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Understanding, Accepting and Embracing a Multinational Workplace: (Part 2: How and Why)

Michael Clegg | 03/26/2018

In our previous article Understanding, Accepting and Embracing a Multinational Workplace, Part 1, we addressed how and why companies struggle when merging multiple nationalities (diverse cultures). Here we would like to offer tips from a management perspective on overcoming those obstacles and highlight some of the advantages of a multinational company. Globalization and technology has led to dealing with people from all over the world on a daily basis.  Diverse international backgrounds and experiences can create a unique, very effective and flourishing workplace if certain steps are taken. The key is to ensure cultural differences are understood and respected.

Let’s review from our previous article, some of the challenges faced when combining a group of individuals from different cultural backgrounds.  Primarily, these are behavioral/ societal differences impacting the work place:

  • Management style
  • Organizational structure
  • Punctuality tolerance
  • Personal/ vacation time
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Overall workplace values such as Individualism versus Collectivism for example

Solutions almost always begin with the leadership in the organization. For purposes of this article, the focus will be towards management level upwards.  Managing a multinational firm requires adopting an appropriate strategy for understanding that not all employees are going to think, act or communicate the same.   In addition to the standard onboarding processes and practices, multinational companies must go a step further in order to deal with the complexity of the environment.  It all comes down to 3 fundamental steps; understanding, accepting and embracing the diversity.

  1. Understand: It is of utmost importance to first establish an understanding and awareness that employees will likely have different sets of values and behaviors based on cultural norms and upbringings. Cross-cultural insight and side by side analysis, such as a compare/ contrast model of the opposing views, will provide good illustration.  Having new managers participate in cross-cultural immersion or workshops can provide even greater perspective.
  2. Accept: Once there is an essential understanding, the next step is to accept the cultural differences. When employees are accepted for who they are and allowed to be themselves there is a natural tendency towards satisfaction and with that comes an increase in efficiency and productivity. (Studies indicate up to 20% more than unsatisfied employees). It’s not at all surprising that unhappy employees, those who feel unaccepted or alienated, are less likely to perform at the desired level or even continue to work for the offending company.
  3. Embrace: This is probably the hardest step because culture is ingrained and built throughout a lifetime based on outside influences, societal norms, values, behaviors and the way we are raised to live within a particular environment i.e. country.  It is completely normal to feel that, “my (our) way is the best way,” but by understanding first the differences and secondly accepting them, the capacity to embrace becomes easier. Managers bear a great responsibility to lead by example.  Remaining approachable and open to outside ideas and methodology is a great way to demonstrate this. By keeping an open mind and practicing great communication skills, managers have the opportunity to integrate multiple cultures into a cohesive unit for the benefit of the company as well as their teams.

By investing more in training and teaching company leaders to be advocates of and for the diversity within their workplace, the obstacles mentioned at the beginning of this article will become less dramatic and have less of a negative impact.

With understanding and accepting leadership in place, who embrace the diversity among employees, company management has a tremendous opportunity. Companies have the capability to benefit significantly from the cultural differences between employees. Tapping into a wider range of perspectives and approaches can lead to unique innovation, more creative problem-solving and unthought-of business solutions. It’s not always easy and there will likely be occasional conflicts that arise. But with practiced patience and a genuine desire to recognize all employees for who they are, managers of multinational firms can create very strong, progressive and satisfied teams ultimately resulting in greater organizational success.