The Blog for Culture Vultures

Satiate your inner Culture Vulture with regular news and posts about cultural awareness, doing business abroad, working in a multicultural environment, HR diversity and global mobility.

Cultural Sensitivity in Business

Cultural Sensitivity in Business

Businesses who ignore cultural and language differences, do so at their peril! 

In this article, we'll explore some real life examples of the damage caused when businesses fail to show cultural sensitivity. 

Before we do so, however, let's first look lay the foundations and take a look at the influence of culture more generally. 

Forget the saying 'the world is getting smaller' - it has gotten smaller. Advances in transport and communications technology, combined with the development of a world economy, have resulted in people from different nations, cultures, languages and backgrounds now communicating, meeting and doing business with one another more than ever.

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Culture and its relation to Per Capita Income

Culture and its relation to Per Capita Income
Do you question how important culture is to our daily lives? Well many do. In reality however culture is at play moulding the world around us every minute of every day; sometimes in ways we don't understand. New research by Romain Wacziarg suggests country’s income per capita is actually closely related to the its culture.
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Culture, Creativity and the Competitive Advantage

Culture, Creativity and the Competitive Advantage
From companies to government institutions, managers are now realising that innovation and creativity is the way to make money and positively evolve. Soren Peterson has investigated what creative professionals believe are the ingredients for a booming creative economy.
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Merging Companies means Merging Cultures

Merging Companies means Merging Cultures
As a company, it is never easy to unify an existing business with a newly acquired one through a merger or aquisition. The key to this may lie in ensuring the separate company cultures become one.
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Doing Business in The Middle East

Doing Business in The Middle East

The Middle East is an area which carries many stereotypes and myths. Before doing business in the Middle East it is imperative to learn about areas such as business culture, business etiquette, meeting protocol and negotiation techniques.  Through such knowledge stereotypes are broken and barriers to communication reduced.

When doing business in the Middle East, it is wise to bear in mind the great diversity within the region. However, a common religion, language and culture make the highlighting of general traits and features for the region valid.

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Cultural Risk Assessments helping HR save Mergers

Cultural Risk Assessments helping HR save Mergers
Did you think culture clash only happens between foreigners? Think again! Company cultures are now recognised as being a major reason behind mergers failing and businesses underperforming.

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Is the Global Manager Dead?

Is the Global Manager Dead?


According to Professor C. A. Bartlett who co-authored “Transnational Management” nearly 20 years ago, the business world is a very different place to what is was back when he wrote the book.
The book is now in its sixth edition and Bartlett describes it as a continuous work and a passion of his. He has filled the book over the years with case studies that demonstrate how the world of business works and also highlights how the world of business has changed over the years.
One of the biggest changes in the way that the international world of business now works is with the way that many modern businesses now operate. Communication has come on leaps and bounds since 1992 (when the book was first published) and it is easy to forget how quickly connected we can be with people on the other side of the globe. The internet and email has broadened business horizons and made many more places reachable and the improvement of the spread of information and data has been a real boon to businesses everywhere. Skype, satellite phone and video conferencing have all broken down the barriers of international business.
The very fact that technology has broken down international barriers means that there really is no such thing anymore as the global manager, as almost every office worker now spends their time in a global environment.
International divisions now also no longer really exist like they used to in the 1960s and 1970s when the managers were sent abroad for long periods of time. The fluidity of today’s world means that many companies look to recruit managers from all over the world as travel is no such of longer an issue as it used to be.
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Diversity Matters

Diversity Matters



Many multi-national businesses understand the importance of diversity and the crucial role that the inclusion of diversity training can play within a multicultural company.
It is a very well documented fact that diversity can bring along with it barriers within a multicultural work force this means that the business might not be as productive as it could be. This is something that many HR teams work hard on within the companies in order to make sure that the work force work as well with each other as the possibly can.
Multicultural business experts are warning international companies that the temptation to only pay lip service to diversity training should be avoided at all costs and that companies who ignore the challenges of a multicultural workforce do so at their own peril.
It is not just people from different cultures that are benefiting from the increased positive attitude towards diversity at work. The gay and lesbian communities are also starting to see a lot more inclusion in forward thinking companies. Companies who are embracing diversity have found that it makes for a dynamic and creative atmosphere that is conducive to high quality output and the growth of a company.
Many business experts think that the current modern work force is made up of four pillars of people, the members of each group belong to very different generations. The mains groups are "traditionalists", "boomers", "generation-Xers" and "millennials". Each group has their own idiosyncrasies and world views; as a result HR teams have to work hard on making sure that that every single group is included within the work force.
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Diversity Matters

Diversity Matters



Many multi-national businesses understand the importance of diversity and the crucial role that the inclusion of diversity training can play within a multicultural company.
It is a very well documented fact that diversity can bring along with it barriers within a multicultural work force this means that the business might not be as productive as it could be. This is something that many HR teams work hard on within the companies in order to make sure that the work force work as well with each other as the possibly can.
Multicultural business experts are warning international companies that the temptation to only pay lip service to diversity training should be avoided at all costs and that companies who ignore the challenges of a multicultural workforce do so at their own peril.
It is not just people from different cultures that are benefiting from the increased positive attitude towards diversity at work. The gay and lesbian communities are also starting to see a lot more inclusion in forward thinking companies. Companies who are embracing diversity have found that it makes for a dynamic and creative atmosphere that is conducive to high quality output and the growth of a company.
Many business experts think that the current modern work force is made up of four pillars of people, the members of each group belong to very different generations. The mains groups are "traditionalists", "boomers", "generation-Xers" and "millennials". Each group has their own idiosyncrasies and world views; as a result HR teams have to work hard on making sure that that every single group is included within the work force.
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Bilingual Business @ Home

Bilingual Business @ Home



The benefits of launching operations globally have been well documented. Launching offices in places like India, Thailand  and China has allowed companies like Nestle and Google to harness the benefits of addressing consumers in their own language.
But you don’t have to go abroad to benefit from going bi-lingual. Your operations can stay at home and still significantly increase their consumer base through the use of additional languages.

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Cross Cultural Palliative Care

Cross Cultural Palliative Care



Different cultures and religions deal with the concept of death differently.  The use of medicine and health care varies across different cultures because of the beliefs of their people. Due to varying beliefs across cultures, there is a need for cultural understanding or cultural competence in medicine, especially in palliative care. ‘In medicine, cultural competence means providing health care services that are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices, and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients.’   The use of cultural competence is especially important in palliative care because people of varying cultures have very different approaches to dealing with death. (Palliative care improves the quality of life for patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease).
An organisation called the Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC) developed a project in 2005 to raise awareness of palliative care problems faced by its members (United States and the health ministries of Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey). The aim of MECC’s project is to find a common ground between these 7 countries’ methods of dealing with palliative care. Part of this project is to give palliative care training to nurses, physicians and social workers which respects the varying spiritual beliefs between the countries involved.
In many hospitals, there are now nurses who are employed because they are of the same religion and cultural background to certain patients. For example Dr. Myriam Weyl Ben-Arush, (head of the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Department at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel) has Arabic-speaking nurses and social workers, as well as those who speak Hebrew. This is to ensure that staff can be empathetic to the spiritual needs of their patients.
Taking spiritual belief into account is important when dealing with death because people of different cultures have different beliefs. For example, a Druze family believes in reincarnation and an Arab Christian person believes in Heaven. So perhaps these people will find the idea of death less difficult than someone who does not believe in any kind of life after death.
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UK Immigration Laws bad for Business says Legal Sector

UK Immigration Laws bad for Business says Legal Sector



Government Introduction of the Immigration Cap
The UK legal sector have recently complained about the new restrictions in UK immigration law.  The changes to law have been well publicized and can be viewed by the public and all interested parties at the UK Border Agency’s website (see below).  These laws and rules represent a continual and politically complex change.  The laws have been in development since at least 2007.  The UK Border Agency also offers a fresh perspective on these in that it has been in existence only since 2008.  The new agency oversees all customs, migration and border issues related to the greater British public.

Why the Government Has Installed the Cap
The government has issued the “cap” as it pledged to do when it formed the new coalition government in 2010.  In effect, when the old government was voted out of office, the new government made itself responsible in holding up its pledges.  One of these pledges concerned immigration reform.  Immigration reform might have been seen as a necessary evil due to the increase in the migrant worker population.  The UK population is increasing and is expected to reach 70 million by calendar year 2030.  It appears that the government has taken on the task of immigration reform as a means of population control.

Impact on UK Business and the Legal Sector
The impact of the new government regulations will have deep and lasting impact on the UK business and legal sectors.  One reason for this is pure economics.  The new standards set forth by the government require that the points needed by migrants be increased from some 80 to 95 points or so.  Most of the points are assigned to the level of income for the migrant worker.  In order to meet 80 points of the requirements, the highly skilled migrant worker must have an income of £150,000 or greater!  This imposes a rather high salary requirement on the legal and other business sectors.  If for example a migrant legal employee is offered a mere £25,000 to work in the sector – that means they will only be furnished with only 5 points in the new immigration system of rules.

Immigration is Vital to UK International Competitiveness
Immigration is of vital importance to the UK in order to maintain its international competitiveness.  By attracting people from other countries and cultures the UK makes itself and internationally attractive place for business. The UK has language, cultural and pratical skills by the very nature of bring in foreign workers. Not many other countries in the world reflect the same mix of business and culture savvy as the UK. The legal sector is well within its right to see the immigration cap as bad for business and bad for the UK.
Other sectors that will feel the pinch include education. Those seeking an education in the country may find themselves limited to seeking it outside of the UK.  As has been pointed out by the BBC news article (“A-Level Results 2010: A* Grade Boosts New Exams Record”), it is becoming very challenging to find even a position at a university.  This may create a prejudice against the UK education and migration systems in the international community.

References

1)    Highly Skilled Workers, Investors and Entrepreneurs – The UK Border Agency’s Web Page (Link: http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/workingintheuk/tier1/)

2)    Immigration Limit for Tier 1 (General) Of The Points-Based System Web Page (Link: http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsfragments/27-intro-limit-for-t1-pbs)

3)    Media Information of the UK Border Agency (Link: http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/news-and-updates/media-information/)

4)    Immigration Law Web Page of the UK Border Agency (Link: http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/policyandlaw/immigrationlaw/)

5)    ‘Immigration Cap Will “Strangle” City Law Firms, Chancery Warns’, Law Society Gazette, Monday, August 23, 2010 by James Dean (Link: http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/immigration-cap-will-strangle-city-law-firms-chancery-lane-warns-0)

6)    Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC-59, June 2010 (Link to pdf: http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/policyandlaw/statementsofchanges/2010/hc59.pdf?view=Binary)

7)    EU: Policy, Internal Migrants, Migration News,  July 2010, Volume 17 Number 3 (Link: http://migration.ucdavis.edu/mn/more.php?id=3617_0_4_0)

8)    “A-Level Results 2010: A* Grade Boosts New Exams Record”. 19 August 2010, BBC News (Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11012369)
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The International Business of Language

The International Business of Language



Whilst the world is beginning to shrink with the opening up in communication and travel, so the world of business expands. In the last two decades never has there been such a need in the business world than to have a full, comprehensive knowledge and understanding of language and its impact across the globe. How much emphasis is given to language in your business? Language is the base communication throughout your business. Language transcends all in the business world. It is what makes the world the place it is and helps us to communicate with others.
Language as a tool in business should be seen as exactly that, a tool. Language should be as important to your business as your hard drives, your catalogues and manuals and all the other tools you perceive to be essential to conducting your business.

If you see language as a tool within your business you are more likely to foster the care and attention you need to place upon the way in which you use language. Perhaps you should adopt the mantra ‘language isn’t just for talking’. Language is for all communication. Some tips to help you to start using your tool of language in order to maximise your communication with your business counterparts. Firstly, you must be very clear and concise about the messages you wish to convey. Cut out the unnecessary words, don’t be convoluted about it, stick to the point and you will ensure you have been fully understood. Remember, and don’t forget, language is a tool and you want your tools to work for you. Personal style goes a long way to say something about you so don’t let the day’s stresses or any personal setbacks to show in the way you use your tool of language, believe it or not, a frown, a shortness or abruptness of manner can be off putting and leave the person with whom you are communicating feeling unsettled. Language is your business tool so, smile, make eye contact, it’s all part of the language. We call it body language.

It is extremely important in the world of business that your build good relationships. How do you do this? You use your language tool of course. It may seem like a time consuming exercise, may be even seen as patronising and pointless, but, if you are to succeed in fostering good, amicable and workable business relationships, a little training in how your company uses the language tool will not come amiss. Why not consider your own corporate brand of your valuable language tool? Why do you think the American’s use the phrase ‘have a nice day’? Because it works. Language says something about you. The language tool is your badge. Wear it well and you can’t go wrong.
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"Immigration changes will not cause UK skills exodus"

Multinational firms have rushed to the defence of immigration changes introduced last week, claiming the new rules will "make no difference" to UK employers' ability to attract overseas talent.

The new rules, which came into effect on 6 April, mean skilled migrant workers transferring from an overseas country to work at their company's British offices will no longer be able to clock up time spent in the UK to contribute towards the five years required to apply for permanent residence.

Employment lawyers and migrant campaign groups had warned the changes to the intra-company transfer (ICT) system could cause a skills exodus and put migrants off working in the UK.

Read more > Immigration
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Barbie goes Multicultural

Barbie goes Multicultural



The look is part of an exhibition, backed by Barbie creator Mattel, of the doll in multicultural outfits by Italian designer Eliana Lorena.

Two of the Barbies are wearing the burka, the loose fitting robe with veiled holes for the eyes which is worn by some Muslim women.

The collection of more than 500 Barbies is being sold at a Sotheby's charity auction in Florence, Italy, in aid of Save The Children.

The sale is part of Barbie celebrations for her 50th anniversary this year.

Britain's biggest Barbie collector Angela Ellis, 35, who owns more than 250 dolls, said: "I think this is really important for girls, wherever they are from they should have the opportunity to play with a Barbie that they feel represents them.

"I Know Barbie was something seen as bad before as an image for girls, but in actual fact the message with Barbie for women is you can be whatever you want to be.

"I like the 70s, 80s and 90s ones that have reflected my life and I picked the really outstanding ones, the really different ones that have a message for my collection.

"I have a Barbie in a wheelchair that was only out for six weeks."

Read more > Barbie
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Cultural Diversity - Thinking Globally

Cultural Diversity - Thinking Globally


One of the greatest challenges for any enterprise, large or small, is recruiting and retaining workers, a situation that is certain to escalate as baby boomers move into retirement.

One way to meet the challenge, experts say, is to strengthen the recruitment of visible minorities. In fact, major corporations are fostering diversity in the workplace as good business sense, not only to reflect changing customer bases today, but as a strategy for the long term.

Business is increasingly international in nature and having people on staff fluent in foreign languages and cultural savvy can prove a tremendous asset. Then there is the need to have an organization reflect the communities it serves -- it just makes sound branding sense.

The challenge for many companies, however, is how to get started, and then how to recruit and retain visible minorities on staff.

Read more > Thinking Globally
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Cultural Diversity - Thinking Globally

Cultural Diversity - Thinking Globally


One of the greatest challenges for any enterprise, large or small, is recruiting and retaining workers, a situation that is certain to escalate as baby boomers move into retirement.

One way to meet the challenge, experts say, is to strengthen the recruitment of visible minorities. In fact, major corporations are fostering diversity in the workplace as good business sense, not only to reflect changing customer bases today, but as a strategy for the long term.

Business is increasingly international in nature and having people on staff fluent in foreign languages and cultural savvy can prove a tremendous asset. Then there is the need to have an organization reflect the communities it serves -- it just makes sound branding sense.

The challenge for many companies, however, is how to get started, and then how to recruit and retain visible minorities on staff.

Read more > Thinking Globally
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2008/2009 Benefits Survey for Expatriates and Globally Mobile Employees

2008/2009 Benefits Survey for Expatriates and Globally Mobile Employees


The number of employees on international assignments has doubled over the last three years as part of the continuing trends towards globalisation, forcing employers to rethink their benefits provision.

Mercer’s 2008/2009 Benefits Survey for Expatriates and Globally Mobile Employees found that 47% of firms have increased deployment of staff on traditional expatriate assignments, and 38% had increased numbers of staff on 'nomadic' assignments.

It found that the growing expatriate culture has led 86% of respondents to consider their benefits package for expatriate staff as a medium or high business priority, with only 26% of organisations admitting to having no overarching policy for providing expatriate benefits.

Robert Lockley, principal in Mercer’s international business, said: “Establishing an international policy is essential to stay competitive, maintain geographical consistency and control costs. Even against a backdrop of economic uncertainty there is still competition for the best talent. Companies that are lax in this area will loose out.”

In terms of benefits on offer, the majority (68%) of companies surveyed keep their expatriates in host or home country retirement schemes. However, 32 percent of companies offer international retirement plans - an increase from 23 percent in 2005. Close to three-quarters (73 percent) of companies with an international plan restrict eligibility to certain expatriates who cannot be kept in the home or host plan.

Read more > Expatriates and Globally Mobile Employees
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A Unified Culture: Unilever Europe

A Unified Culture: Unilever Europe


Three years ago, Unilever was suffering on two fronts: a soft top line and an elevated cost structure. The company made a radical choice to embark on a total transformation program, emphasizing an approach it dubbed “One Unilever.” Throughout Europe, the organization strove to achieve a single ERP platform, a common European supply chain, and a number of outsourcing initiatives in IT, HR, and finance that would unify the firm’s many iterations across international borders and myriad cultures.

According to Jean Stephane Payraudeau, director and F&A outsourcing senior project executive for IBM ’s Unilever EMEA account, “It was a radical transformation from the Unilever Europe point of view. Unilever needed external help to execute the changes. By enabling people to focus on core business, they were releasing their energies there, exercising their real expertise, and leveraging the scale of outsourcing vendors.” And because the company wanted to achieve a turnaround on the grand scale in a very short timeframe, outsourcing seemed the obvious solution.

Gijsbert De-Zoeten, Unilever’s managing director for Unilever finance business services – Europe, said the real story had three programs for the three different business units of Unilever Europe in every country—food, home, and personal care—all moving toward a single, cohesive operating unit.
“In the European region, Unilever Europe operated as a loose federation of countries,” De-Zoeten said. “We wanted to integrate them into one European organization, whether it was for the supply chain or sales and marketing, but we needed to implement the systems to enable that. At the heart of the program is an SAP standardized platform we rolled out, as well as common systems in finance and HR.”

Read more > Unilever
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Tricky feats of cross-cultural communication


A true story: when a US telecoms giant decided to replace its manager in Thailand several years ago, it chose an ABC - American-born Chinese - in the belief he would be more culturally attuned to doing business in Asia.

He was not shy about telling his colleagues how to behave and one evening berated a couple of European rivals who had been caught engaged in financial shenanigans.

They decided to play a joke on the new arrival. They told their driver to follow him and tell him he was going to be killed. A crude jest, but the young manager was panicked into ringing his head office saying his life was in danger.

The head office told him to stay calm, stick to the business district and take precautions.

What they did not tell him was that they had hired a security firm that uses ex-CIA agents - at some considerable cost - to watch his back.

When the security outfit made its report to the conglomerate a week or so later, it turned out the first-time-in-Asia manager was doing lots of cultural homework - spending every night in at least one bordello. His career wilted.

The conglomerate had made a mistake. The manager may have been competent, but - appearances notwithstanding - showed no special talent or experience for operating in Asia.

Read more > FT.com

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