The Role Culture Plays When Managing Global Projects

Occasionally I will be hosting guests to post articles in this little corner of mine.  I’ve invited one of our very own from Peritius, Ricardo Viti, to share his thought on managing global projects and cultural differences. Welcome Ricardo!

Thanks.
Laura

A friend of mine, an Argentine woman living in France, shared with me something that happened to her in a business meeting. She was introduced to a couple of German meeting attendees. To greet them she kissed them on the cheek; this is a common practice in Argentina. The expressions on the poor guys’ faces were ones of disgust, surprise and horror.  I remember thinking that was not a correct move on her part, even if their reactions were a little exaggerated.  And although I have many years of experience working on multi-cultural, global projects to leverage, even I can be taken aback on occasion.  As a matter of fact, only one month later I was attending a business meeting in Buenos Aires and one the male attendees that I had met a couple of times before, greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.  It shocked me… and I was born in Argentina!

International business man travel with trolley, global business concept

So, I guess we all have things to learn… Below are the aspects of managing global projects that may be more understated, but nevertheless are key to the successful management of outcomes when working on global projects:

  1. Establish relationships. Yes, establishing strong relationships are always important when managing any kind of project, but it is even more important when working with Latin cultures. They are more relationship oriented and you will be rewarded by spending time attending to that orientation and developing a strong bond with your team members/stakeholders. If you are able to create that type of working relationship, you will be repaid with loyalty. This will help to ensure a quick response during a crisis and the determination to do whatever it takes to deliver.
  2. ‘Second class citizen’ syndrome. You will no doubt be working for the corporate headquarters and often priorities/compromise/objectives are acted upon based on the size of the local office. Always show respect for their demands and follow up on their requests, they will respond to you in the same manner.
  3. Face to Face meetings. Although they can be expensive, they can in the end reduce costs and avoid conflicts. In one of my recent global projects I met a very demanding executive. He was not collaborative and his attitude was passed down to his employees. I traveled to his office, met with him, discussed the issues and… just as important… I socialized with him. From that moment on things changed! The project began to progress and flourish in a more active and positive environment. There was one small sacrifice though… I had to eat a maguey maggot (a nutritious delicacy in Mexican cuisine) to win him over.

To summarize, do not take for granted that people from other countries/cultures will react to a situation the same way that you would. No matter how broad your experience. Understand that with different cultures come different understandings.  What may seem innocent to you may result in discomfort for the other individual, but sometimes it can be far more serious.  Do your homework.  The best rule of thumb is to observe and remain respectful.

Ricardo

 

Life Lessons from the Magic Kingdom

I just got back from Disney World with my fiancé. He had never been to Disney in his life and didn’t take his children as they were growing up.  His excuse is that he took them to Space Camp.  I wasn’t buying it.  His punishment….a few days at Disney.  So we packed our bags and bought our Disney tickets (due to the latest increase, we used our retirement IRAs to pay).  Our mission: (which he had no choice but to accept) find anything with the Dopey character on it.  See, I love Dopey.  Though as I’m getting older, I’m starting to have a thing for Grumpy too…but I think that has more to do with my age and the loss of my remaining filters.  But I digress.

I know that most people think that I’m nuts (I prefer “special”) but fairy tales do in fact teach you about life. Being the project manager I am, my perspective is that it teaches you about maneuvering life in the business world.  For instance, fairy tales teach kids (and enlightened adults) about the benefits of diversity.  Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes.  Take the seven dwarves.  Each dwarf is a caricature of the team members you work with.

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Take Doc.  Doc was the (self-appointed) leader of the group.  Think project manager/department manager.  He/she doesn’t always have the right answers, often has to deal with some aberrant behavior but uses leadership skills to take control when the going gets tough.

Bashful.  This is your introvert.  This may be a tech resource that would rather be working on the computer than working with the people in the room.  They know what they are supposed to do but don’t like to be in the spotlight.  They don’t like when you ask questions or put them on the spot.  They prefer to be a wallflower.

Grumpy.  We often call them the Doubting Thomas on the team. Grumpy is the first one to grumble about a new project or a change in the organization but when tragedy hits, he/she is still waiting to charge in to help.  Yet, as a whole, the doubting Thomas is too often ignored.  Sort of like the boy who cried wolf.  But if you listen, you may realize that there is some truth to their complaints.  They are often the best risk managers in the organization.

Sneezy.  The sick day team member.  The one whose slack the team has to pick up because Sneezy is (either legitimately or not) out sick.

Sleepy. This one makes me personally nervous.  You know the one.  I look over during a meeting and find Sleepy asleep.  Not fully engaged, Sleepy has a hard time keeping up since THEY AREN’T CONSCIOUS!!

Happy. The team member everyone wishes for.  No matter what the task or the workload, they always have a smile on their face.  The Zen Masters of the team.

Dopey. Dopey tries hard and is always positive.  Dopey has the right attitude so may be the best team member to mentor.  When given Grumpy, who may be smart but have a lousy attitude or Dopey that may not be as smart but has a desire to learn, I’ll take Dopey every time.  Not sure that my fiancé likes that fact too much.

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As diverse as the dwarves were in their thinking and their personality, they worked together as a team. Each dwarf added something to the total household and they came together in the mines and in their rescue of their houseguest.  Face it.    Where would Snow White be without them?

So, I think I’m going to make an annual trek to Disney going forward. It is amazing the type of insight fairy tales can bring to real life.  (Plus, I am still looking for that perfect Dopey t-shirt.)

Laura

Diversity with a Blindfold

I can be pretty oblivious. No really…..I am. It would have caused me many an embarrassing moment if only I knew enough to be embarrassed.

Yet, while most people would find being oblivious a negative trait, I’ve come to realize that often our weaknesses can also be our strengths.

Take hiring as an example. I’ve been in business for 26 years and I’ve hired a lot of people. I’ve also had a history of diversity. Different ethnic, religious and sexual orientations have always been part of our make-up. The funny thing is that I didn’t drive my search in that manner. As my head of talent management says, I am “an accidental diversity employer.” It isn’t that I didn’t want to get there. It’s just that I didn’t think about it. It just happened.

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Whether you say I’m oblivious or that I’m good at looking for the best in everyone. I’ve been able to create a great team of strong, diverse consultants. It comes pretty easy. When I read so much about how hard it is to create a diverse culture, I wonder, why? Why is it so hard to create a diverse culture?

I have a friend that was quite high up in a huge global Fortune 500 company as the head of HR. She retired and was in great demand elsewhere. She shared with me that she was wooed by a large financial organization to head HR. She arrived at the headquarters a couple of hours early on purpose. She spent the time watching the crowd coming to work. She noticed that there was little diversity among the people walking in. She went to her interview with the CEO and she called him out. She said that (paraphrasing), If you want a diverse workforce, then you have to hire for it.” (She is so cool).

So how do you create diversity? Simply… by being aware of your biases. I recently had scheduled an interview with a candidate that was causing me some anxiety due to a personal bias. My talent manager (of color) told me that she had never seen me like that. That comment alone pissed me off. I was probably more anxious about the fact that I was anxious than the interview itself. It wasn’t like me and I wanted to make sure that I gave this individual a fair interview.

Fast forward….the interview was great. By realizing my bias, I was able to remediate it. I evaluated the consultant fairly. I walked out wondering, what was the big deal? The candidate was engaged during the interview and we laughed A LOT! (I can sometimes be funny though my talent manager was a little jealous because she thinks she is the funny one.) I overcame my bias to realize that there was a potentially great resource for our organization.

So how it did it happen?

  1. The hardest part of addressing your bias is to be aware of your bias. That isn’t easy.   If I didn’t have a diverse talent manager, my result might be different. She recognized my bias and put my feet to the fire on the interview. She pushed me to have the interview. Once I understood that I did have a bias, I was able to confront it.
  2. Having diversity in the recruiting process can help. Now I’ve had other people in the talent management role before and still had a diverse organization but nothing like today. In looking back, I might not have had as much diversity because of the bias of my talent managers. Tough to admit, but true.
  3. When you force yourself to address your bias, your results begin to change.

And for those of you that are assuming that with diversity I must have a lower end talent pool, (hello, bias much?), quite the contrary. As a smaller business, my talent has to be top of the line or my clients have no reason to use me.

So what? I have a diverse team. Where is the value? I have an interesting and dynamic team. We may not be huge, but we all have fun when the team comes together on Fridays. I will sometimes see friendships coming together that I’m unclear would happen otherwise.  I know that I have a team that speaks to any of the needs of my clients. They have different views on life that allow them to work together– to think outside of the box. Being diverse has allowed me to truly focus on getting the best of the best. My microcosm of a company represents the world.

I may be oblivious but I’m not naïve. In our business, there are risks to diversity. Out of all the work that I’ve gone after in 26 years (oh by the way, Happy Anniversary to me), the odds are in my favor that I’ve lost something due to our diversity. That part is out of my control. Yet the diversity of my firm brings so many advantages that outweigh that one risk.

So to all of the CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies that struggle with creating diversity, I ask WHY is it so hard?

So learn a little about being oblivious. Be color blind and read the subtitles. Turns out I’m okay with being oblivious. I’ve come to understand that it is one of my greatest strengths.

Laura tries to tackle all problems with an objective eye. But if you pick your nose in public, please don’t apply for a job. There are some things she just can’t ignore.