On another journey into intercultural communications

This afternoon when stepping into the train to Italy, I thought: “let the journey begin”. In fact, upon recommendation from Dianne from culturaldetective.com, I registered for a three day course about the constructivist foundations of intercultural communications. I thought that “some brain food” would do me a lot of good… so here I am now eager to begin my course tomorrow!


Well, in fact, my cultural “deep-dive” already started: I am usually having dinner very early as is normal in the French speaking part of Switzerland where I live. Now, going out with an Italian friend, the restaurant has been booked for 21h00 only… well, different country, different habits and behaviors. I actually feel lucky as 21h00 is not so bad; in countries like Spain, you would eat much later than that (I am trying to convince my stomach here).

So, stay tuned for new findings and interesting facts from the intercultural front! I am sure that the next days will bring a lot of interesting theory but also new views and acquaintances.

Ciao tutti,


Mindful leadership in a multicultural environment – Part I

Leadership|Jenny Ebermann|Services|Everybody knows that our world seems to spin faster every day; distances become ‘smaller’ and suddenly a student in Norway can interact directly with peers in New Zealand through Social and other Digital Media. Space and time are not important anymore. Information and images can be transferred instantly. You want to know what a hotel is like in one part of the world: no problem, you will find all you need on the internet where many people already left their feedback on what you are looking for. The same applies for goods, products and other services which can rapidly be ordered, delivered, exchanged from one country to another. For the humans living in this world, remote spots on the planet suddenly moved directly into their living rooms through TV, PC or other supports. Nothing seems to have a secret anymore. Even travel has become affordable, meaning that everybody nowadays can visit any location for a correct price and in nearly no time.

The same principle applies to today’s workforce: nobody is bound to employment in their country of origin; applications and CVs can be posted everywhere on the net and connections made to recruiters worldwide. As a direct consequence, people from very different nationalities and backgrounds find themselves coexisting in one and the same office or workplace, not only in multinationals but also in SMEs and elsewhere. In the sports world for example, successful teams around the globe host players from various countries. Only one criteria counts: to be the best in the relevant discipline, no matter where the candidate comes from.

But: what at first glance seems to be exciting and simple, can become rather difficult in the day-to-day practice. Even though continents, languages and people have become ‘closer’ to one another, every single human being has its own culture, behaviour, pace and habits. As a result, business relationships have to take the cultural background of the different partners into account in order to ensure a fruitful collaboration. In short, nowadays a successful and mindful leader has to have much more competencies than social and technical skills. Intercultural competences are equally important and represent a huge challenge in multinational teams. Results are often affected and even hindered by irritation, embarrassment, resentment and conflicts within a team, problems emanating directly from cultural misunderstandings. How can such “disturbances” be overcome in order to establish a  friendly and effective work environment? How can international business be smoothly
conducted, even though people from different cultures are involved?

Leaders and HR often call upon specialised coaches to help them navigate the uncertain waters of intercultural management. How intercultural coaching and coaching in an intercultural management environment can be differentiated and how teams can be trained and coached to efficiently work together will be discussed in the next articles. Stay tuned!

How Leadership Can Have a Real Impact on “Human Capital”

In a world that seems to rotate faster every day and in which the words “globalisation” and “digitalisation” play prominent roles in all areas, one factor becomes more and more important for every leader: the promotion and the continuing education of their motivated and qualified employees. Within a global economy, in which the financial resources are not the only necessary conditions able to ensure a competitive advantage, another form of capital, the “human capital” is more and more valorised. As the 15th Annual Global CEO Survey, carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers found out, “talent shortages and mismatches are impacting profitability now.”[1] Although more and more people are educated and mobile, many tasks can nowadays be fulfilled from anywhere in the world, in part thanks to technology. This might mean talent gaps in certain markets or certain industries where highly skilled employees are simply not available. The human being hence moves centre stage and becomes a major ingredient of a company’s success. As a result, the capacity to motivate and retain talent is in fact more important than ever.

But what can be understood when speaking about “human capital” and why, over the last decade and in some cultures, did the notion sometimes suffer from a negative interpretation?[2]Although many different ways exist to describe “human capital”, a common definition says that it is (…)the stock of competencies, knowledge, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic value[3]. Obviously, through this definition and when reading pertinent literature[4] about the subject, one can easily understand the feeling of uneasiness that befalls us as there is always a slight thought or “after taste” comparing humans with machines and other production factors. Human capital becomes in a way substitutable which adds a certain insecurity to the discussion.

But, as we will all agree, human beings and individuals are more than a mere “factor of production” and one thing is for sure: (…)the loss in productivity and time when a valuable employee leaves, as well as the expense related to retraining (…)”[5] are huge and nowadays this is more and more noticed. As a consequence job-hopping becomes a fear of every employer. Moving forward, organizations are now making efforts to identify talented managers as early as possible, in order to devote time and resources for their ongoing development and motivation.

As a leader, you too can make a real difference as to a certain extent, you are able to create the conditions that allow qualified staff members to feel at ease at their workplace and identify with the corporate culture. By “leading through example” you can foster a climate of trust and transparency, allowing for growth and personal satisfaction. A “happy” employee will be less likely to accept other competitive job offers that he/she will most certainly receive during his/her career. Intrinsic motivation can be far more powerful than extrinsic motivation and the key lies in your hand, as a proactive and empathic leader!

[2] See German speaking literature like for example: http://www.harvardbusinessmanager.de/heft/artikel/a-622148.html

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_capital

[4] See for example articles from Gary Weber who carried out an extension of the applicability of economic theory in his analysis of relations among individuals outside of the market system.