Take Off Your Cultural Blindfold

Published on 2012-01-09

Source: left-hand @ Flickr
TOO OFTEN WE BELIEVE our own limited worldview to be superior. I was working with a major sourcing firm recently and had the opportunity to speak with their GM in Hong Kong. He was concerned that their team in the UK was not effectively communicating with their China based colleagues. A few issues had come up such as UK staff saying:
“Look, they just don’t understand what we need. Maybe I should go over there?”
“They never give any feedback and when they do it’s too late!”
“What frustrates me the most is that they just say ‘yes’, then don’t do it!”
The China based team had given him feedback that they found the staff in the UK to be quite rude at times. There were cases of UK staff using sarcasm “You don’t think they are going to use this chair as an ornament do you???” and generating obstacles to stop progress of projects.
The GM felt that the UK team had partly felt some fear that their “jobs were moving to China” and they wanted to stop that happening by trying to show how incompetent the local team was. Another issue was that with very little China experience, the UK staff had almost no empathy for the way things were done and were highly suspicious of anything they didn’t understand. There was also a very negative view of the relationships that were being used to help business run smoothly. The impression was held that this was very much a form of corruption!
The result was that there was very much a “them and us” attitude forming and it was beginning to deliver negative consequences. They had already lost some of their most experienced members of their coursing team in Shanghai and others were beginning to talk about moving on. Staff had some loyalty to the firm and to their GM, but they were simply not willing to work in such a political environment, especially when they could go somewhere else and earn more money.
It was clear that they needed to rapidly build a higher level of cultural competence, so I began to investigate.
According to Cross et al, 1989 Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.
This was clearly not happening at this firm. Working effectively had become an issue. Cross goes on to define the Cultural Competency Ladder as: Destructiveness, Incapacity, Blindness, Pre-competence, Competence and even Proficiency.
Destructiveness: Attitudes, policies & practices destructive to cultures & individuals
Incapacity: Maintain biases and lacks capacity to work with diverse communities – discriminatory hiring practices
Blindness: Belief “all people are the same,” ignores strengths, differences, encourages assimilation – lack language signs
Pre-competence: Recognize weaknesses & initial attempts through hires, outreach, training, etc. some commitment & some action
Competence: Accept and respect differences, active hiring, training continually. Assess competence – commitment policy & action
Proficiency: Holds culture in high esteem, advocates for cultural competence throughout system
By working on these six areas of weakness the cultural blindfolds began to slip away from the UK staff. Does your HQ have the same limited worldview?