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.

Managing risk in global projects

I was recently asked what are the most relevant, pressing risks that affect global project management. Many come to mind but one stands out immediately: One of the most significant risks we identify is a globally disparate (geographically separated) team. Teams working in separate regions face tremendous challenges that a co-located team doesn’t have to think about. This is exacerbated when outsourcing, where conflicts in language, time, culture, and business environment all affect the organization.

Organizations facing these environmental issues need to put a considerable investment into mitigating the associated risks. This is essentially why the “promise of outsourcing” has been toned down over the past decade: Gone is the illusion that you can get solid work for 25 cents on the dollar. “Real” outsourcing costs tend to range anywhere from 70 cents on the dollar to $1.20 on the dollar (yes, outsourcing can often lead to higher costs — but sometimes it’s not just about cost, but geographic presence, distribution, foreign market penetration, etc.)

Language barriers pose some of the most difficult issues to work around. Being unable to easily communicate means poor communication becomes a barrier to the entire team. This can lead to misunderstood requirements, misinterpretation of directions, even a complete disconnect on whether a team is in trouble or doing fine. Ideally, open communication, information radiators, and visibility are central to successful projects. Any barriers increase risk, and that means increasing efforts to compensate. Closely related to language barriers are cultural barriers. A pretty obvious example is the straightforward U.S. business culture in regard to the respectful and tradition-rich Japanese culture. Even seemingly similar cultures pose barriers; for example, East Indian cultures and U.S. cultures don’t easily connect until interpersonal barriers have time to break down.

Business environment and common bias also contributes to the risk of disparate teams, especially those separated by business culture. For example, consider a client developing a legal work product solution in the U.S. market while using East Indian resources. The lack of a common business foundation can easily lead to a complete disconnect regarding assumed business objectives (in other words, the legal system is very different in the U.S. versus India, which means a lack of common understanding regarding some pretty basic business goals).

All of these issues can be mitigated with appropriate practices. The necessary measures will vary from one project or organization to another — there are a lot of variables at work, and that means every project has to be treated uniquely. The common thread is communication. Breaking down these barriers by using process, technology and culture is critical. The disparate team needs to become one team, working as a unit — and that usually means a significant investment in tools, strong processes and team-building exercises. I strongly advocate rotating team members across the organization or project as one example. This helps across the board: It breaks down communication and culture barriers, helps team members get to know one another, lets distant teams experience local culture, and helps to build a collaborative “whole team.”

Is Scrum Master Certification Hurting Our Industry?

Having created a methodology that tightly integrates Scrum concepts, I tend to be a strong proponent of Scrum. But being a strong proponent doesn’t extend so far as to promote all the hype — I’m also a very strong believer in the value of formal education and the need for experience. After seeing the negative consequences of Scrum Master Certification, I’m hard pressed to see any benefits to it.

I’m not challenging the value of Scrum as a practice. I’m challenging the value of Scrum Master Certification. In fact, I’ll go so far as to suggest the certification program is hurting our industry by attributing competency where there often is none.

For example, the Scrum Alliance web site proclaims that Scrum gives you the tools you need to “manage complex projects.” This week I met someone that just joined an established technology company. She’s well spoken, bright, and just got her Scrum Master Certificate. She also just graduated college — and with both of those glowing credentials in-hand, landed her first job: As a Project Manager.

She has no experience. Yet, her employer has hired her to manage a group of people, executing a technical project, largely on the basis that her Scrum Master certification gives her that qualification.

What’s the value in a certification program if it inaccurately represents the capability of the people it certifies? Most Scrum Master certificates are earned after attending a two day seminar, sometimes with interactive exercises. There is no examination, although there is an “assessment” of about 25 questions — but without a pass-fail score, you get certified regardless of how poorly you do. There is no review of relevant experience. There are no requirements of past performance. You can get a Scrum Master Certificate without relevant professional experience or training.

Let’s compare this program with PMI’s PMP certification process. The PMP requires at least — even for an experienced project manager — years of experience and education, and weeks, if not months, of preparation:

  1. The application requires detailed validation of years of project management experience, and even more experience and exposure to relevant work.
  2. While PMI doesn’t audit every student they do audit, and experience must be vetted and verified.
  3. The examination is 200 questions and typically requires weeks of study (most PMP preparatory courses are 13 weeks in duration, as an average).
  4. The examination is administered in a secure environment, with no supporting materials. If you don’t know it, you won’t pass.

Even more stringent requirements exist for PMI’s Program Management credential: Included in the vetting process is a 360 degree review by 12 of your peers. As with the PMP certification process, if you fail any one part, you don’t get certified.

PMI requires that certified practitioners maintain their credentials with ongoing education annually. If you don’t demonstrate an effort to stay current, you lose your credential.

All of this earns you the right to put “PMP” (or “PgMP”) after your name. But if you don’t have the past experience (or if that’s too much trouble), you can drop in on a local Scrum Master course and walk out certified tomorrow. But certified to do what?

Scrum is not a project management methodology. It’s a process control structure that only works when combined with a methodology, such as PMP. It says so right on the first page of Ken Schwaber’s Scrum textbook. In that context, Scrum shines because it brings efficiency to a potentially bulky project management methodology. Scrum can be wonderfully useful, when used right.

So, here I sit, inwardly aghast as I meet Ms. Project Manager, with her freshly minted college degree, a Scrum Master Certificate, and no experience to her name, and I wonder: Is the Scrum Master certification program misleading an already beleaguered industry? According to KPMG and Standish, our success rate over the past 10 years was only 30%. Maybe this is part of the reason.

Does a two-day seminar and mandatory certification in a professional-sounding credential hurt, more than it helps?

Taking a seminar on Scrum is definitely a useful exercise. I think the Scrum Alliance needs to stop misrepresenting what Scrum certification really means to its practitioners, and the business world at large. I’d like to see Scrum professionals coming out of the seminar saying, “Wow! I sure learned what a long way I have to go before I’m ready to manage a project on my own!”

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 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.

Training is number one

As I’ve pointed out more than once, training your employees is one of the best things you can do to benefit your business and your team. Even so, fears about what happens if you train your staff and they leave to find a better job are prevalent — but consider the alternative: What happens if you don’t train them, and they stay? As Derek Christian found out, training is key to success: He successfully dropped attrition from 300% to zero in 2009, and used a strategic training and career counseling program to more than double his business’ size. The number-one reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel challenged, he says: “People, especially of this generation, want to learn new things.” (CNN Money Online).