6 Best Practices for Managing Global Differences in Work Style

By Karine Schomer
Karine Schomer
Karine Schomer
November 30, 2014 Updated: November 30, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.–Doing business globally comes with its challenges, from cultural differences in how tasks get accomplished, to how projects are carried out and innovation takes place.

For a long time, I tended to think that a more structured adherence to planning and setting goals and timelines was unquestionably the best, while the other way – a more free-flow spontaneity – although offering some benefits, was ultimately less effective.

Most importantly, I imagined that my American clients’ global counterparts agreed with this point of view but didn’t have the experience, skills or motivation to do it “our” way.

My moment of awakening took place some years ago in a conversation with a Human Resources administrator from India working in the U.S. for a global North American company. She had asked me to develop online cross-cultural training modules for the company and was eager for me to begin the work. Unfortunately, she could not line up the necessary approvals and permissions because her superiors wanted to see a well-developed plan, with clearly articulated goals, a timeline and a schedule of concrete deliverables.

Slow to Act

“Americans can be so cautious and slow to act on ideas,” she said with barely concealed exasperation. “In India, we would get the OK from the boss for the general concept, get started, and work out the details as we go along!”

On another occasion, while training a group of managers from India who had come to work in the U.S. on a short-term rotation program, I heard a similar refrain. One of the reasons I had been brought in was to help impress on them the importance of following government-mandated regulations and official company policies. “Why are Americans so literal about regulations and policies?” one of the trainees asked. “Back home, we have more flexibility as managers to do what needs to be done to manage our subordinates and serve our customers! That makes better business sense.”

As India and other emerging economies become ever more involved with the global economy, their free-flow spontaneity – referred to by the Hindi colloquial term jugaad – is being challenged by more systematic, sustainable and scalable approaches to work and innovation.

But for all the changes that globalization has brought about in business and work practices throughout the world, fundamental cultural tendencies and preferences (with their strengths and their weaknesses) are a reality with which all who work globally need to contend.

Global Differences Collide

An important ingredient for business leaders and managers at all levels who work globally is being able to work both with and around jugaad-style tendencies. When differences over ingenious improvisation versus detailed systemic planning arise, try following these six management best practices:

Develop and create reciprocal awareness of differences in philosophy and approach to work and innovation. Don’t turn a blind eye to these differences or assume that, given time and contact, issues will automatically disappear.

Respect and value the positive contribution of jugaad improvisation and its non-standard, non-linear approach to getting things done. Be open to the unorthodox possibilities it may open up, and be ready to embrace good ideas that may come from it.

Develop clear agreements with your global counterparts about how your joint work will be carried out and how interactions will be conducted, based on sympathetic mutual understanding of each other’s preferred or normative way of getting things done. Arrive at mutually workable compromises.

Find ways to integrate some of your counterparts’ unplanned jugaad improvisation and work processes into your systematic planning and process discipline. Develop clarity about where the systematic approach is mission-critical and where a more flexible jugaad approach can work equally well – if not better.

Create awareness, teach, train, encourage and mentor based on the systematic processes that you consider absolutes and that you expect to be fulfilled without fail for your business or project. Then exercise consistent monitoring, management control, and appropriate rewards and penalties.

Finally, when conflicts do occur over how things are done, develop the problem-solving habit of asking that a particular way of doing things be justified. Does the flexible jugaad approach in this situation improve the product? Does it increase the bottom line? Does it make the project more successful? Does it maximize the expenditure of time? Does it take into account systemic impacts? Does it contribute to long-term sustainability? Enlist your global counterparts’ desire to see good results by involving them in critical assessment of the impact of their approach on the undertaking.

Karine Schomer, PhD, is a global cross-cultural management consultant, speaker and coach to global project teams, President of Change Management Consulting & Training, LLC and Leader of The CMCT India Practice.

Article courtesy of www.troymedia.com