Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Leadership in a Global Economy......

“Understanding the cultural differences and social complexities are the key components of success in a global economy. Conventional wisdom holds that no one country or one organization has the capacity and expertise to manage future large-scale risks alone. However, in an increasingly global interdependent world, they have neither. As the world is "shrinking" - "interdependence" is increasing for resources, talent, skills and the market.”

I couldn’t agree more when the speaker introduced us to the topic she was going to discuss next, titled: "Leadership in a global economy" that I attended recently. The presentation would discuss complexities associated with leadership in the 21st century global environment and the conditions under which they occur. It would also evaluate the organizational effectiveness and ways to advance success, foster growth and promote change in the organization. A very powerful and relevant presentation. Talking of globalization, the attendees comprised of people from many different nationalities - predominantly Americans, but there were Indians, Russians and Europeans as well. We talked about the work culture, the communication style and respect for fellow workers. Among all of the features that were discussed as "globally unifying" in international trade, the power of communication earned the top slot as the key component of success. In the cross-cultural/multicultural world, we can't emphasize more on the strategic importance it plays.

“We are having an effective communication, when it is – clear, concise, and to the point,” the speaker added. What are the usual challenges we are facing when we interact cross culturally? She posed a question. “Communication!” a clear winner there. India found its mention as one of the Asian countries where apparently the westerners face huge difficulty getting the message across. They showed us a clipping of a movie called “Outsourced” where an American company, tries to outsource its Seattle based call center to India. The guy who visits India to train the team faces insurmountable difficulties. Even trying to have a decent communication seems like a huge challenge to the trainer. Training the Indian team on its accent (especially teaching them to speak Chicago with a slight nasal tone by literally pressing on nose while speaking) made up for a humorous content. Someone in the audience who was working with a multinational with offices in India, pointed out, that a work that should potentially take about 5 minutes, stretches beyond 15 minutes to execute in India. “They don’t like to reschedule, even when needed, and are always waiting for the boss for the final order” the lady in the audience added. Then there was someone else who was working for a Japanese company with offices in the US, stated that while Japanese are great with documents and written materials, it gets very challenging when there is verbal communication involved.

As you can guess, the conversation following the presentation was really engaging and informative as it gives you a huge understanding of the dynamics of the world. It's interesting to see how miraculously the economic and social boundaries are collapsing in the current socio economic situation. Today, a person sitting anywhere in the world, drinks coffee imported from Brazil, works at a computer made in Japan, relaxes on a leather couch made in China, and uses gasoline from Saudi Arabia in a German automobile. Interdependence, how dynamic! The interesting part is, regardless of whether the countries like or would rather not have any dealings with the other nations across the border – they have no choice. The world is interdependent. The exchange of rich talent pool with each other cannot be done away with. In fact many companies are having a huge resource crunch as they have maxed their quota for visa for the year and are unable to bring the talent from other countries.

Speaking of learning and adaptability - it has been observed that Indians try really hard to imbibe, assimilate and incorporate the culture, life style and language of any country where they make their home. They attempt to blend in and try not to make things difficult for anyone. In an attempt to be a part of the culture, foreign nationals learn not only about the values, but also about local sports, local festivals, as that is absolutely necessary to bond and network here. Soccer, Golf – you must know, else risk feeling left out.

There was a clipping in the movie where in the call center in India, along with the employees; a cow was in the middle of the room too. Well, it sure is unreal, but looked funny. I agree that in India we have animals as traffic companions, but that’s not a reality for the work place. “Is that true?” I captured the expression of the people in the room and gave a very polite “NO” nodding in negation (sideways) not in affirmation when saying no. Well, that’s another question here, “why do Indians nod their heads in affirmation even when saying No?” I wish I knew the answer to that question. I am not biased, but I have never come across anyone who nods in affirmation while meaning “No”. I have, however, few people (Indians) confirming me that it’s true though. Well, I have yet to meet one...

It's all about celebrating the difference. I have nothing but respect for every culture, religion or what have ya! I have learned a lot here and feel that I have grown as an individual and as a professional. The subtlety of the language that Americans use is truly remarkable. I love the professional attitude that people have here. There is no “sir”/ “ma’am” culture, addressing by first name is the norm. Respect for women professionals, treating them equally? Well there is a little bit of room for debate here, but overall - the infrastructure is great, customer service is excellent, people skill is great and the list goes on, question is – when they are expanding, outsourcing and entering in an emerging economy, are they working as hard in trying to bridge the gap? “Knowledge transfer” as the presentation stated – “is not just about sending a technical team to transfer knowledge from country A to country B, but also about receiving the knowledge from country B and bringing it back to country A, then synthesize the information gathered to come up with a true global concept. In fact a very interesting question came from a lady (American) at the presentation. She asked –“ most foreigners who come to the United States, speak a second language apart from the primary English language that they all speak perfectly well. How many Americans do you know who speak a second language?” I heard a huge applause at the question. “Good question” the speaker said. “The answer is: not many, rather a very few”.

While sitting in that room, I was feeling blessed to have a perspective on things which only comes from having a global outlook. Indians, by far, are the people who are widely travelled. We have an Indian in almost every continent we can think of. Because of the rich and phenomenal outlook that we possess, I was able to add to the content and at the same time could appreciate a different viewpoint in the right spirit/perspective.

I left the presentation with a range of thoughts and ideas going through my mind...I sure was hugely impacted...To have an effective communication – it’s not just enough to speak the language with correct syntax, grammar or punctuation (I was thinking). As a national language - English primarily is used in almost every sphere involving communication in India. However, it’s only after I came to the States and after I have stayed here for a significant number of years -I can say that there is a whole new dimension to a language which is very specific to a country. That gives me a new understanding that regardless of the fact that English is the business language of the world, the "English" spoken in America would still be a foreign language for the English speaking population living in India. And I am sure that that's true for many countries as well. Any language, when it evolves and develops in a nation, takes on the unique characteristics of the natives who have developed it, used it and owned it. It’s made up of the cultural ethos. So, we need to learn not only the language, but also the tone, the expression, the body language, what was said explicitly, and what remained to be speculated to understand the real meaning. On a global platform, when an organization/country is dealing with an economy, where infrastructure needs improvement, and professionalism requires a bit of touch up – a non-verbal communication, written documentation and gestures can all be the important features of communication to make up for the deficiency in verbal linguistic skills. And that only comes with appreciating the cultural differences and understanding the complexities in the social environment. We just don’t need to understand their language; we need to understand their language their way.

After all we are dealing with the concept of globalization here then why have a unilateral view?