HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Across Cultures

HBR 10 Managing AcrossHBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Across Cultures
HBR Editors and various contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (May 2016)

How to end miscommunication and inefficiency throughout your enterprise by tapping into the strengths of your diverse workforce

This is one in a series of volumes that anthologizes what the editors of the Harvard Business Review consider to be “must reads” in a given business subject area, in this instance cultural intelligence. I have no quarrel with any of their selections, each of which is eminently deserving of inclusion. Were all of these ten articles purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be at least $60 and the practical value of any one of them exceeds that.

Given the fact that Amazon US now sells this one for only $16.14, that’s quite a bargain. The same is true of volumes in other series such as HBR Guide to…, Harvard Business Review on…, and Harvard Business Essentials. I also think there is great benefit derived from the convenience of having a variety of perspectives and insights gathered in a single volume.

In all of the volumes in the HBR 10 Must Reads series that I have read thus far, the authors and their HBR editors make skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Action” sections, checklists with or without bullet points, boxed mini-commentaries (some of which are “guest” contributions from other sources), and graphic charts and diagrams that consolidate especially valuable information. These and other devices facilitate, indeed accelerate frequent review later of key points later.

Those who read this volume will gain valuable information, insights, and counsel that will help them to develop their cultural intelligence (please see the assessment, “Diagnosing Your Cultural Intelligence” on pages 8-9); overcome conflict on a team where cultural norms differ; adopt a common language for more efficient communication; use the diverse perspectives of their employees to locate new business opportunities; take varying cultural practices into assort when resolving ethical issues; and accommodate and plan for their expatriate employees.

I cannot recall a prior time when the global marketplace was more volatile, uncertain, complex, and more ambiguous than it is today and therefore any business initiatives across borders must take into full account the meaning, significance, and relevance of Peter Drucker’s observation that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The term “cultural intelligence” is relatively recent and David Livermore is generally credited with the recognition of its importance to cultural integration when M&As and strategic alliances are involved. Of course, what are often called “generational differences” are often cultural in nature.

In the lead article, “Cultural Intelligence” (CQ), in which P. Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski share the results of surveys of 2,000 managers in 60 countries, they observe: “The people who are socially successful among their peers often have the greatest difficulty making sense of, and then being accepted by, cultural strangers. Those who fully embody the habits and norms of their native culture may be the most alien when they enter a culture not their own. Sometimes, people who are somewhat detached from their own culture can more easily adopt the mores and even the body language of an unfamiliar host. They’re used to being observers and making a conscious effort to fit in.”

In other words, CQ is the ability to make sense of unfamiliar contexts and then blend in. Earley and Mosakowski suggest that CQ has three components: the cognitive, the physical, and the emotional/motivational. While it shares many of the properties of emotional intelligence, “CQ goes one step further by equipping a person to distinguish the behaviors produced by the culture in question from behaviors and those found in all human beings.”

This first HBR article serves as an excellent introduction to the nine that follow. In fact, it creates a context – a frame-of-reference – for the information, insights, and counsel that the other articles provide. More specifically:

“Managing Multicultural Teams”
“L’Oreal Masters Multiculturalism
“ Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity”
“Navigating the Cultural Minefield”
“Values in Tension”
“Global Business Speaks English”
“10 Rules for Managing Global Innovation”
“Lost in Translation”
“The Right Way to Manage Expats”

It is instructive to keep in mind that the term barbarian was devised in ancient Athens and its original meaning is “non-Greek.” In today’s so-called VUCA world and its global marketplace, developing cultural intelligence is especially important to the success of cross-border initiatives but it is also essential to current efforts that expedite and enrich diversity. In this context, I am again reminded of a suggestion by Margaret Mead: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

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