Creating An International Culture Of Success

The International Business Dimension

Multinational teams present new challenges for the International manager. There are logistics problems: How do you coordinate teams that work in different time zones? What kind of collaboration can you create in a team that rarely sees one another?

As well as the logistic problems come cultural problems. For example, successfully creating a culture of innovation can be a challenge. Honeywell experienced this, according to a November, 2013, Time article, when Rameshbabu Songukrishnasamy began working as general manager of the company’s R&D centers in Shanghai and Beijing. He found his employees were not innovating. They weren’t tinkering or inventing on their own — not a positive sign in an R&D lab! “They were happy just doing what they were asked to do,” Rameshbabu says. The problem is, R&D is about doing something new.

A project manager for a large corporation in Brazil recently told me that the PMI Book of Knowledge is used infrequently at best inside Brazilian projects. He also warned against assuming that someone with a PMI certification has extensive experience, as is the case in the US. — Moore, Brandi, The Little BRIC Book.

Rameshbabu found that his Chinese workers had a fear of failure. They worried that the company would be upset if their work did not yield positive results, so they didn’t experiment. Another problem is that some Chinese engineers “tend to shy away from critical questioning,” a process that is fundamental in R&D. “The reason they are able to make so much innovation in Silicon Valley is that people question the status quo and find alternative ways,” says Rameshbabu. But he found that Chinese culture and education focused on rote learning, not critical thinking.

Creating A Culture Of Success

Creating successful International programs requires understanding and adapting to different business cultures. Applying Western management practices in Asia will fail, just as surely as transplanting Western employees into an Eastern environment. Imagine an independent, critical thinker from Silicon Valley landing in Foxconn, Shenzhen — where challenging the status quo is forbidden.

Team dynamics play a huge factor in management style, objectives, and capabilities. Building a culture of innovation is just one example of where these dynamics become complicated. Power distance will affect everything from goal setting to how problems are socialized. Communication style can quickly lead to misunderstandings. Differences on the fluidity of time can mean completely missing the mark with customer deadlines. And differences in identity and engagement style can lead to initial confusion, bad first impressions, or distrust.

This is why understanding business cultural practices is so important. Hyrax International LLC has a program that explores each of these five preferences. The program examines each of 27 different management disciplines, such as goal setting, risk management, change management, and assessing outcomes. The affect of business culture on each discipline is explored and explained, providing a road map to success on the International management scene. The company also offers many free resources to explain and explore International project management, and is also sponsoring Successful International Project Management, an in depth book that maps project management processes to cultural preferences.

We’ll be posting five more parts to this article (read Part 2, or see the entire series right here) in the coming couple of weeks. Each post will look at one of the five business cultural preferences, and briefly introduce how that preference impacts and affects the 27 management disciplines.

Hyrax International LLC’s Global Project Compass™ is the only visual map that clearly shows the connection between business culture and business process. This is what makes Cross Cultural Management™ so much more effective than traditional management.

The Compass maps 27 project management disciplines directly to business cultural preferences, and shows how these preferences affect business. The goal of the Global Project Compass, and Hyrax International’s associated management program, is to show how culture affects businesses worldwide — and to provide a clear map on how businesses can adapt successfully.

What you won’t get out of your certification

When it comes to project management certification, there’s no doubt quite a few options available. The real question is, do you know what you’re getting with a shiny new certification (such as PMI’s PMP, or IPMA’s Level A through D)?

Certification programs are more about demonstrating your competency than about learning how to manage. Consider this: PMP and IPMA certification takes you through a process guide and an examination that you can easily enough prepare for in a few weeks. The process guide itself is a valuable reference, a great way to organize all the possible areas of knowledge in a project — but it’s just that. A process guide is largely a checklist, giving you a tool to make sure all the right pieces of a project are in motion.

The other part of the certification process is the exercise of documenting your experience, as a project manager, and having the certifying organization vet your experience (although the vetting process is often cursory). It’s supposed to show the world that you have a certain level of project management competence. It is explicitly not going to teach you that competency. The real theory behind PMP certification is that by achieving it, you have demonstrated relevant competency as a project management professional. There’s a good bit of debate regarding the value of this certification: How well does the PMI do in vetting experience? Is there any qualitative distinction in the evaluation? I’ve seen a few terrible managers get their PMP by documenting their management of projects that were miserable failures.

For the most part, deciding whether a candidate’s PMP or IPMA certification (or lack thereof) is valuable lies with the employer. For the individual, I always recommend learning the bodies of knowledge, so long as you are fully aware of what you’re getting. Here are a few of the things that either program won’t prepare you for:

  1. Project management is more about management, and less about process. Most of the certification programs out there tend to emphasize the latter, the process, and spend little time on the “soft and fuzzy” bits: People. The fact is, this is where you’ll succeed or fail. It often comes down to how good you are at picking up on subtle (and not so subtle) cues between team members, sponsors, and stakeholders. There is no certification program in the world that will teach you how to be a great manager — that requires experience, more than anything else (but if you have a degree from a top management school it’s bound to help).
  2. The rosy project you just inherited is actually completely out of touch with reality. More often than not businesses will commit to a project that can’t be met (often establishing budgets and schedules in the process). Studies by Standish and KPMG bear this out, pointing at 70% of projects failing to meet cost, schedule, and quality goals.
  3. Identifying all the right pieces of a project is just the beginning. For example, knowing who the stakeholders are (an important step in the PMBOK) is the easy part. You’ll spend far more time motivating them, coordinating their schedules, dealing with stakeholders that want your project to fail (or just don’t care about it), responding to impossible demands, and figuring out what everyone’s secret agenda is all about.
  4. You’ll need to be good at managing other people’s anger and frustration. Part of being a strong manager is knowing how to evaluate the project dynamics, and then make the right decision. Most of the time, you won’t find a rosy world where everyone agrees about what has to be done. You’ll be stepping inside someone else’s world, and messing with it. You’ll have to tell people to do things they don’t agree with, or don’t want to do. You’ll have to step in and change everything, and people don’t like change.
  5. Your certification didn’t warn you about some of the important bits. There is no such thing as a comprehensive process guide or methodology that gives you all the answers. Some guides are really good in some areas, and horrible in others. The PMBOK, for example, spends precious little time talking about quality assurance and risk management — so little, in fact, that without turning elsewhere you won’t have any idea what these two things are, how important they are, or what to do about them.
  6. You are actually not ready to manage a large scale project simply because you’ve earned your PMP/IPMA/PRINCE2 certification. These certification programs document your past experience, and your basic knowledge of the relevant process guides. Unfortunately, splashy advertising sells certification, so I’m sure we’ll keep seeing claims such as “everything you need to manage complex projects!” It’s a lie.

Deciding whether obtaining a certification is worthwhile or not is a personal decision. I definitely recommend learning the reference material — and after all, if you learn the PMBOK, it’s not much more work to get a PMP certification. Just be honest with yourself about what it means. Being a good project manager means having the experience to guide an organization toward success, not just recite the process guide. I always recommend starting small and finding out what your personal aptitude for management is.

Your key to success as a project manager is going to hinge on your ability to listen to others, learn from others, and always be open and ready to support your team. You’ll need to turn to other people and other sources of information. Be humble, never let obstacles derail you, and make sure your team knows they can rely on you for support. These are the things you don’t find in the process guides.

The good (and bad) about Project Management School

I’m frequently asked what I think of certifications such as the Project Management Institute’s PMP, or its other programs. Generally I’ll say that programs such as these (including those offered by IPMA, and the UK’s PRINCE2) are valuable tools to know. They represent bodies of knowledge that any project manager should be aware of. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that any project manager that is serious about their career should be well versed in more than one body of knowledge, able to recite the encyclopedia of information offered, and above all, be aware that neither will teach you to be a good project manager.

There’s a host of information you won’t get in school (not even from a top tier management school, let alone a certification program you can cram for in less than two weeks). And that leads me to the value of the certification itself. Here I’ll generally weigh in saying “it’s up to you.” If you feel going through the certification process will be a helpful learning experience, then by all means do it. On the other hand, getting the certification will neither teach you to be a good project manager, nor will it have a great impact on your career.

It’s important to realize that the Project Management Institute (or PMI) is not a standards body. PMI is a for-profit company that sells several products, and those products are all essentially based in the PMBOK (for example, you can seek certification as a Project Management Professional, or PMP, through PMI’s certification process). This imposes a couple of limitations on the concept of the PMBOK being a robust standard:

  1. Successful standards bodies are international in nature, and the best of them are completely unbiased — something that usually requires forming a body that is not motivated by profit attached to its own products. PMI is, ultimately, concerned with corporate profitability, and this has led to some debate regarding whether the PMBOK has evolved first-and-foremost as a leading project management standard or as a product that PMI can easily sell.
  2. PMI tends to be very insular in its thinking. By this I mean that it does not extensively rely on third party standards — quite the opposite, in fact. The PMBOK is almost exclusively a self-contained work. It does not reference the 50 years of decision management theory that constitute strong risk management practices. Nor does it reference other standards, such as the ISO’s work on quality management. This, naturally, tends to keep people more involved in the PMI’s products, as opposed to moving into other standards.
  3. The PMBOK standard is unquestionably a solid reference volume with extensive project management knowledge — however, it also has startling weaknesses. For example, it’s coverage of risk management and quality management is largely negligent, and it’s strong focus on technical knowledge completely ignores the human factors addressed by methods such as Kanban.

The PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) represents a strong reference guide, and one that I turn to when appropriate as a process guide — but its very strength as a reference text also makes it a poor companion for someone looking for a comprehensive project management methodology. It lacks the practical, hands-on information needed to apply much of the knowledge it presents.

That tends to mean that novice project managers turn to the PMBOK far too often, hoping that it will solve management problems (it won’t). Experienced project managers recognize that it’s a process guide, and nothing more — which means it’s a provides a great checklist to make sure all the right pieces are being executed, but it does little to tell you how to execute those pieces. That comes from experience. The experience of managing people, learning how teams work together (and often don’t work together), how to motivate and communicate, and how to see problems coming before they hit you.

The bottom line is simply this: No school, and especially not one offering a short certification program, can teach you to be a good manager. That’s what project management is all about — it’s not the technical process, more often than not, but the personal factors and the management skills that make or break a project. So yes, get familiar with all the standards, bodies of knowledge, and process guides you can. Learn what you can from each, and use that knowledge as a reference when deciding how your project will be run. But don’t ever assume that this encyclopedia of knowledge has taught you how to manage successfully. That’s going to take management training and experience — more the latter than the former, in my opinion. A lot of it, most likely.

When there’s a freeloader on your team

According to extensive research The Gallup Organization (Washington D.C.) and Harvard Business Review have conducted over the past decade, few factors are as corrosive to employee engagement as a colleague who skates through the workweek taking advantage of the much harder work of others. What’s the cost of disengagement? Much more than any manager wants to pay. Thanks to Clarity Technical Communications we can read all about it in the Harvard Management Update, When There’s A Freeloader On Your Team.

Boomers at the exit gates

Organizations across the globe are trying to come to grips with a new corporate  challenge; one created by millions of employees who make up the boomer generation, who are poised to leave the working world, for golf, sailing, gardening or playing with the grandkids.

In some cases the departure of these senior employees will allow younger managers to step up to the plate to fill the void, but not everyone is ready, or even wants the next rung on the corporate ladder. So the question becomes:  After all you’ve gone through during this recession, can your organization survive the holes these departures will create? Do you have a well developed Succession Plan with Knowledge Transfer processes in place?

Many managers faced with a looming shortage of employees have reconsidered their business model; to find alternative ways to serve the client, build their products, distribute the materials, but a reinvention of their strategy simply brings new challenges to the fore.

Take the case of one of our clients who decided to outsource some aspects of their work to deal with looming labour shortages. They were in for a nasty surprise. A few months ago we conducted a risk assessment and  they found to their horror that not only were their boomers poised to flee, so were some of their specialists — the “go to” people others rely upon to do their work.  The newly outsourced work was what these ‘specialists’ enjoyed, so instead of taking on new responsibilities, which were less appealing, they were seriously considering offers of work at the outsourcing company! Clearly a game plan was required to stall a potentially disastrous situation.

Traditional succession planning identifies high potential employees and implements long range plans to develop those people so they are well equipped to lead in the future. The focus is on core competencies, business knowledge, technical skills and sound judgement that will lead to solid business decisions. Mentors are enlisted from the senior ranks to pass on savvy business knowledge to new incumbents. Short term overlaps are permitted so a veteran of the job can coach a neophyte.

But what can a company do when the mentor has retired or the specialist now works elsewhere?

How can crucial knowledge be retained for organizational health and continuity?

Knowledge Transfer has become the latest ‘buzz’ as leaders, faced with the loss of people and corporate knowledge, struggle to retain information that is vital and which has contributed to their present success.

New people to the company don’t know what they don’t know, so important questions are not asked. The soon-to-retire employees who have been operating smoothly for years; often don’t know what is vital — what to keep or toss — and the clock is ticking ever closer to their departure. Some, on the other hand, know exactly what to hang on to for that lucrative consulting job they envisage after their retirement and guard it jealously from their colleagues for fear of losing their distinct advantage.

So, getting vital knowledge from individuals and passing it to the right people, in a way that can be understood and assimilated quickly and accurately, is the challenge that will be facing most business leaders for the next two to three years.

We suggest you implement a few simple things to protect your company from a major risk.

  1. Pinpoint how many people will be leaving within the next three years and develop a strategy to capture their knowledge now before it’s too late.
  2. Identify who your Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) are and determine their unique advantage — what makes them so valuable to your organization?
  3. Consider doing some serious cross training to reduce your vulnerability, build capacity and engage employees in building a better workplace.
  4. Develop a data base with SME’s, lesson’s learned and past practices so people can source information as and when they need it.
  5. Start a community of practice so people are encouraged and supported to share information freely with colleagues.
  6. Reward people for building your internal capacity when they mentor, coach or lead information sessions.

If you pondered for a minute when you might get around to this — stop thinking — start taking action now, the days, months and years are slipping past very, very quickly. Is your organization going to be a risk?

Heather Hughes, CMC is a Certified Management Consultant with a 30 year international track record. She specializes in building vibrant organizations through Leadership Coaching, Succession Planning, Knowledge Transfer and Employee Engagement.

Bad employees rarely quit and good ones are hard to find

Finding great employees is really hard. I don’t mean it’s difficult — I mean it’s virtually impossible to succeed in hiring great employees all the time. It’s equally hard to keep them, as it turns out. As Don Rainey recently wrote:

Good employees are really hard to find — A solid worker isn’t just difficult to find, he or she is really difficult to find. And they’re the first ones to leave. The truth is that 10 percent of the world is competent – and you’re looking for that 10 percent in every hire.

It’s hard to do consistently. And that’s why organizations that do it with frequency have such strong reputations. If you want to build a business predicated largely on finding, getting and keeping quality employees to succeed, you should understand that premise will be your greatest risk. Finding a market and profitably selling to it (usually the greatest risks) will take a back seat. Better yet, pursue a business that needs some reasonable percentage of employees to be really good.

But if that news isn’t bad enough, consider the other side of the coin — if you don’t have really great employees filling your ranks, then what do you have?

Your bad employees rarely quit — For one thing, poor performers aren’t really all that motivated to look, as that might involve actual performance. For another, no one else is likely to recruit them. Your marginal and weak employees are with you for life unless you move proactively. In many years of running businesses, the only time this wasn’t true was during the dot-com bubble. At that time, every idiot could get a 15 percent to 20 percent raise here in Northern Virginia by changing jobs. And they did. Aside from that blessed time, weak employees are your most “loyal.”

Don makes a good point, among several others (his article is 8 things I wish I knew before starting a business): Having, and holding on to, great employees is very, very hard work.

It’s also quite possibly the one sure-fire factor that’s going to push your company toward success. Consider a few of the leaders in the technology industry, such as Apple and Google. Both have stringent hiring processes and focus on the quality of the hire first, and growth second.

Let’s put it another way: Does it make sense to focus on growth if what you are growing is mediocre (or worse)?

It’s never a good time for training

As Jamin Arvig, President of WaterFilters.net learned the hard way, putting off training has a cost of its own: Lost employees. As Jarmin wrote in his A Worker Quit — Because I Didn’t Train Him To Succeed, if you don’t arm your employees to succeed they’ll eventually go elsewhere to look for career advancement. “[It] was just the tip of the iceberg. My other customer service and sales people were struggling and frustrated. They didn’t say it in exactly these words, but they basically felt like I hadn’t equipped them to succeed.” Training is simply one of the best investments a company can make — and carefully planned, effective training yields more dividends than just about any other.