In yesterday’s post on “Why Companies Need to Take HR Global,” we looked at The “Taking HR Global” discussion at HRevoloution and some of the challenges and frustrations HR practitioners face as they try to bring cultural and geographic diversity to their companies. Today we’ll look at some of the specific differences participants find challenging.
It’s one thing dealing with English-speaking countries where there are cultural differences but the language is the same, said one woman. It’s another thing when you start to work in countries in Asia and other parts of the world where people don’t speak English because you’re dealing with language barriers and cultural differences that cause challenges and misunderstandings.
Different cultures have very different ways of communicating and that can cause stress in a global workforce.
For example, in Australia, if you like someone and are really accepting of them and comfortable around them, you’re really rude to them, said Linda Jonas, a transplant to Sydney from Germany. That was hard for her to get used to and take the right way because in Germany “we’re really direct” and believe there’s always some truth in everything people say, even jokes.
You have to communicate those differences in communication style to to employees because they won’t be able to figure on their own and may not know how to react, said Linda. You also need to think about how feedback works in different cultures and be sensitive to those differences.
That’s even true within a country because people take feedback differently in general, chimed in a woman in the group.
In the U.S. we all came from so many different countries and those values and communication styles get passed down from generation to generation, so we still have such a variety in styles from person to person and company to company, said Trish McFarlane.
The way people get their work done, the environments they work best in and the sort of incentives they respond to vary based on culture, participants and panelists shared.
So even when core values are the same, “the way people deliver on those core values may be different,” said Bill Boorman.
Bill offered an example from Russia: In Moscow people show up when they show up instead of at a set time each morning. They may arrive at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., but they stay as late as necessary to get everything done.
An Australian participant said his country was surprised when they expanded into Africa and found they needed an entirely different recruiting approach. They found that in Africa you have to recruit from a tribal perspective instead of a values perspective. You have to recruit people’s buddies to work with them if you want to succeed.
Laws vary greatly from country to country, so companies have to be aware of what they can and can’t do when they start operating across international borders.
This is a big deal in terms of recruiting because what’s standard practice in evaluating a candidate in one country is totally illegal in another, said Bonni Titgemeyer.
When you’re dealing with computer programmers, there may be cultural issues that affect the use of intellectual property.
One participant who was born in India and later became a U.S. citizen says he’s had problems with some of his company’s programmers based in India. They’ve had to discipline and even fire employees in India for copying code, which isn’t a big deal there, but is in the U.S.
American companies have to be careful because they can get in legal trouble in the U.S. for things that their employees in other countries do wrong, he said.
Do Companies Need a Universal Culture?
The code copying example came out of a discussion that started when a participant who teaches a course on cultural competence said he didn’t think that a shared corporate culture was important when you’re dealing with programmers in India. He said he didn’t think companies really needed them to share their organization’s values.
The participant with the programmer problems insisted that a shared organizational culture is important for all workers operating in all parts of the world. The secret is to find a way to effectively communicate those values to everyone because “values mean different things to different people in the world.”
Since 2009, HRevolution has been creating unique opportunities for HR professionals, recruiters, consultants, and vendors to come together to discuss and debate the future of HR. HRevolution 2013 was on October 6 in Las Vegas.