Intercultural Working webinar – recording available

Our webinar on Intercultural Working took place on 15 July. If you missed it or want to watch again, the webinar is now available to view on demand.

Watch the webinar

Listen to what our speakers had to say about the issues relating to leadership and management in different multicultural settings, cross cultural coaching and the role of political astuteness in communicating with impact.

Our webinar panellists included Dr Björn Claes, Senior Lecturer in Operations Management at OUBS and MBA alum Jeremy Roebuck, volunteer Business Consultant, Grow Movement. Facilitating this virtual event was OU Associate Lecturer Peter Wainwright, host of our previous Business Perspectives webinars.

You can also share your views and comments about the event or topic by following us on Twitter @OUBSchool  #OU_BP

Bending my mind to intercultural leadership and political astuteness

Guest blogger: Dr. Elaine Monkhouse, Open University MBA tutor, and freelance coach and consultant.

The Business Perspectives masterclass took place on 23 June, if you would like to watch video highlights you can register for our webinar on 15 July 2015.

The recent Business Perspectives seminar on intercultural leadership, cross-cultural coaching and political astuteness really left me thinking.  On the face of it, here were three topics with which I have experience in practice, and I thought that I understood the relevance of each to the others as different but related areas of management. And yet the fundamental pertinence, indeed the crucial link between them, only struck me fully while sitting in the seminar and talking with fellow participants.

As Dr. Bjorn Claes pointed out so clearly, today’s business culture norm is multi-cultural. We can assume nothing about someone’s cultural identity, whether through origin, upbringing or socialisation. And yet as a manager, as an executive coach, and as someone often finding my way through organisational political mazes, aren’t I making assumptions all the time? I may encounter colleagues and team members in a conventional British or European setting, much as I did 20-30 years ago, but all the cultural constituents to building those relationships with any of those three hats on has potentially changed out of recognition.

There are of course instances where I am consciously operating in a different cultural context, such as a coaching contract I carried out in Dubai. That very obviously different setting, the way every gesture and custom is distinctive, immediately puts one’s cultural ‘antennae’ up and we are perhaps automatically more sensitive and less liable to make assumptions as a result.

But the presentations and discussion pulled me up short on how much I am in danger of assuming about someone that I encounter in my ‘home’ setting. Very useful, and I must thank Phil Hayes, who spoke about cross-cultural coaching. But add to this the fascinating insights that Professor Jean Hartley brought to us in her presentation on leadership with political astuteness, and I was humbled. Can I really advise a Director of Strategy of a very high profile Dubai corporation on how to secure the sponsorship and buy-in of the shareholders? I realised that I understand so little of ‘how business is done’ in that setting, despite being alert to it diverging from my ‘norms’.

Thankfully, I was left feeling that ‘yes! I can still be useful as a coach and an advisor’, if I continue to develop my skills and cultural sensitivity by embracing some of the very useful and practical, and what’s more generically valid, principles that both Jean Hartley, and Phil Hayes proposed. My three big ‘take-aways’ from Phil, which I aim to adopt in my own practice, would be (1) don’t assume that feedback is always seen as good or appropriate, (2) recognise that not all cultures are goal and change focused, and (3) helping someone reach their individual potential (as is usually the point of coaching) may not be the point at all in a culture where collective performance is the primary goal.

Jean’s explanation of the key components of political skill really struck a chord with me. I am a strategy consultant by trade, but so much of successful strategy is about managing politics, and so the penny dropped with quite a thud at about 4pm that afternoon in the seminar! The alignment between personal skills, interpersonal skills, reading people and situations, building alignment and alliances, and strategic direction and scanning really brought it all together for me.

Intercultural working trend report & webinar

Intercultural Working trend reportOur latest Business Perspectives trend report looks at our current topic of Intercultural Working. The report considers the wider world of business culture, focusing on hiring, development, communication, embracing and the big picture.

The pace of business has never been so fast, which is why this summary has been designed so it can quickly inspire you at home, in an airport or on the go. You can download the report now, absolutely free.

Download the report

Continue the conversation with our free Intercultural Working webinar, where we’ll explore issues relating to leadership and management in different multicultural settings, look at the role being political astute and hear about cross-cultural coaching. Our free one hour webinar will take place on Wednesday 15 July 2015 at 19:00 (BST).

The online webinar will introduce video highlights from the Business Perspectives masterclass, held in London recently. During the webinar, we’ll draw on contributions from our masterclass and further develop these discussion points. You can contribute via our live online polls and Q&A forums.

Register for the webinar

We invite you to download and share the report and send us any comments.

If you would like to contribute your perspective towards future topics, please contact our Business Perspectives Editor.

Leaders still don’t understand culture

Peter Cheese crop

Originally posted on

Business leaders still lack understanding of what culture is, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese has said.

“Historically we haven’t done a good job of teaching leaders what culture really is,” Cheese said at a recent Leadenhall Consulting conference, hosted by employment law firm Mayer Brown and focusing on the topic of ‘Culture: Revolution vs. Evolution’.

“One of the big myths of corporate culture is that management understands what their culture is. Senior directors typically talk about what they want culture to be and what they think it should be rather than understanding what the culture they’ve created is actually like.”

“Managers often don’t understand the culture because they are not very good at listening to employees,” he added.

Cheese said this is crucial to the health of an organisation because strong culture creation starts with senior individuals. He stated: “Where does culture start? At the top.”

The ex-Accenture global managing director said it is the role of HR to help train leaders on this.

“I would point the finger at HR too. We should be the function that understands the corporate culture and helps to educate the business and provide the levers to change it.”

Speaking on the financial crisis, Cheese said: “We were not equipped to confront management and say ‘this is what’s going on in your organisation and it’s got to change’. HR has a massive role to play in this.”

In fulfilling this role, HR professionals should be wary of relying on too much rule and policy creation, said Cheese.

“HR is particularly good at saying ‘let’s write some more policies to tell people what we want them to do,’” he explained. “But the hardest parts are those bits of the iceberg below the water – the things that are much less visible.”

“When you make rules you disassociate people from their own actions. We have created a parent/child relationship,” he said, adding: “I’m not saying abandon all the rules, but try having less prescriptive rules in some parts of the organisation.”

Cheese added, however, he was heartened that an increasing number of corporate leaders do seem to now be developing a better understanding of the importance of culture.

“I spent a lot of time trying to talk to banks in the early 2000s about culture. They said ‘this is very interesting but we don’t have a problem’. Now we are in a different phase of thinking that recognises you can’t change behaviour by writing more rules. We have got to really understand why people do the things they do.”

“But it’s not just about shining a spotlight on financial services. It’s apparent that we have not been behaving as we should as corporates. That’s got to change.”

The Leadenhall Consulting 3rd Annual Conference also included presentations from Professor of Psychology at University College London Adrian Furnham, ex-London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC)’s Dennis Hone, and Mayer Brown partner Chris Fisher, who provided a counter to Cheese’s comments by highlighting those areas where formal policies would be needed.

He said: “It’s a nice idea not to have rules but you need to find a way of influencing staff without them. And from a legal perspective, if you don’t tell employees how to behave you can’t discipline them when they don’t behave that way.”

“You have to have a social media policy for example if you want to regulate that behaviour at work.”