Do you have a successful product or service and want to go abroad? Or do you already have country operations yet they do not work as you wish? Insecure on how to manage intercultural differences – and similarities?
We understand each other as international, that’s me! For the past 20 years, I have lived in 5 countries and speak 5 languages. Since 2001, I have been working in retained search and recruitment, since 2007 with a pan-European scope. I am born in Germany, have worked in Austria, Italy and France, speak 5 languages and am married to a French. And Kennedy Executive Search, the network I have founded, has Partners on three continents. I talk to executive search firm owners, clients and candidates all over the world.
Some of what I hear and experience on intercultural management is very different to where I come from. Some is the same. And trouble and friction loss are everywhere.
In a nutshell, what are the 2 key learnings to be drawn from my international work experience?
1. People are different everywhere: If you move your accounting department from Nebraska to Kuala Lumpur, study one term abroad or take a sabbatical and deworm orphans in Somalia, you will see that local people will approach the same situation differently than you are used to. The question to be asked is not “What is wrong, what is right?” but rather “How do you guys do it here, how did I do it so far and what can I learn from both?” There is a reason for most things in life and what seems strange to you could have a good explanation: the way may be different even if the goal is the same. Of course there are huge differences and major reasons for friction loss often concern decision making, meeting culture, distance of hierarchy and of course communication.
Key learnings to draw from this first insight are humility, adaptability, flexibility, the ability to ask the right questions, respect, sensitivity, openness to new ideas and tolerance.
2. People are the same everywhere: I have worked extensively with teams all over the world. And whether it is Dublin, New York or Sydney, I often heard “All you say is terrific and it could not be more true – but that does not work here. We are different”. In my business (retained search), this may be right for insignificant details, it is wrong for the big picture: clients in any country of the world who choose executive search firm A over B look for quality, service, a fast solution for their needs and adequate fees. Managers want employees that perform, do not resign or call in for sick leave. Employees wish to be recognized for their contribution, advance and grow. And share-holders want to optimize the return on investment. The way all this is expressed is certainly different in Osaka than in Mexico City, yet the goal is the same – even though the way to get there may be different.
Skills to be taken from this are abstract thinking, the ability to draw synthesis and to connect the dots, good judgment, global thinking but also willpower, the readiness to take risks and a helicopter view.
International experience and sensibility mater as they will not only make you a better and more subtle human being and more capable manager and thus secure your own competitive advantage and that of your company. It will sharpen your soft skills and efficiently change the way you approach new situations. These – and no technical skills whatsoever – will finally determine your professional success or failure anywhere in the world and no awkward boss or crisis can ever take these learnings away from you!