When Culture Does Not Translate Into Business Goals
7 February, 2022
Digital/IT Leader | ex CIO | Board Director of Startup Accelerator at Micron Technology
Employee Cultural Differences Create Barriers in Accomplishing Goals
As companies grow their operations globally, diversity and inclusion become more crucial.
When I led a cross-cultural team, employees from different countries brought in divergent perspectives. The stakeholders were in Japan, while the execution team was based in India, and the corporate leadership was both in China and the United States. We had a unique perspective that this program required to implement a corporate solution into the Japanese market. The outsourced vendors and partners tried to implement various solutions multiple times, but it was unsuccessful. This was the third attempt when we had to try one more time and get there. Interestingly enough, the solution worked technically, but as the execution failed, we received feedback that the language of command should be Japanese.
Once we had built everything, during the demo, when the stakeholders did not appreciate it somewhat because it was not in their local language, it was pretty much a challenge. Besides, after completing the project's initial phase, we realized that the problem was not only the language; it had a much deeper meaning in terms of the market.
Observe, Evaluate and Proceed at a Constant Pace
Respecting the cultural differences, we looked at the different solutions that we could work towards in order to fill in the gaps. First things first, we exploited the conflict areas. We aligned all the leaders, but the possibility that our execution might have still been unsuccessful was because the problems were more than the language barrier.
The stakeholders in Japan had specific process gaps — what was done internally, they did not want to compromise on those elements. They wanted to continue their processes despite being in the same corporate structure, which involved delaying our processes.
While we were trying to implement an integrated solution, the country organization looked forward to a non-integrated three different teams. When we were interacting, we dealt with three other groups separately. These were some early indicators that language alone was not the only problem.
We found roles based in Japan, who had a good grasp of English and a significant role in the project. Afterward, we worked on finding the potential conflict areas and some actions that we could take in order to minimize the damage. Therefore, in order to build relationships, we added more team members from the localization team and convinced them regarding solutions.
Upon understanding that they did not want to come off as a single team, we backed them by their priorities. We identified each team's needs and satisfied those needs one by one. Plus, we built trust through exercises and what it meant by accepting and not accepting their terms. We also educated some of our team members on the advantages of getting there.
Acknowledging the cultural differences and accommodating accordingly helped us successfully deploy the solution in the end.
Foresee Any Conflict Areas
- When working cross-culturally, mark potential conflict areas and then evaluate the probability of those happening.
- You can buy any product in any language, but you can only sell in the local language when it comes to selling. Ignoring the cultural aspect can lead to consequences.
- Translators help to solve linguistic challenges, however identifying and investing culture champions early enough builds the floor for true collaboration.
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