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Addressing cross-cultural issues in the workplace
Paresh Shah
Thursday, October 11, 2007
The large size of organisations today presents employees with an unparalleled opportunity to take on challenging assignments worldwide, participate in cross-functional teams working across multiple geographies, and grow their careers in various disciplines of their choice.

That same breadth of the organisation presents me with the challenge of successfully navigating cross-cultural issues to ensure that my employees are satisfied and delivering to the best of their ability as we work together to meet aggressive corporate goals.

Unlike the United States, where many believe that any child can grow up to be President, I believe that Indian culture teaches us to respect hierarchies. As a result, individuals sometimes respect coworkers more for their title or position in the company, rather than for their contributions in the workplace.

We should be working as teams and helping our teams – and the individuals within those teams – to feel comfortable and confident enough to challenge the ways in which we do things and be brave enough to recommend new tools and methods we should try. The title or geographical location of the person with whom we are speaking should not discourage the open flow of ideas. “Respect for the Individual” irrespective of the title is one of the core values companies should highlight. Helping employees to understand that diversity of thought and action is a beneficial business tool that is cherished and
supported in the organization should be a primary focus.

One of the ways in which we are addressing this challenge is by focusing on accountability and ownership. My team and I have very clearly defined our employees’ roles and responsibilities, letting them know what they are accountable for, what we expect of them, and what they have to achieve to progress in their careers. For example, if an employee is having difficulty meeting a commitment, he or she needs to know that it is perfectly acceptable and even necessary to reach out and ask for help early on. This is part of our overall performance transformation initiative, a disciplined program to improve individual employee performance through focused business metrics and increased accountability.

In a related initiative, my team is mapping out the many different career paths available to our employees. The aim is to create transparency about the promotion and job rotation process and make explicit what is expected of employees before they can move from one position to the next to help them set and achieve personal development goals.

Regular surveys of employees, and in response to their feedback, adjustment of office hours, fine-tuning of transport issues, and focus on career development by providing all the training and development resources people need to ensure that they have the necessary skills for their roles is vital in the work scenario today.

Finally, we should be creating a community environment within the office facility by sponsoring fun activities such as sporting and cultural events to help employees bond with each other and foster a positive and collaborative relationship across our workplace.

By addressing a critical, cross-cultural issue, my team and I have created a vision for our organization that goes beyond serving as an extension of our offices in the United States and other locations into something unique and inspiring. As our employees grow to believe that the success of the business is something within their power to influence, individually and in groups, their work reflects their increasing motivation and enjoyment levels, benefiting us all.

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