Monday, June 17, 2013

The Intercultural Communicator

I believe that the roots of success and failure lie within how we communicate. Communication strong and poor, that is, and ultimately, I have rarely come across a situation where communication issues didn't have some role to play.
In the past number of years, I've been studying how international communication is becoming more and more crucial to the success of any business. It's fascinating to what degree understanding culture matters when working internationally. 
Having started my career in language training, today I am convinced that although learning how to speak another language is absolutely vital to enhance communication, it is impossible to isolate learning a language without learning about the cultural aspect of the people who you will be working with. 

So as a short immersion, here are some basics on intercultural communication. 

 Cultural Etiquette: This means the manners and behaviours that are expected in a given situation . For example, as an Irish person in Germany, I find it hard to get used to the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to blow your nose in public. I also had to learn to call people by their surname, and use the polite form of 'Sie' when meeting new people. The more we understand the what the cultural norm is or isn't in different cultures, the easier it is to understand behaviours and avoid making a faux pas when working internationally.

lCultural Stereotypes: This is probably where cultural understanding begins. We often start out with our own beliefs about others, their attitudes & behaviors. Stereotyping is when we paint a whole culture with one brush and often use it for a superficial picture of a nation. Being Irish people often expect me to be able to drink them under the table whilst singing ballads and playing the harp. They are usually disappointed that I don't have red hair and freckles. Those who have never visited the massive financial services centre in Dublin, or any of the large American corporations with headquarters in Ireland, are apt to believe me when I tell them that we travel by donkey, or pony and trap. Likewise the Germans all wear Lederhosen and drink mighty large krugs of beer, the French go around on bicycles wearing stripey t-shirts, berets and carrying onions . 
It can get a bit more serious than that though. There are generalizations - the Germans are boring, serious, particular. The Irish are late and unorganized, etc... There is a great danger in stereotyping without thinking. Of course it can be good to have some general characteristics, and we all make assumptions to a degree. As long as you are prepared to let your assumptions prove you wrong, it can be a first step.

lEthnocentrism: Means looking at the world from a perspective shaped by our own culture . In other words, we assume that our cultural habits are the norm, the axis upon which the world turns, and we work from there. Other countries should learn to do it our way, or at least understand that they have it wrong. I remember the first time I went to China, over 20 years ago, having an ethnocentric killing moment whilst standing in the middle of a crowded street and realizing that actually, given the population of the world, Chinese people represented the 'norm' with regards to what a human being looks like. It was me, long nosed whitey, that was quite the exotic animal. 
What I think is important regarding ethnocentrism, is to try and understand when a person comes from a very different cultural background that integration is not about teaching him or her to be like us, but rather, by accepting that they are different, that we are all different in various aspects, and respecting the difference is the crux of integration.

lRelativism: Is doing exactly that. It is accepting that all cultures are good in their own way. Having cultural sensitivity is a really helpful tool that will advance your communication skills and protect you from misunderstandings. In my case, having spent so many years going back and forth from Ireland to Germany, I have had to use relativism in order not to go completely nuts. In my case, I tend to cherry pick between the two cultures. I love being highly organised whilst I try to use my Irishness as an excuse for being late. 
To become totally relativist regarding culture is extremely difficult, but remembering that the person or people you are dealing with also believe that their culture is the centre of all reality is a great start. 

And then there's humour. It just doesn't translate. Besides, it's advised that you should never tell a joke in business that is not politically correct. But are there any politically correct jokes that are funny? 
Let's end with an attempt...

Monday, April 15, 2013

How Do You Measure Success?

Are You Successful?

They say confidence is the companion of success, so how would you react if someone were to ask you this question: are you successful?  For a lot of people success conjures up the image of the rich, the famous and the powerful. In real
ity though, this is not what true success is about at all. True and fulfilling success actually has nothing to do with achieving wealth, fame or power. Success is personal and it’s different for every individual. The secret to true success is to know just what it is that makes you tick. Understanding how important it is to follow your own personal desires and values is the first step to fulfillment, and that is what success is all about: personal fulfillment.
For example, a few years ago, a friend of mine was running a very busy GP practice. She managed to have two afternoons a week free, was financially independent and had a very supportive family. You could say she had everything going for her, and most people would definitely have labeled her with the word ‘successful’. However, after much deliberation she made the decision to close her practice. The reason was that she had never really wanted to become a medic. Throughout her school years she had measured success through her academic achievements, and when she graduated from school with flying colours, studying medicine seemed to be the next step to success. At university she followed the same pattern, and it was only when she was a well established doctor that she stopped to ask herself the question ‘is this really what I want from life?’ In her case, it wasn’t. She had always been a passionate gardener. So she decided to follow the dream that she had always been afraid of, and started growing flowers. She now runs a thriving business, growing and selling flowers at country markets. As she told me herself, no matter how good her GP practice was, she was never going to experience personal success at it, as it wasn’t her true passion, her dream. She had been living by other peoples measures of success and not her own.

We all have our own idea of success and most of us will strive to achieve this. And it is true that some will end up being top of their game, while others may not quite make it. But does that mean they are unsuccessful?  The meaning of success is complex. It has numerous definitions and manifests itself in different ways. Ultimately, your success is all about what you are searching for in life, whether it is family or career oriented. Some people’s measure of success is extremely focused. Someone whose dream it is to sail around the world, for example, will have one very clear way to measure that success – whether they get to do it or not. A stay at home mother, on the other hand, may measure her success in a very different way. It all boils down to your perspective on life, and in turn your perspective on what success means.
But it is not always easy to down tools to follow dreams. You might have more than one dream that you want to follow, and sometimes you need to make compromises. But don’t forget this: there are many simple things you can do to feel personal success. It doesn’t matter what it is that you want to do, and you don’t have to better at doing it than anyone else. Just working to be the best you can be, at whatever it is that inspires you, is the true measure of success. 
 Trying to keep up with other peoples measures is never a good thing. Their successes are purely about them, so comparing yourself to others just isn’t worth it. Instead, focus on what it is that you want to get out of life yourself. If you don’t stop and ask yourself what it really is that you want, you could end up overlooking your successes, or worse, trying to be successful at things that don’t really fulfill you.
  It is also important to know the difference between accomplishment, success and true Success. Things that you accomplish are always tasks or actions where there is an end result that you are happy with. It begins with an expectation and ends with a positive completion. A distinction in an examination is an accomplishment, and in general most of us accomplish things every day without experiencing true success in what we have done. Success is different. Let’s say you complete a number of  examinations, resulting in a major qualification, and this qualification in turn, brings you a career that you have always dreamed of, all of these accomplishments added together might be seen as success: in this case, success in business. So you could say that consistently getting the results that you want with regard to your personal life or career may be seen as success.

You can take success further though. This is what I call ‘True Success’.
It is when you chase the things that are close to your heart, the things that make you feel successful, no matter what other people think about them. You could say it’s all about passion and understanding just what it is that makes you tick, because long term, your true successes will always be connected to your heart. And it is up to you make things happen for yourself. As Henry Ford once said, “If you believe that you can do a thing, or if you believe you cannot, in either case, you are right.” So what are the things that really do make you successful? Is it maintaining a great relationship? Leading a team of people at work? Being a stay at home mother running a family? Success can also be about self development, it can be about overcoming a fear or learning a new skill. It is so personal that really nobody else can measure it but you.
 Here are some tips to help you on your way to success:
1.      Believe in yourself. If you don’t nobody else will. And remember, what is important to you, might mean nothing to somebody else.
2.      You are the managing director of your own life. All the successes you experience are completely of your own making. Likewise, lack of personal success is also down to you. Your vision and your choices will drive your results. So take control now and enjoy your success!
3.      It is almost impossible to out perform your own expectations, so think big! Wherever you put yourself on the map will determine how far you go. So if, for example, your measure of success is to run a 10k mini marathon, ask yourself if you can maybe stretch it even further. You never know, you might just see yourself running a fully blown marathon if you put your mind to it.
4.      Success is not about luck. Of course, there is always an element of good and bad fortune in everything we do, but if you wait around for somebody to come and discover you, you might be left waiting a long time. It’s up to you to make it all happen.
5.      You reap what you sow, so be careful with what you plant! Your expectation of yourself is the result you are going to get. So have a think about what you really really want.
6.      You are what you think. Positive thinking brings clear results. If you think you can be the master of your own success, it will truly happen.
7.      You already know what you want (even if you think you don’t!) Although you might find yourself reassessing what matters to you and making some changes to your goals, most of us know deep down what it is that we want, and what it is that makes us feel fulfilled
8.      Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to go with a gut feeling, you have it for a reason.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Brauchen Wir Eigentlich Unternehmenswerte?

Im Barclays-Skandal ist mir etwas aufgefallen. Es war der Begriff: kulturelle Korruption. Ich bin so daran gewohnt, Details von komplexen, derivativen Themen zu überfliegen, dass mein Interesse geweckt wurde und ich mehr lesen wollte.
Als kulturelle Korruption wurde bezeichnet, dass Barclays eine "Einkünfte-um-jeden-Preis"-Strategie verfolgte, eine Kultur der Angst und Einschüchterung begünstigte, sich bewusst über die Einhaltung bankrechtlicher Vorschriften hinwegsetzte, über eine 'zerschlagene Kultur' präsidierte, in der Probleme ignoriert oder begraben wurden und letztendlich zuließ, dass das Unternehmen 'außer Kontrolle geriet'.

Schon allein dass das Betreiben einer Politik der Einkünfte um jeden Preis als korrupt hervorgehoben wurde, unterstreicht die Bedeutsamkeit von Unternehmenswerten. Wir alle müssen in gewissem Maße Einkünfte erzielen. Was letztendlich, wie bei Barclays" zum Desaster führt, ist das 'Um jeden Preis'.

Wenn ich den Menschen erkläre, dass meine Arbeit schwerpunktmäßig ausgerichtet ist auf Seminare über Visionen, Missionen & Werte, sagt man mir oft, wie naiv ich sei, und dass Konzerne letztendlich nur am Geld interessiert sind. Meine Argumentation ist, dass das "Nur" entfernt werden muss. Alle Unternehmen sind auf die eine oder andere Weise gewinnorientiert, aber ohne eine zumindest die Grundwerte umfassende Unternehmenskultur steuern sie auf Probleme zu.

Eine Kultur der Angst und Einschüchterung zu betreiben ist nicht Barclays-spezifisch. Über Jahre hinweg konnte ich mitansehen, dass so eine Politik in großen Organisationen bis hin zu kleineren, familiengeführten Geschäften weit verbreitet ist. In Workshops, Seminaren und Schulungsmaßnahmen war meine Sichtweise auf die Organisation oft wie durch eine rosarote Brille. Wenn sich ein Teilnehmer jedoch im sicheren Umfeld des Einzeltrainings befand, hörte ich nicht selten alarmierende Beispiele, wonach das Unternehmen die eigenen Grundsätze nicht lebte. Ich bekam auch fantastische Ideen zu hören, die aus Angst nie auf den Tisch kamen. Mitarbeiter haben Angst davor, den Job, Boni, Beförderungschancen zu verlieren und manchmal auch "Kleinigkeiten" wie Schichten, Ruhezeiten und Urlaubsgenehmigungen. Einschüchterung und Schikane beeinträchtigen zudem das Selbstwertgefühl und das Selbst­vertrauen und verunsichern die Menschen, so dass es eher unwahrscheinlich ist, dass sie für die Vorgesetzten eine Herausforderung darstellen. Diese Art der Resignation ist nicht nur eine bittere Enttäuschung für die Menschheit; sie wirkt sich auch destruktiv auf die Organisation aus und das nicht nur aus rechtlicher Sicht.
Auffallend für mich ist, dass in unserer Einstellung zur Unternehmens­ethik einen Paradigmenwechsel stattfindet, wenn wir heute kulturelle Reformen an erster Stelle auf der Aufgabenliste stehen sehen.

Ich habe mal für eine Firma gearbeitet, bei der es meine Aufgabe war, in Workshops für neue Mitglieder im Managementteam die Führungsgrundsätze des Unternehmens zu vermitteln. Ich war beeindruckt. Beeindruckt, das heißt, bis mein Chef mir sagte, dass die Führungsgrundsätze 'in der Theorie gut sind, aber dass niemand sie anwendet'. Er sagte mir, dass es im Unternehmen wichtiger ist, was getan wird als wie es getan wird. Ich habe bald erkannt, dass ich mit den neuen Mitarbeiten genauso gut Sandmandalas hätte legen können und dass in Verbindung mit einer Angst- und Einschüchterungskultur meine offene Meinungsäußerung bedeutete, dass ich in dieser Firma zum Glück nicht lange überlebte. Diese Organisation hatte übrigens zwischenzeitlich eine sehr schlechte Presse, was den Umgang mit ihren Mitarbeitern anbelangt, sowie auch eine sehr hohe Personalfluktuation.

Trotz allem ist das Unternehmen weiterhin international äußerst erfolgreich. Und es ist wichtig, zu erwähnen, dass, soweit mir bekannt ist, keine Gaunereien bei der Firma laufen. Gleichwohl bedeutet das unter dem Strich: Wenn eine Firma keine Kultur pflegt, die auf Unternehmenswerte begründet ist, ist es nur eine Frage der Zeit bis die daraus entstehenden negativen Auswirkungen sie dazu zwingen wird, ihre Strategie zu überdenken. Hohe Fluktuation, schwache Arbeitsmoral und finanzielle Rückschläge sind der Preis für Doppelmoral in der Unternehmenskultur.

Also, nach welchen Werten sollen wir denn nun in unseren modernen Unternehmen leben? Wie wär's mit: Kommunikation, Respekt, Integrität und Exzellenz. Hört sich gut an? Vier unentbehrliche Werte, die die Achse eines jeden Unternehmens sein könnten. Doch halt, wir müssen diese Werte leben, nicht nennen. Denn das waren schließlich auch die Kernwerte, denen sich Enron verschrieben hatte!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Do We Really Need Corporate Values?

  Something caught my eye with regard to the Barclays scandal. It was the term: cultural corruption. I'm so used to skimming over details about complex derivative issues, that it made me curious to read more.
What was identified as cultural corruption was that Barclay's had pursued a 'revenue at all costs' strategy, fostered a culture of fear and intimidation, were actively hostile to compliance with banking rules, presided over a 'broken culture' where problems were ignored or buried, and ultimately allowed the business to 'spin out of control'.
That pursuing revenue at all costs has been highlighted as corrupt signifies the importance of corporate values. We all need to pursue revenue to some degree, but doing so 'at all costs' can ultimately end in disaster, as with Barclays.
When I explain to people that my work has a strong focus on delivering workshops on Vision, Mission & Values, I am often told how naive I am, and that ultimately corporations are only interested in the money. My argument is that the 'only' needs to be taken away. All businesses are profit driven in one way or another, but without a corporate culture that embraces even the most basic of values, they are headed for trouble.
Fostering a culture of fear and intimidation is not something unique to Barclays. From large organisations to the smaller family run business, I have witnessed this over the years as being almost endemic. Often during workshops and training interventions I've had a rosy view of the organisation, then when it came to one to one coaching sessions where individuals felt themselves to be in a safe environment, another story would emerge. I often got to hear alarming examples of the business not living it's principles. I also heard some fantastic ideas that were never put forward, all due to fear. People fear losing their jobs, bonuses, promotion opportunities and at times even subtle things such as shifts, break times and vacation approval. Bullying and harassment also effects self esteem and confidence, causing people to feel unsure and less likely to pose a challenge to superiors. This type of resignation is not only a heartbreaking let down for humanity, it is also destructive for the organisation, not only from a legal perspective.
I've noticed there is a paradigm shift in our attitude to business ethics when we now see cultural reforms up there on the top of the to-do list.
I worked for a company once where it was my job to workshop the business leadership principles with all new hires on the management team. I was impressed.  Impressed, that is, until my boss told me that the leadership principles were 'good in theory, but nobody uses them.' He told me that actually, within the company it was more important what got done than how it got done. I soon realised that I may as well have been making sand mandalas with the new hires, and, coupled with a culture of fear and intimidation, stating my opinion meant that luckily I didn't last long there. That  organisation have since had extremely bad press with regard to how they treat their people, along with very high fluctuation.
Despite all that, they are still an international hugely successful organisation. And it is important to note that as far as I am aware, they are not operating any scams. But the bottom line is, if a company doesn't foster a culture based on it's corporate values, it is only a matter of time until the fallout  from this will force it to rethink it's strategy.  High fluctuation, low morale and financial setbacks are the cost when it comes to double standards in corporate culture.
So what values do we need to live by in our modern organisations? How about: Communication, Respect, Integrity & Excellence. Sound good? Four essential values that could be the axis of any organisation. Oh wait, we need to live them, not name them. After all, these were Enron's core values!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to Tweet Your Elevator Pitch

They used to call it the elevator pitch. This came from the idea of finding yourself in an elevator with the vice-president of a company that you wanted to sell you wares to. And of course the elevator in question was going to the 42nd floor. So you had two minutes, and you had to be prepared to be able to pitch yourself in those two minutes flat.
A lot of things have changed in business since the idea of the elevator pitch: good things for those pitching. These days you don’t have to be in an elevator to get an audience with the key stakeholders who you want to reach out to. Hierarchies have become flatter, and it is easier to get to talk to people. And more than just connecting to a particular individual, the world of social media has brought about a revolution in opportunities for you to reach an even wider audience.  
So why does the art of making an elevator pitch often leave people challenged and tongue-tied?  Well it’s just not easy to   deliver your core message in a concise and inspiring manner, one that will leave people wanting to know more about you and your product, service or idea. It is too easy to get bogged down in detail, use too much jargon, talk too long and focus on our own achievements rather than elicit what your prospective customer wants and needs. And it doesn’t just flow out at will. You need to prepare.
I recently came across an excellent suggestion for creating your elevator pitch from Brian Walter ( He calls it the WOW, HOW, NOW approach.

  WOW!  Have an opening line where you say something impressive enough to make the other person want to hear more. It can be humorous, intriguing, puzzling – but it has to be something you are comfortable and confident about saying. Ideally it should be a creative summary of what you do that will make your counterpart ask for some more clarification. For example my one liner when people ask me the question ‘what do you do?’ is “I make people happy at work.”
HOW! It’s time to clarify, and because of the WOW, your counterpart is really curious to find out more. So in my case I might follow up by saying: “I’m a consultant and trainer for organizations who want to improve motivation and retention issues. A lot of my work is focused on management development.”
NOW. This is where you tell your story and give a concrete example of whatever you are currently working on. This is where I would say something like: “ For example, I’ve just finished a project with a call-center where morale was low and turnover was high. Together, we created a series of vision mission & values workshops that involved everyone. We’ve already been able to measure the results against rising morale and lower turnover.
Not only do I find this an easy and succinct way to make a pitch, I have also used it to Tweet the pitch. Quite simply you can send out a WOW Tweet to get people curious. Depending on your audience, you can decide what time gap you will leave before the HOW Tweet. For the NOW Tweet I suggest you make a link to your Website, blog or wherever you best describe what you are currently doing.
Remember that the goal of the pitch is not to get a direct sale, rather it is to awaken enough interest in your counterpart that they will want to know more. Once this happens you know you have been successful.

Margaret Treanor April 3, 2013

Originally from Ireland, Margaret currently lives in Germany  and works across Europe as a consultant & trainer in the area of communication skills and management development.