Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Checklist for Global Managers

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande writes about what Wal-Mart did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  As you may recall, this was a major disaster in New Orleans, where 80 percent of the city was flooded and 20,000 refugees were stranded at the New Orleans Superdome.  Another 20,000 were at the Convention Center.  There was no power in the city hospitals.  Wal-Mart closed its 126 stores, but within 48 hours, more than half of them were up and running again.  Wal-Mart employees and managers somehow mobilized, with the use of simple checklists:

“They set up temporary mobile pharmacies in the city and adopted a plan to provide medications for free at all of their stores … They set up free check cashing for payroll and other checks in disaster-area stores.  They opened temporary clinics to provide emergency personnel with inoculations … within two days of Katrina’s landfall, the company’s logistics teams managed to contrive ways to get tractor trailers with food, water, and emergency equipment past roadblocks and into the dying city.  They were able to supply water and food to refugees and even to the National Guard a day before the government appeared on the scene.” (pp. 77-78)

Gawande’s point is not to praise Wal-Mart, nor to point to the superiority of the private sector over the public sector (i.e., FEMA).  This situation is where he started to understand the power of having a checklist.

As another example, Gawande writes about the Chairman of Surgery at the University of Toronto, who has been using a 21-item surgery checklist to catch potential errors in surgical care.  What is interesting is that the checklist also includes a team briefing.  “The team members were supposed to stop and take a moment simply to talk with one another before proceeding – about how long the surgeon expected the operation to take, how much blood loss everyone should be prepared for, whether the patient had any risks or concerns the team should know about.”  (pp. 100-101)

In surgery, according to Gawande, you can have checklists for three of the four big killers:  infection, bleeding, and unsafe anesthesia.  The fourth killer in surgery is the unexpected.  So how do you prevent this?  The value of having a checklist is that it facilitates a dialogue, and people have to stop and talk through the case together before surgery. Unfortunately, according to Gawande, this kind of teamwork is not common in surgical teams.  Some research that he cites shows that team members that regularly used checklists showed great improvements in their ratings of their own teamwork. 

According to Gawande, “ … under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success.  There must always be room for judgment, but judgment aided – and even enhanced – by procedure.” (p. 79)

What kinds of management situations might a checklist be used for?  Actually, Professor Michael Useem has come up with his own checklist for leaders, consisting of 15 principles.  Like Gawande, he argues that “ … when uncertainty becomes the norm and turbulence more commonplace … a Leader’s Checklist becomes more consequential.”  (p. 41)

Many of the items in Useem’s leader checklist can apply to managers leading globally.  They include articulating a vision, communicating persuasively, and building leadership in others.  However, as many of you know, global leaders face different circumstances and need to take into consideration other cultural variables. 

So I have come up a checklist for global managers.  The “targets” referred to in this checklist are those individuals, groups, or organizations from another culture that you will be interacting with.
1.     Understand your cultural assumptions. 
·      Are you aware which of your management style preferences and behaviors are influenced by your culture?
·      Are there aspects of your management style or behavior that works in your culture that might not work in other cultures?
2.     Map your targets’ cultural values.
·      What are the most important cultural values of the people or group you will be dealing with?
·      How do these values show up in how they do business with others?
3.     Establish cultural baseline behaviors with your targets.
·      Are there specific behaviors that you should be avoiding when dealing with them?
·      Are there specific behaviors that you should be sure to demonstrate when dealing with them?
4.     Clarify your managerial goals and your core values.
·      What do you hope to accomplish – not so much in terms of the task or work, but in terms of your management of your targets?
·      What are the most important values you hold, especially around management?
5.     Identify culturally appropriate options to achieving these goals.
·      Are there alternative ways to achieve your goals that might be more culturally appropriate?
·      Which of these may require your getting out of your comfort zone?
6.     Seek feedback and mentoring from others.
·      Are there people from the cultures you are dealing with, that you can approach to ask questions and get feedback?
·      Do you have a plan on building relationships with these individuals so you can gain their trust?
7.     Adjust, experiment and continuously improve.
·      Are you reflecting on what you are learning about others’ reactions to you and the feedback you are getting?
·       How are you applying what you have learned to improve yourself in your cultural interactions?
8.     Preserve your character and integrity.
·      Are people clear – not so much by your words but by your actions – on what you stand for?
·      Are you clear on what you stand for?

Gawande, A.  (2011).  The Checklist Manifesto.  New York:  Picador.

Useem, M.  (2011).  The Leader’s Checklist.  Philadelphia:  Wharton Digital Press.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fostering a Global Mindset Culture in Your Organization

A recent “Idea Watch” article in Harvard Business Review reported on some new research that Carol Dweck and her colleagues are conducting.  As some of you are aware, Dweck popularized the concept of “growth mindset” (versus a fixed mindset).  People with a growth mindset, according to her early research, enjoy challenges, strive to learn and consistently, and see potential to develop new skills. 
Now she has been exploring the idea whether organizations can have growth or fixed mindsets. So far, her research seems promising.  She and her team have developed a survey that has been implemented among employees at seven Fortune 1000 companies.  Employees rate the extent to which they agree with a series of statements, such as “When it comes to being successful, this company seems to believe that people have a certain amount of talent, and they really can’t do much to change it.”
Dweck concludes that there is a great dal of consensus about what the prevailing mindset is in these employees’ organizations with regard to growth.  Her research shows that employees in growth mindset companies are:
·      47% likelier to say that their colleagues are trustworthy
·      34% likelier to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company
·      65% likelier to say that the company supports risk taking
·      49% likelier to say that the company fosters innovation.
Similarly, I believe that organizations can be assessed on whether it has a global mindset culture, above and beyond the presence of employees who have the traits or qualities of an individual global mindset.  Of course, hiring and developing such individuals in your company is helpful, but can be inefficient since it may take companies a long time to reach the critical mass needed.  Another approach therefore is to develop an overall strategy to build or improve the organization’s global mindset culture.  The first step in developing this strategy is to diagnose your company’s current state with regard to its global mindset culture.  So here are eleven key indicators that will help you assess your company’s current global mindset culture.
1.     Top management commitment to building a global mindset culture.  How regularly do the senior executives in your company reinforce the importance of thinking globally and recognizing the importance of markets other than the home market?  How often do executives travel overseas to learn about the importance of these markets – especially from their overseas subsidiaries?  How frequently do managers and executives from overseas subsidiaries come to headquarters to participate in meetings?  Are key executives from overseas represented in important task forces and corporate initiatives?
2.     Structures and processes for global alignment and coordination.  What formal and informal mechanisms has your company put in place to facilitate efficient and effective coordination across countries where your company does business?  How well defined are your company’s formal structures, such as matrix relationships, global and regional roles, and roles and responsibilities of headquarters and subsidiaries?  When global teams are created, how well represented are subsidiaries from relevant countries?
3.     Infrastructures for global communication.  Has your company invested in the necessary technologies to enable efficient communication across countries?  And how much training and support is being provided so employees can take advantage of these new tools?
4.     Assessment of global mindset potential.  How important does your company consider global mindset in selecting internal or external candidates for positions that will require cross-cultural interactions?  Is cultural fit one of the criteria used before assigning individuals to global roles?
5.     Use of development assignments to build global mindset.  When setting development plans for individuals who may have high potential, what opportunities are provided for them to learn and acquire experiences in working across different markets and cultures?
6.     Reducing the headquarters ‘center of gravity.’  Has your company considered relocating some key functions out of headquarters into one of its key markets overseas?  Are at least some of your company’s centers of excellence or expertise located overseas?  Are regional heads and their staffs still based in headquarters or have they moved out to the regions?
7.     Cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity as a key element in the company’s learning strategy.  How available and accessible are resources for employees to improve their cross-cultural awareness (e.g., on-line courses on doing business in different cultures, reimbursement for language training, etc.)?
8.     A global talent pool.  How inclusive is your company’s global talent management process?  For example, when considering internal candidates for key positions, does the slate of candidates include highly qualified employees from different locations?
9.     Recognition and rewards for those with global mindsets.  How valued are those individuals who have proven themselves in overseas assignments, not just in improving business results but also in being recognized as someone who has worked effectively with different cultures?  When these individuals complete their assignments, to what extent does your company leverage their experience?  Does your company’s competency model and performance evaluation system include global mindset behaviors as a key element?
In a recent study by Price Waterhouse Coopers (Wang, 2014). 4,108 return migrants from 81 countries of origin who had spent between three months and two years in the U.S. at some point during the years between 1997 and 2011 under a category of the J-1 visa designated for professional training completed a survey.   These respondents all had bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and had work experience in many industries with companies such as Google and JPMorgan Chase, as well as thousands of small startups and midsized companies.
What did they find?  While almost all of the respondents reported having learned about practices overseas that they could implement in their home countries, only 67 percent reported having shared any of this knowledge upon their return. And only 48 percent reported having shared knowledge and then having seen this knowledge implemented.   The study concludes:  This means that on average, for every two workers with international experience hired by a given firm, only one will successfully share knowledge from overseas at some point during his or her tenure.
Interestingly, countries like China, India and Brazil are creating incentives to entice their foreign-trained nationals to return.  A recent Wall Street Journal article described the emergence of these “sea turtles,” the term used for a Chinese native who is returning home after several assignments in the West.  The article mentions several such Chinese businessmen who, after working for multinationals like Coca-Cola and Nike in the U.S., have decided to return to China, often in much larger roles and with much greater compensation than they had in their former companies’ headquarters.  Aside from these considerations, there is the perception that the opportunities with a Chinese company are greater, as are the psychic benefits.  For example, Guo Xin, a sea turtle who joined a Chinese recruiting firm, said, “You’re making global decisions rather than having these decisions made for you” by Western headquarters. 

10.  Support for individuals on overseas assignments.  Does your company provide ongoing support for individuals on overseas assignments – before, during and after the assignment is over?  In Ernst & Young’s Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey (2013), they found that on average, 16% of assignees left the company within the first two years after repatriation, and a further 41% returned to their pre-assignment position.  Does your company require some form of cultural training for the individuals and their families prior to an overseas assignment.  For example, BASF works with an outside vendor that helps international assignees adjust to their new surroundings.  The vendor also provides “cultural attaches” who will help BASF employees with the day-to-day logistics of settling in a new country, e.g., finding apartments, completing mandatory state registrations, setting up bank accounts, etc. 
In another company, I helped develop an expatriate mentorship program whereby international assignees were assigned to senior executives as mentors, with the condition that these senior executives had to be outside these individuals’ functions.  For example, the CIO volunteered to mentor two individuals in Marketing and two managers in Finance who were all in overseas locations.  He kept in contact with them throughout their assignments, and helped facilitate their transition back to their next assignments.
11.  Formal and informal processes for sharing best practices globally.  When he was CEO of GE, Jack Welch was relentless in promoting knowledge management, and he held people accountable to make sure that they were proactive in communicating and sharing best practices.  How much sharing of information and best practices goes on internally in your company, and are there formal and informal mechanisms for facilitating the dissemination of these best practices?  Somewhat belatedly, for example, GM has just begun to implement this.  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (November 2, 2014), President Dan Ammann described what the company has started to do:
“A couple months ago we brought about 25 of the top sales leaders from around the world together in Charlotte, N.C.  We conducted workshops where each discussed the tactics they are using in their home markets to drive sales, work with dealers and interact with customers.  This is the first time anyone can remember that happening.”
      Perhaps next time they should meet in Beijing, Sao Paolo, or Mexico City.
Once you’ve done your assessment, then you’ll have a better understanding of where the gaps are, and your organization can begin to prioritize actions to narrow these gaps, taking into account the organization’s overall strategic goals and where the best payoffs are.  For example, if the organization is planning a major expansion into China over the next three to five years, then assessing cultural fit among high potential employees (#5) and establishing an office in one of its cities (#6) should be high on the list of actions.

Bennett, J.  (2014).  GM’s Ammann Drives for Change.  Wall Street Journal, November 12.

Chu, K. and Lublin, J.  (2014).  Chinese firms bring more natives home.  Wall Street Journal, September 3.

Gupta, A. and Govindarajan, V.  (2002).  Cultivating a Global Mindset.  Academy of Management Executive, 16(1), pp. 116-126.

Idea Watch.  (2014).  How Companies Can Profit from a Growth Mindset.  Harvard Business Review, November, pp. 28-29. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Thin Slicing Across Cultures

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term ”thin slicing”, and this is how he described it:
“(Thin-slicing)… is a central part of what it means to be human.  We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or reencounter a novel situation.  We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are … lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second o two, can tell us an awful lot.”

I remember many years ago, when I was doing research on the interviewing process, about studies that indicated that interviewers in an employment setting generally make up their minds about a candidate during the first few minutes of an interview.  In a current human resources management textbook (Gomez-Mejia et al.), here is what the authors have to say about interviewers and first impressions:
“Perhaps the most consistent research finding is that interviewers tend to jump to conclusions – make snap judgments – about candidates during the first few minutes of the interview (or even before the interview starts, based on test scores or resume data).  One researcher estimates that in 85% of the cases, interviewers had made up their minds before the interview even began, based on first impressions the interviewers gleaned from candidates’ applications and personal appearance.”

At about the same time period when I was doing my research, a non-technical book with the self-explanatory title “The First Five Minutes” was published that also described the impact of first impressions.

So we do judge a book by its cover, I thought.  And nothing that I have read or experienced since (through numerous interviews with executives and managers) has contradicted this simple but powerful hypothesis about our human tendency.

Perhaps it’s a result of our hardwired behavior from the Pleistocene era, where our ancestors had to judge very quickly whether a person from another tribe was a friend or foe.  Over the past several years, I have worked with executives to help them identify and develop potential talent in their organizations, and if anything, I find that many executives not only make these judgments very quickly, but also seem to make them very confidently (not surprising for them, of course).  A manager who they may remember texting during a meeting, or another manager who made a less than stellar presentation – these are samples of behavior that executives generalize very quickly about, and can sometimes de-rail otherwise fine talent.  In addition, the research on interviewing shows that interviewers are more influenced by unfavorable than favorable information about candidates.  In my many years of working with executives on talent identification and succession planning, I would say that this is also true about executives who are making judgments about potential candidates for succession.

Ambady and Rosenthal actually coined the term “thin slicing” many years before Gladwell popularized it.   And more recent studies have simply reinforced the power of thin slicing.  For example, Todorov at al. did studies of people’s judgments.  They showed potential voters pairs of black-and-white headshots of candidate who were completely unfamiliar to them.  After exposing these shots for one second, the participants made judgments about the competence of the candidates that predicated pretty accurately the outcome of the elections – over 70% of the winning candidates in several U.S. senatorial seats, and about 68% of those sitting in Congress.  They have replicated this research in elections held in other countries (e.g., Mexico, Germany).

According to neuroscientists (Pinker, p. 241), the ability to pick up emotional cues evolved in the amygdala.   So the challenge for many managers working globally today is to beware of these thin slices when interacting with people who are members of different cultures.  People from different cultures not only look different, they talk differently (even when conversing in English), and interact differently, even in a business setting.  So the potential for creating unfavorable first impressions is significant.

In cross-cultural settings, I believe that there are at least two kinds of biases we may fall prey to.  First is the “lack of similarity” bias that is created when we meet people who are not like us.  The relevant dimensions of dissimilarity or difference may differ by situation.  For example, in the workplace setting, gender is sometimes not as relevant as functional background.  Marketing people tend to refer to those finance guys concerned only with numbers, while sales people tend to refer to those engineering guys who overdesign their products with little regard for consumer needs.   In cross-cultural situations, our unconscious bias favoring people who are like us, or not favoring those who are not like us, can kick into high gear very quickly.  The dimensions of similarity or dissimilarity might include physical appearance, body language (e.g., the way someone shakes your hand or expresses himself or herself), and thinking style.

The second type of bias is when we fix on superficial – and sometimes irrelevant - characteristics that lead us to jump to hasty conclusions.  One example that I have seen on many occasions is the bias executives hold with regard to the ability of non-native English speakers to speak English well.  In my experience, many executives visiting other countries will place undue emphasis on locals who speak English well, especially those who understand the nuances and idioms of the English language.  English verbal skills may have little to do with local managers’ performance or their competence, but it inevitably impresses many executives who should know better.  In their Harvard Business Review article, Neeley and Kaplan point to this as a blind spot by many executives, and I concur. 

Here are three pieces of advices for avoiding these biases and withholding our first impressions (difficult as this may be) when interacting with a business colleague from another culture:

1.    When you are about to engage with someone from another culture especially for the first time, step back for a moment and ask yourself what assumptions you might be making about that person or group.   For example, suppose that you are getting ready to meet with a Russian manager in Moscow.  From what you have read about Russian businesspeople and about the Russian culture, you will certainly have certain expectations about the person you are about to meet.  You expect to meet someone who is most probably an ethnic Russian, who is rather formal (both in terms of attire as well as interaction), who does not use much body language or non-verbal communication, and who prefers to get down to business almost immediately.   What information do you already have, or can you get, about this person to test these assumptions?    
2.    As you meet with and engage with the person (or group), refer to those assumptions and adjust them to see whether they are justified or not.  Some of your thinking and adjustments might be done “in the moment.”  For example, on meeting the Russian manager, you realize that he is younger than 30, and he informs you that he has only been in Russia for five years, having been raised in Ukraine.  Furthermore, he got his MBA at IMD Business School in Switzerland.  These are bits of information that you get to pick up as you interact with your Russian business partner, and it might change the approach you might take with him.  For example, you might then decide to take a somewhat less formal approach and engage in some informal topics to break the ice and establish rapport. 

3.    After the interaction, reflect on your behaviors.  How did you adjust your approach, and did you feel that it was effective?  What would you do differently next time around?  If appropriate, ask for feedback (not about yourself, but you could ask about how the meeting went for him, for example), although keep in mind that you might not necessarily get honest feedback, especially if you are in a position of higher authority than the person or group you are interacting with.

There is another approach that has worked for many, including myself.  And that is to take the time to explore commonalities between the two of you.  In some cases, this may be a love of sports, cars, certain movies or certain books or video games.  In other cases, this might be around common experiences or common values, for example, having children of about the same age, having parents who may not be well, etc.  Finding “common ground” is an effective way to reduce your unconscious bias and in many cases helps to establish an effective relationship with your colleague cross-culturally.

Ambady, N. and Rosenthal, R.  (1992).  Thin Slices of Expressive Behavior as Predictors of Interpersonal Consequences.  Psychological Bulletin, 111(2).

Gomez-Meija et al.  (2012).  Managing Human Resources (7th edition).  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Prentice-Hall.

Mitchell, M. with Corr, J.  (1998).  The First Five Minutes.  New York:  Wiley.

Neeley, T. and Kaplan, R.  What’s Your Language Strategy?  (2014).  Harvard Business Review, September, pp. 70-76.

Pinker, S.  (2014).  The Village Effect.  New York:  Spiegel and Grau.

Todorov, A. et al. (2005).  Inferences of Competence from Faces Predict Election Outcomes.  Science, 308.