culture fit

Are You a Good Cultural Fit? Gaining Intercultural Competencies Goes Beyond Immersion in American Pop Culture

If you’re moving to another city or country that shares your language, then adjusting is no big deal, right? Think again. Workplace culture is an entirely different beast.

Chron debunks this in one case study wherein American expatriates failed in their post in the United Kingdom. One would think the commonality in language and shared influences in history and culture would make American assignees adapt to British societal norms and workplace culture like duck to water. On the contrary. One factor that could have led to that failure is the lack of intercultural training, probably because their superiors and global mobility manager did not think it was necessary.

For this reason, the intercultural training of an assignee must be structured and continuous, ongoing even after his first few months in his new office, for the move to be considered a success. It is not enough to simply give him a few web links on the hottest destinations or a book (or e-book) on his adopted country’s culture and traditions.

And while taking him occasionally to treat him in restaurants in diverse-friendly places like Northern California can make them feel more relaxed and motivated, the Global Mobility Manager must spend more than just a weeknight here and there to ensure that they have confidence.

One drawback in having the US as country of employment is that the company heads and even the Global Mobility Manager may assume that adjusting for the foreign national will come easily.

It turns out that linguistic skill in English doesn’t automatically translate into quick adaptation of the American culture even if American pop culture and its way of life is widely seen in global media and internet platforms. Again, this constant barrage of US-related info in other global regions is misconstrued to indicate that the assignee knows enough of America to succeed in his assignment.

Training Magazine advocates that the assignee continue to be trained in enhancing his or her intercultural competencies for  a specific period of time during the assignment. This is a structured organized program that the Global Mobility Manager handles in individualized coaching and consultation with the assignee.

What is being measured in the program are the assignee’s ability to adapt to the culture and then function and perform in their job at their optimal level. The Global Mobility Manager would have to discuss the following topics with the assignee and let them apply it into their day-to-day situations. Examples of these topics are the adopted country’s origin, values, government, and how these influence values, understanding of cultural differences between country of origin and country of employment, and method of relationship with the locals.

For example, some Asian assignees who spent their early professional years in a hierarchical organization may need some convincing to speak up in a departmental meeting. They are used to having their superiors dominate the meeting with the younger officers occasionally offering their suggestions.

The candid egalitarian approach that happens in American meetings may appear to them as chaotic or even rude and disrespectful, even if they do not voice their sentiments. The Global Mobility Manager must be able to bring out these differences — and then encourage the assignee to speak up and participate as an equal during these meetings if their colleagues and executives are to recognize their contribution.

To help determine if the assignee is in fact progressing in his adaptation and applying the lessons learned to actual work situations, the Chief Learning Officer recommends that the Global Mobility Manager constantly ask these questions:

  • Has the assignee learned to be comfortable and productive in activities where the adopted country’s culture and traditions are being visibly exercised, e.g. a Thanksgiving dinner, strict compliance with punctuality and time, communication in a meeting?
  • Does the assignee constantly read up on the adopted country’s history, sociology, and current events? Do they discuss these topics with the homegrown employees?
  • Has the assignee started participating in hobbies and activities where they have been invited by their local colleagues, e.g. a football game, a fundraiser, a baseball event?
  • Has the assignee increased his fluency in the language of the adopted country? Has he also mastered the other forms of non-verbal communication that the locals use, e.g. physical contact or the lack of it, too much or too little personal space, gift-giving (or none)?
  • Has the assignee made authentic and real friendships with locals within and outside the company? Do they see and interact with each other outside of the usual office hours?

Intercultural competencies will always be one of the core values that will make an assignee succeed in their job. Global Mobility Managers are their partners in that success. They are the ones who see to it that training and skill development in that area will remain fresh, interesting, and engaging.