Tag Archives: Cultural Fluency


Globalisation gap and global strategy

The findings of a recent Boston Consulting Group report highlighted the fact that many companies face a huge capability gap when it comes to implementing their global strategy. The strategy may be fine but if individuals within the organisation lack the global mindset to enable them to implement the strategy successfully, then things can go badly wrong.

Many of the problems associated with the corporate globalisation process are caused by a lack of global cultural fluency which leads people to take the same approach to everything, every time, everywhere. In the multi-faceted, complex global world we all work in, this simplistic approach just doesn’t work. Maybe it did twenty years ago when the big global players ruled the roost but the world is a more level playing field these days and a colonistic approach is quickly rebuffed just about everywhere.

So what should organisations, and individuals within those organisations do?

  1. Recognise and accept how little you actually know about other countries and other markets. There is no shame in recognising that you don’t know what you don’t know. Start with the assumption that there are a myriad of unknowns and that it is your responsibility to do some initial research on those unknowns.
  2. Accept that you take into every cross-border transaction your own level of cultural bias. Your background makes you see things in a peculiar way – but your Chinese counterparty probably looks at the same situation and sees something completely different.
  3. Build into your thinking that ‘just because things are different’ in another country it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wrong – they might be wrong but a different approach might actually be better than the way you do it ‘back home’. This sounds simplistic but in my experience it is very often a difficult message for Head Office to take on board.
  4. Think through the impact of every decision on every location. A centrally determined policy is usually biased towards the country it is originated in (usually where the Head Office is). You want to move towards a more matrixed structure? Great – but how do you make that work in a country where hierarchy is not only the norm but seen as the way in which the whole world (both business and private) is and should be shaped? A memo from head office or a town hall meeting is not going to change a mindset 4000 years in the making!
  5. Accept that a good idea is a good idea – regardless of where it originates. Not all good ideas start in the centre. For me the sign of a truly mature global company is when I hear people in the centre talking about what they can learn from the outside. Not all good ideas start in your head office – but equally not all ideas which come out of head office are bad.

I think that what I am really saying here is that knowledge is the key. People in your organisation (and not just a handful at the top or in the ‘international function’) need to be more aware of the impact that international culture has on every facet of business, they need to be given the specific knowledge necessary to navigate a complex global environment and then they need to figure out how to apply that knowledge and awareness to the benefit of the business.

One thing I do know is that this process never happens by osmosis. It needs careful planning and targeted interventions.

TGG can help you on this journey.

Cultural fluency is paramount

Why cultural fluency in sales and marketing is paramount

Do global marketers and sales people need cultural fluency or do generic marketing and sales concepts supersede any differences in approach and attitude found in differing countries around the world?

That is a question I am asked a lot during the learning and development programmes we run for a number of large multi-national clients around the world. I suppose the answer might seem obvious – of course people need cultural fluency and knowledge – but it is a question that generates a lot of debate so I thought it would be good to put down a few of my ideas in a post.

  • Communication: if both sales and marketing are mainly concerned with getting the right message across, it seems likely that good sales and marketing people need to be alive to the significant cultural differences which underpin the way in which people communicate. Good communication style in one country will often be viewed as very poor communication style in another. Is it therefore possible to have one style of message that is used across multiple territories? It is, of course, possible but probably not optimal. It is essential to get local staff to localise the message and, when they do so, don’t tell them they’ve got it wrong (unless it is off brand etc.) If you’ve recruited good people, they know their market better than you do.
  • Presentations: there is no such thing as a good presentation; there is only a good presentation in a certain location. We have a library of in-house presentations skills courses from different companies in different countries around the world and it is amazing that in some countries people are advised to (for example) put in as much detail as possible into a presentation so as to engage an audience whereas in other countries people are advised to leave out most of the detail so as not to alienate their audience. So if you are presenting in a foreign country, how do you structure your presentation? My experience says that most people have one style of presentation and that style is used everywhere. Might it not be better to adapt your presentational style to meet the expectations of your audience? Local help will probably be needed in these situations. And remember that even if you have a global corporate approach to the way presentations are expected to be delivered, that style only works internally – clients and other external stakeholders may have other expectations.
  • Images: you definitely need cultural sensitivity around this subject. Without local knowledge, how will you know what will offend sensitivities in a particular area? Certain cultures are sensitive to such varied issues as depictions of women in certain types of clothing, a photo of three people together, the soles of shoes, names written in red and many, many more. Are your marketing people alive to these sensitivities, and are they factoring them into the work they produce?
  • Website design: this is a particularly tricky area as websites are often seen as the global ambassador of your brand and marketing message. If you are from the US go and have a look at a few Chinese websites – lots of visual noise and very little white space. If you are Chinese take a look at some Danish websites – lots of white space and sparse text. Is it enough just to have your website translated into a number of key languages or do you need to look at different designs for different audiences? Are your web team alive to these cultural nuances or are they simply designing for themselves and people like them?
  • Negotiations: where to start with this one. People in the US like to get down to business quickly; people in Japan are focused on forming a good long-term relationship before even considering talking business. Finns like to come in with what they consider a ‘fair’ price from the outset; Indians are unlikely to ever take the first price offered. People in Sweden have a lot of authority delegated to them whereas you usually need to be talking to the top guy in the Gulf. Each country has its own unspoken rules as to how a negotiation is likely to be addressed. All countries want to negotiate hard but they want to negotiate in different ways and at different timescales. Your sales guys really need to be attuned to these cultural expectations if they are to be expected to perform to the maximum in a global environment.

So when clients ask me if global marketers and sales people need cultural fluency, my answer is always an unequivocal ‘yes they do’. But they also need help along the way – you can’t expect people just to pick this stuff up by osmosis. Give them the opportunity to be trained in these areas by people who know what they are talking about. Cultural fluency is a ‘need to have’ not a ‘nice to have’.