Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cultural competence...what it might look like in reality

Given the opening up of the world and a shift to globalisation, it is important, especially in business contexts to be culturally competent - to be sensitive to differences and know how to work within a multicultural context.
The following is a brief vignette (based on experience, but using fictional characters) of how the Geert Hofstede’s 6D model is one of the many tools that can help raise awareness, and start discussions.

The vignette
Together, Shuyi who was born and raised in Beijing in China, and with whom I work closely in New Zealand, have found Hofstede’s model a useful way to open conversations about how we can best work together that respects both of our cultural preferences.
With China, according to Hofstede’s model:
  • Power distance (attitudes of culture towards inequalities): China comes in at 80 (NZ is 22), signalling a society “that believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable” (Hofstede, n.d.). In a workplace this means that the relationships tend to be polarised between managers and their team members, formal authority has great influence, and there is optimism about employees’ capacity to use their initiative and lead - but to also not have “aspirations beyond their rank” (Hofstede, n.d.).
  • Individualism (the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members): With a score of 20 (NZ is 79) China is a strongly collectivist culture. In the workplace this means that there is an expectation that “hiring and promotions with closer in-groups (such as family) … [get] preferential treatment” (Hofstede, n.d.). People do not tend to be committed to a company, although there is a tendency to form close cooperative groups with possible hostility shown to other groups.
  • Masculinity (levels of competitiveness, achievement and success vs liking what you do): At 66 (NZ is 58) China is a Masculine society, which means in a work context that there is a drive to succeed, often meaning long hours and little focus on breaks or leisure time.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance (how cultures feel about ambiguity and the unknown): China, at 30 (NZ is 49), scores low on Uncertainty Avoidance. In a business setting, Chinese employees are usually comfortable with ambiguity, and tend to be “adaptable and entrepreneurial” (Hofstede, n.d.).
  • Long Term Orientation (attitudes to the past, present and future): With a score of 87 (NZ is 33), China has a very pragmatic culture, where traditions can easily adapt to changes in context. In the workplace, Long Term Orientation translates to perseverance to achieve results over time, as well as a focus on saving.
  • Indulgence (control of desires and impulses): At 24 (NZ is 75), China is a restrained society. In the workplace this may be expressed as cynicism or pessimism, and employees may see that indulgence is not a positive behaviour.
Looking at the scores, while Long Term Orientation shows the biggest numerical distance (meaning that there may be misunderstandings around the Kiwi focus on ‘quick results’ and short-term gains), the most useful for Shuyi and I was Power Distance. I had noticed Shuyi rarely said much in meetings, and hardly ever contributed ideas or suggestions in the shared Google Docs - and yet I knew from our discussions, she had a lot to offer!  After I shared the results of Hofstede’s model with her, we talked about some of our assumptions. Shuyi felt it was rude for her to jump in with ideas (particularly alternative perspectives) during meetings, especially if the team leader or one of the really experienced team members was speaking. On the flip side, I had assumed that she just wasn’t keen to share - and I knew that other people in the team felt that she wasn’t really interested in being active on our projects. However, we were able to talk things through and discuss strategies such as me asking for her ideas directly during team meetings or in the Google Docs (but not all the time or too obviously), or providing signals such as a direct request for input. We both hope to continue the conversation!
In conclusion...
While these solutions are relatively surface and may not work for everyone, the key here was the fact that awareness can support folks to ‘have the conversation’ - and Hofstede’s model (or similar tools) can offer a ‘safe’ way to recognise differences.
Empathy, CC ( BY, NC, SA ) licensed Flickr image by James Box:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

An example of multiculturalism in the workplace

Aotearoa New Zealand is a bicultural nation, with a growing multicultural population. It is essential that business owners and managers actively use the principles of cultural diversity as a basis for decision making and growing company culture in a way that affirms employees’ cultural identities.
That is not to say that a person who identifies as an ethnic minority should be seen as “needy, vulnerable and victimised” (Singham, 2006, p. 36). Singham states strongly “I do not want people to be nice to me, help me settle better and retain my mother tongue... Rather, I want to be valued and included because my contributions … are recognised and respected” (2006, p. 36).
Take for example, UTech, a (not real) company in Wellington that has recently employed several Filipinos, who are new to Aotearoa NZ. The manager, Maureen, uses Hofstede’s Dimensions in Cross Cultural Management to help her consider how to ensure all employees feel recognised and respected. It is immediately apparent that, according to the Hofstede dimensions of Power Distance and Individualism, Filipinos appear high in Power Distance (Aotearoa NZ appears low). Therefore, the new Filipino employees could find the accessibility to managers, and expectations around the sharing of expertise, quite challenging. In turn, the Kiwi employees may be frustrated by the Filipinos’ more formal, less direct or passive approach, to communication. When it comes to individualism, in the Aotearoa NZ context, the Filipinos may struggle with a business community that appears to be less close-knit, and that expects a high level of self-reliance. On the other hand, the Kiwis could find it challenging when their new Filipino colleagues appear to require more direction.
Maureen uses this information to work with all her employees to help raise their awareness, and hone their communication skills. Quite quickly, a wide range of previously unnoticed talents becomes obvious, with the additional benefit that the diversity of viewpoints is recognised, and there is a lot more creative problem-solving. While there are a few speed-bumps along the way, the team is focussed on developing their communication skills and works through the challenges to build synergy. Employees report feeling happier, more engaged, and the number of new projects underway increases.
This example illustrates that business owners and managers in Aotearoa NZ, who acknowledge cultural diversity, will be able to provide support for employees so that they become aware of the differences between specific characteristics. Such support will help ensure that employees value the strengths, motives, viewpoints, and life experiences that cultural diversity brings.
Hofstede,G. (1980) Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values. Beverly Hills CA: Sage Publications.
Singham, M. (2006). Multiculturalism in New Zealand – the need for a  new paradigm. Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal 1(1). 33-37.
Circle of feet. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Adam Connolly:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Workplace diversity: Gender

There is no doubt that diversity in the workplace can be beneficial. However, it is important to avoid generalisations, especially when referring to gender (Medland, 2012). Lynda Gratton (director of the Centre for Women in Business at London Business School), for example, observes that “there is no substantive difference between men and women at work. Some people are highly caring and intuitive and others are not” (in Medland, 2012, Para 8).
It is also essential to recognise that gender diversity includes people who may or may not identify as male, female, transgender, androgynous, or bigender, and that in the workplace behaviour can be “influenced by issues as far-ranging as self-esteem, opportunities, and society’s expectations” (Medland, 2012, Para 24).
Some of the current research indicates that a workplace with gender diversity can:
  • Bring varied perspectives, ideas and experiences to teams, and add to collective knowledge.
  • Help people feel happier, more resilient in the face of challenges / change, and be more cooperative.
  • Provide a range of approaches to problem solving, team building, and analysis of issues, and lead to improved decision-making.
  • Foster a range of communication styles.
  • Enhance productivity and economic growth (World Economic Forum, 2012).
  • Broaden notions of ‘success’, and what the associated attributes ‘look like’.
  • Provide a variety of support when a company is working with challenges or turbulent governance.
Within workplaces where gender diversity is actively sought, roles within the organisation, including leadership roles, are often reimagined to be more collaborative and supportive. In turn, this reframing of roles can make the company more appealing and accessible to a much more diverse pool of talent” (Berhane, 2015, n.p.).

Berhane, S. (2015). How To Make Gender Equality At Work Matter To Everyone. Retrieved from
World Economic Forum. (2012). The global gender gap report 2012. Retrieved from
Identity finders. CC ( BY ND ND ) licensed Flickr image by James Box:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Four generations in the workforce - who are they?

Before describing the four generations that may be present in today’s workplace, it is important to identify a couple of caveats around generational cohort research. Parry and Urwin (2011) indicate that there is a tendency toward ‘snapshot’ research rather than longitudinal studies of individuals or cohorts. Also, the research design often does not account for differences such as gender and ethnicity. Therefore the broad-brush statements about the impact of common experiences that shape generational cohorts tend to be flawed because it is unlikely that people of the same generation will experience things similarly when their contexts, social and cultural backgrounds differ.
 With these caveats in mind, the generalisations can be useful for coaching as they may indicate possible motivations, values, and ideas, as well as the types of support that might be most effective.

The Silent Generation / Traditionalists (born before 1946)
As employees this generation tend to be loyal to their employers and will stick at a job no matter what. In return, they expect their employers to be loyal to them, which includes providing a tenured career path with associated promotions and raises. They are often accepting of organisational hierarchy, like a degree of autonomy and flexibility, and frequently have well-developed interpersonal skills. Work ethic is measured by timeliness, productivity, and by not standing out.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
This generation have experienced downsizings and associated career challenges, tend to compete for positions, and be individualistic. At work, relationship building and teamwork are seen as crucial, and they expect loyalty from those with whom they work. During their career they may have had a range of jobs, where they place less importance on productivity and more on the hours worked. As such, they often work long hours, and place their career before personal relationships.

Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980)
With a distrust of large organisations, and having seen the layoffs of the '70s, '80s and '90s this generation see every role as temporary. They seek casual, friendly work environments, where they can get involved, and that are places to learn, which provide them with flexibility and freedom. Regardless of another employee’s position, title, or tenure, this generation want open communication (although this is often via email), and are not afraid to disagree with managers. They tend to invest loyalty in a person rather than a company. With a preference for short work days achieved by working smarter rather than harder, they value control of their time.

Millennials / Gen Y / Generation Next (born after 1981)
Keen for job security, this generation looks for (and often competes for) jobs that provide personal satisfaction. They look for individuals who will help them with their goals, and are thirsty for leadership, as well as open, frequent communication and feedback from their manager(s). They may try to avoid conflict in the workplace, and want to be close to their peers. With their eyes peeled for opportunities to learn, they are at home in a fast-paced technological environment that often demands their attention across tasks.

Parry, E., & Urwin, P. (2011). Generational differences in work values: A review of theory and evidence. International Journal of Management Reviews. 13(1). 79-96.
Identity hand clone. CC ( BY ND SA ) licensed Flickr image by Tillie Ariantho:

Friday, May 19, 2017

The benefits of diversity...and coaching

Workplaces where there is a clear recognition of the specific benefits of diversity - that are inclusive and respectful of people’s differences (race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, geographic background, education, economic background and thinking and communication styles, SIT, n.d.) - have been shown to have higher levels of employee satisfaction and retain employees, as well as being innovative and more able to meet their clients’ needs. However, teams in these organisations need to be effectively managed to ensure good communication and high levels of trust (HCS, n.d.), and help address any tensions that arise.
Coaching can be a valuable tool to help make the most of diversity, in particular because it takes into account a person’s “life experiences, intercultural relationships, ... and work experience” (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010, p. 105) - all of which are important for effective diversity management.
Coaching can help managers and their teams develop the knowledge, skills, strategies, attitudes, and practices for communicating successfully in diverse work environments, in particular because it can facilitate every employee to:
  • Develop cultural self-awareness in part through becoming aware of their own biases (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
  • Build key concepts and frameworks for managing and working with diversity.
  • Use approaches such as active listening, paraphrasing to check understanding, transparency of purpose, interpreting the interlocutor’s responses, and being aware of different interpretations of terms - to help with sensitive but clear communication and collaboration.
  • Become aware of their own conscious and unconscious biases and assumptions.
  • Value differences and recognise colleagues’ strengths.
  • Grow their ability to collaborate across cultures (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
As such, coaching can help teams build positive working relationships, in part by helping people avoid miscommunication based on assumptions and differences.
Associated benefits for the companies who do business in a wide range of countries can include the recruitment of talented people from around the globe, growth of efficacious global executives, an organisational culture that can cope with international mergers and acquisitions, and staff who are possible candidates for expatriate postings.

Image: A row of rainbow. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Catface27;

Monday, May 15, 2017

Balancing your life...

The coaching wheel is a tool used in coaching, for a wide range of reasons (you can find out more about some of the uses in this post - 'Which solution is best for you?'). The wheel of life, for example, can help you look at how you are balancing aspects of your life, based on things that are important to you. Completing the wheel can offer a visual way to see where things may be out of balance, especially those where you are expending a lot of energy and time at the detriment to others.
This infographic from MindTools guides you through the steps of completing the wheel of life, along with some ideas on next steps. See what you reckon, and it would be good to hear how you use it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Powerful questions in coaching

Powerful questions are a cornerstone of coaching. These questions are sometimes called ‘magical’ because they can support a coachee to step around perceived barriers or familiar ways of thinking into a space where they are more creative. Their concrete context (i.e. resources, issues, etc) hasn’t changed, but the way the they are thinking can become more positive, increasing motivating and boosting self-confidence.
The two types of ‘magical questions’ that I frequently use are:
  • Imagine the results, and
  • Time shift

Imagine the results
The ‘imagine the results’ questions invite a coachee to hurdle over the messiness they can see in their here and now, and to step into their world in the future where they have done the hard work and are experiencing the desired outcomes - and can see the purpose behind what they want to do or achieve.
Take, for instance, a coachee who is trying to split their department into self-directed teams, in a way that will increase efficiency and autonomy, but without losing the great sense of collaboration that the department already has. The coachee is, however, facing a range of issues and their mental wheels are spinning in the mud that these issues are creating. One way to support this coachee might be with the following statement and questions:
Imagine that your department is working in teams. Why are they working in teams? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What is different? How was it possible to achieve this?   
When I use the ‘imagine the result question’ with coachees I find that sometimes they take a while to get their head into that space, but when they do they are able to focus on what their situation would look and feel like. It helps them focus on the future, rather than barriers or issues that are in the way. Also, in some ways, by stating what they see and by understanding their purpose, it helps it feel more real, and, as a result, helps them develop a plan to move forward (they know where they want to go, so putting together the ‘map’ becomes easier).

Time shift
Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by focussing on all the things that we still need to do and the amount of effort that it is going to take to reach our desired outcomes. Sometimes it can be tough to move our focus back to the positive results we are aiming for, and thereby to muster up the energy and motivation we need to get things done.
The ‘time shift’ questions, similar to the ‘imagine the results questions’, can help a coachee look into the future - but with ‘time shift’ it asks the coachee to focus on a general point of time in the future rather than on specific desired outcomes.
Using the same scenario - the coachee who is trying to split their department into self-directed teams - I might use a statement and questions such as:
It is now August 2018. You have achieved your goals. What can you see? What happened? What did you do? What were the main steps in your plan that got you there? How did you start?
The ‘time shift’ questions helps my coachee look into the future and imagine, quite vividly what it would be like for them. They are also able to describe what they did to get there, and by the end of the session are likely to be way more motivated to jump back into their ‘to do’ list and action plan. Often, the coachee will want to revisit the structure of their existing action plan, because they have identified key priorities and steps that need to be included, or that need to be adjusted.

Leading with curiosity
The two open-ended question approaches that I have discussed can be powerful. However, you still need to make sure that you approach every session with true ‘curiosity’, and are fully present (Hess, 2010). When you ask questions because you are curious, rather than because you feel that the question is useful, it keeps everything open. Your curiosity will help you select just the right question for that coachee at that point in time, which helps avoid the possible trap of falling back on questions that you have found have worked previously. It means that you may (often) be surprised by the direction the coachee takes you with their response - and this is where such questions, I would suggest, can be magical. By leading with curiosity and selecting open-ended questions from this basis, the process can be transformational for the coachee in part because they too are surprised by the direction their response take. I have had coachee’s laugh with delight and wonder, asking ‘where did that come from? I didn’t even know I was thinking that!’.

The transformational, magic moments don’t happen every time and you can’t force them (Hess, 2010) - but by using a combination of curiosity and powerful questions, and ensuring you are fully present during a session, the likelihood of such transformational moments occurring, increases.

Hess, R. (2010.). The Essence of a Great Coaching Question. Retrieved from

Question finger 6. CC ( BY ) licensed Flickr image by Josh Tasman: