There is a significant and important trend of training in global organizations that focuses on building respect and understanding across differences. These training solutions have unique challenges to overcome, but the results in improved productivity, profitably, trust, and respect among co-workers make tackling these challenges worthwhile. The challenges and benefits of two cases that were recently addressed are described below, along with a list of the other global trainings delivered over the same one-month period:
Inclusive leadership and diversity training in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is committed to increasing the number of Saudi citizens employed in the economy, with a focus on non-energy related industries. In order to achieve this objective, known as the Saudization program, foreign companies are being incentivized to open new manufacturing facilities in the kingdom. Many Saudis have not had significant experience managing and leading the diverse workforce in Saudi Arabia. As a solution to this lack of experience, Western companies working in Saudi Arabia are offering cross-cultural and diversity training for their multicultural workforces. Some of the diversity factors that must be addressed include discrimination by some based on gender, sexual orientation, and those who are not Muslim; the degree of religiosity (those more observant versus those who are less observant); and nationality differences, both in regards to the many employees from Southeast Asia and the nationality of people from the Middle East.
A training program was designed to specifically address these topics in a safe and nonconfrontational manner. The process began with interviews with the current non-Saudi head of a new and expanding manufacturing facility who identified areas he wanted to address. Next the HR regional leader provided the corporate diversity mission statement and related leadership competencies, which the head of the plant introduced at the start of the program. A highly respected trainer with more than 20 years’ experience working within leading Saudi organizations was selected to lead the training. This was critical, since both the topic and the trainer could be seen as “foreign” and not relevant to their situation. The training was designed to combine instructor-led facilitation and interactive group activities. This allowed the trainer to draw out and reinforce key learning points from the participants. The result of the program was an increased openness to address the diversity issues being faced by the leaders and supervisors at the plant. The many potentially disruptive topics were discussed openly with respect for all. The leadership team and supervisors created specific action plans and milestones to be achieved. The success of the program was measured by the positive responses of the Saudi and non-Saudi attendees. It was decided to roll out the program to all employees.
Cultural intelligence training for 200 top executives for a German corporation. More than 200 bright top executives from multiple countries are coming together in Germany for a one-day retreat so they can interact and learn about cross-cultural differences within their teams and with regard to the global clients they support. HR wants a high-level training retreat with multiple opportunities for participants to meet in smaller groups so they can get to know each other better.
Seventy percent of the attendees are from Germany, and the training will take place in English. A highly regarded U.S.-based global mindset training organization was selected to design and deliver the training. To avoid the possibility that the training had underlying American cultural biases and prevent the impression that this was a U.S. program being imposed on a predominantly German audience, a team of seven Germany-based, German-speaking trainers were selected to deliver the training. The German trainers were also instrumental in the final design of the training. An American was the keynote speaker to kick off the retreat, and everything else was led by the German trainers.
Seven facilitators were selected, so the 200 participants could meet in smaller groups. The training methodology was almost exclusively interactive with many opportunities for the participants to get to know each other and to share insights about their cultures. Case studies derived from participants were used to illustrate cross-cultural challenges they faced in their assignments. Participants shared their cultural profiles and discussed best practices to overcome differences with each other. At the conclusion of the program, participants wrote their key learnings on a 40-foot roll of paper and then walked around the list capturing each other’s ideas, which was later posited on the group’s website. The success of the program was measured in part by the number of participants who identified colleagues from other countries as peer coaches and who committed to stay in touch on a monthly basis to share new ideas and best practices created during the program. Informal measures of success were the hundreds of key ideas and action items from the program that were recorded.
The following is a short list of other diversity and cross-cultural solutions during the same month as an illustration of the growing interest in creating more inclusive and cross-culturally savvy organizations:
• A two-day cross-cultural strategy retreat for executives of a leading European biopharmaceutical being bought by major Korean chaebol on how to best integrate the cultures of the two organizations.
• Customized cross-cultural training for expatriates going to the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan. Each family received its own program to address their specific needs.
• Unconscious bias training for a high-tech company in Malaysia, focusing on the hidden aspects that impact successful relationships. Special concern was paid to the systemic differences found in Malaysian society between the three main ethnic groups—Malays, Chinese, and Indians.
• Training U.S. scientists to work with Japanese scientists on the impact of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in World War II. This training was meant to help the U.S. scientists understand the cultural underpinnings of Japanese society and workplace relationships to expedite working relationships.
• Executive coaching for a Japanese M.D., Ph.D. to become an executive of a large U.S. corporation. The Japanese executive came to the United States thinking that he had a good understanding of the country, only to learn once he arrived that it was much more complicated than he expected.
• Team building for Israeli and American technology teams. While both the Israelis and Americans were very skilled about technical issues, their differences in communication styles were leading to mistrust and bad feelings. These common cultural differences were addressed in a nonthreatening workshop featuring numerous simulations.
• Webinar series on working globally for a U.S. unit of a major Dutch chemical company, which has a multicultural workforce and client base.
• Providing facilitators for a Top 4 consulting company to deliver their internal content in India and China in a culturally sensitive manner.
• Virtual training on virtual leadership across multiple countries and time zones. These global virtual leaders needed to learn new skills focusing on best practices for holding virtual meetings and collaborating in a global virtual environment.
While it may appear that the things that divide us are immutable, organizations are seriously addressing these differences in order to build bridges of understanding. I would like to learn what others are doing in this area for future columns. Please send your ideas or question to me at email@example.com.
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