The Culture Map: A book review by Bob Morris

Culture MapThe Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business
Erin Meyer
PublicAffairs/Perseus Book Group (2014)

How and why “a dialogue of sharing, learning, and ultimately understanding” can break through barriers to global enterprise

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of the challenges that the great explorers throughout history faced. Somehow they and their associates broke through what must have been for them invisible boundaries. Today, all manner of companies are struggling to navigate their way through different cultures, overcoming boundaries that had been previously invisible, barriers more numerous and daunting than any that Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, ‎Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and Ferdinand Magellan had encountered.

According to Erin Meyer, “I provide a systematic step-by-step approach to understanding the most common business communication challenges that arise from cultural differences, and offer steps for dealing with them more effectively.” She recommends and explains several strategies to increase her reader’s effectiveness when addressing issues and resolving problems caused by cross-cultural misunderstandings, if not avoid them altogether.

Meyer shares her thoughts about how to achieve these strategic objectives:

o How to communicate effectively across cultures
o How to evaluate individual performance
o How to evaluate organizational performance (i.e. team, department, company)
o How to provide negative feedback
o How to be persuasive in a multicultural world
o Criteria for identifying good bosses and bad bosses: leadership, hierarchy, and uses/abuses of power
o Decision-making process: do’s and don’ts
o How to develop (nourish and strengthen) two types of trust
o How to disagree productively
o How to manage scheduling and cross-cultural perceptions of time

Meyer provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that can help her reader to break through the invisible boundaries of global business, based on what her research has revealed about how people think, lead, and get work done. She is a results-driven realist and relentless empiricist, well aware that “cultural and individual differences are often wrapped up with differences among organizations, industries, professions, and other groups. But even in the most complex situations, understanding how cultural differences affect the mix may help you discover s new approach. [She thoroughly explains that appproach in this book.] Cultural patterns of behavior and belief frequently impact our perceptions (what we see), cognitions (what we think), and actions (what we do).”

Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need effective leadership and management at all levels and in all areas. More the marketplace within which they compete is global and competition for talent, customers, allies, sales, and profits is more ferocious than at any prior time that I can recall.

I agree with Erin Meyer: “What’s new is the requirement for twenty-first century leaders to be prepared to understand a wider, richer array of work styles than ever before and to be able to determine what aspects of an interaction are simply a result of personality and which are a result of differences in cultural perspective.” For many executives, especially inhabitants of the C-Suite, this may well prove to be the most important book they read this decade.

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