture Management on Business) Coaching. I support business people in maximizing their potentials in a global business environment by increasing their cross-cultural awareness and competencies and helping them transfer risks in global business to chances. When we offer CMB coaching, I typically go through the below three steps with clients.
Step 1: Understand the differences between your own and the local culture.
Step 2: Clarify why these differences are issues to you.
Step 3: Make communication strategies to change the problems to business chances.
Now I would like to introduce a coaching case I went through these three steps with my coaching client.
Mark is an American who has been living in Japan for one year. Currently, he is working for a Japanese car engine maker as an engineer. Before he came to Japan he was working in the same industry in the USA for nine years. He has excellent engineering skills and knowledge and led many projects while he was in the USA. When I first met him, it was about three months after he was assigned as a team leader for several R&D projects. He looked quite frustrated and told me “it is very hard to work with Japanese.” He had four other project members. All of them were Japanese. With his slightly exhausted voice, he said, “No matter what ideas I propose, they always say something negative such as,‘I think we will have risks in this and that point if we take your idea’ or‘I don’t know what management will say for this idea.’ But I think we can still try and see if anything better comes up.’’
Mark was not happy with the situation. He told me “We never know if things will go well or not if we don’t try but my team members always hesitate to take action and say how others think about it rather than how they think about it!’’ In order to find a way out for the situation, he decided to take my coaching sessions.
Step 1: Understand the differences between your own and local culture.
Firstly, I asked him to take an online assessment called Culture CompassTM. Culture CompassTM is an assessment that allows you to compare the cultural values of you, your country and a country you choose based on a theory by Dutch social phycologist, Geert Hofstede’s called “cultural dimension theory.’’
He says our culture consistsofsix cultural values:
Power Distance Index (PDI)
This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low Power Distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.
Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)
The high side of this dimension, called individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.”
Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)
The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented. In the business context Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as “tough versus tender” cultures.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)
The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Countries exhibiting strong UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.
Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation (LTO)
Every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. Societies prioritize these two existential goals differently. Societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honored traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future. In the business context this dimension is related to as “(short term) normative versus (long term) pragmatic” (PRA). In the academic environment the terminology Monumentalism versus Flexhumility is sometimes also used.
Indulgence versus Restraint (IND)
Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.
The assessment shows these 6 cultural values in a scale of 0 to 100 as below shown example.
* For more detail about the survey, visit Cultural Survey
Top page on Culture CompasTM(Example)
The below table shows the cultural value of Mark and Japan.
It was obvious which cultural values are significantly different between his and Japan’s: Power Distance (PDI), Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) and Long term orientation VS Short term normative orientation (LTO).
Step 2: Clarify why these differences are issues to you.
Next, I asked him to explain the characteristics of him and a Japanese person while working on a project using these three dimensions. He said of himself,
‘“While I work on a project, I often try to refer to my successful experience and try to apply it to the new project (=Low LTO). It is not certain if it will go well or not with the same approach as I did before but I tend to take actions anyway as I believe doing is worth much more than just thinking (=Low UAI). I do not care much about what my boss would think about it. My boss will be happy if I bring a good result (=Low PDI).”
And next, I asked him to describe a Japanese person based on the 6D scores.
“While Japanese people work on a project, they often try to discuss what is the best for the project and make a number of scenarios to see how things might go. (= Combination of High UAI and High LTO). At the same time, they tend to refer to what their boss might say about it and then start taking initiatives after their ideas are accepted by their boss (Middle PDI).”
Mark was quite convinced by the statements he created. Even though there are always differences between individuals and the country where individuals are from, Mark told me that the statement of Japan described as above was quite similar to how his team members functioned.
After that, I gave him the following question.
“Why did the project not go as you wanted?”
It did not take a long time to receive answers from him. Now he is clear on what the issues are. He said quite concisely “I want to take actions based on the success I had in the past because I am confident about it and it is the fastest way but my team members try to think about all the possibilities without considering how long it can take to complete the project. As long as I create good results, it does not matter what my boss says but it seems to matter for my members.”
He was clear why he had been frustrated and what some of the causes of his frustration were.
Step 3: Make communication strategies to change the problems to business chances.
After that, I asked him the below question in order to reframe his perspective.
“Now you know why you have been frustrated working with your team members and what the causes are. You know there are differences between you and your team members. Instead of judging the differences that are causing you stress, why don’t we think about how the differences can complement each other’s downsides?”
After a while, Mark told me, “I think I should allocate tasks differently depending on the types of the projects. If the projects are something we have never done before, we often need to invent new approaches. In such cases, past successful approaches may not be applied as effectively as they were before. Instead of me executing actions quickly, I will assign my team members to lead the project and let my team members create ideas that match with the project. What I should do is, well… wait. I think I should be able to wait and observe until they create ideas. That’s what I have not been able to do so far.”
I replied, “Sounds good, I can hear that you believe letting your members lead the project while you stay back will be more effective in a new project. What if the project was something you had done before?”
He answered, “If it is certain that I am experienced in the project from a time before and I know the best practice of how to lead the project, I think I should still be the one to lead the project. It will be a waste of time to think about other approaches and devote time and resources to investigating them. But the problem is the hierarchy. My team members won’t agree with the idea of me leading the actions if our boss has not been informed. Then this generates a lot of waiting time as before.”
I asked, “OK. So what do you think you can do differently?”
He answered, “I think I should get consensus with our boss about what kind of projects are to be led by me without going through the approval process with him. This point is actually not clear now. Therefore, my team members who care more about what boss says than about my experience become uncertain when I am about to take action without approval.”
I replied, “I see. That sounds like quite a valuable point. So what do you think you can do to get consensus with your boss?’’
He answered, “First of all, I will prepare materials that explain what projects I have done in the past. Once we mutually agree that the projects I took before are applicable to the future projects, I will ask him to authorize me to lead the project without him being informed about every small step.’’
I asked, “Great. What else can you do to make this strategy work?”
He answered, “Of course, it is most important that my team members know that I have consensus with our boss. So I will invite them and our boss to the same meeting and inform them what has been agreed upon with the boss.”
I said, “Great, now you have a new communication strategy. Congratulations! Please let me know how it goes once you have applied it.”
After three weeks, we held another coaching session. Mark said his team members were quite happy to be a part of the team and all types of projects started to proceed more smoothly and accurately than before.
Mark succeeded in managing his team more effectively by knowing, accepting and utilizing the cultural differences between him and his team members. As stated in the beginning, managing a global team is always challenging because you often face something you never experienced in the environment you grew up in. Therefore, it often leads to you judging others negatively and causing a big stress in your work environment. However, there is always the chance to expand your horizons. The differences surely exist. But the differences can turn into chances to let you grow. It all comes down to whether you become aware of the differences and strategically manage them. Enjoy the differences and manage them well for better success in business.