Interview with Richard Farkas – international expert for cultural diversity in organisations

Could you please briefly introduce yourself?

My job is to help people to use cross-cultural skills and insights to improve their performance. I do this indirectly by supporting HRD professionals, global mobility specialists, intercultural consultants and business people, providing them with technology, data, training tools and a specialised online-learning platform.

I am a co-founder of the company Argonaut, where I am CEO. Our platform is at Personally, I am an HR specialist who works with technology-based solutions in the field of national and organisational culture.

What are the benefits for organisations, if they care about their employees´ national culture?

Organisations can target improvements in performance, results and return on investment by using cultural insights and skills. The specifics of different cases vary. Using intelligent approaches to international cultural diversity may generate benefits in recruiting, sales, team productivity, leadership effectiveness, product/service design, internal communications, knowledge transfer and many other areas.

Culture affects almost every aspect of work and economic activity, even in highly digital environments. When the forces of culture are not aligned with the goals of organisation, productivity suffers. Consequently, the benefits of well-managed diversity can appear in almost any area of business.

 How can organisations improve the onboarding experience of their international employees?

When an onboarding programme is rigidly global or isolated and local, the organisation can win some performance improvements from a more culturally-sensitive onboarding programme, when it recruits internationally.

 Some aspects may be under HR’s direct control. The style, frequency and format of the communication from the onboarding platform is one aspect where HR can bring cross-cultural solutions. The mix with other onboarding methods such as buddy schemes and face-to-face orientation training can be adapted to different cultures.

 In northern-European and English-speaking cultures there is more trust in official procedures and documentation as a source of truth about the organisation. In African and Latin cultures there is more emphasis on verbal, mediated communication as the source of truth. While in Middle-Eastern and Asian cultures working practices are more likely to be defined by hierarchy and introduced by (or on behalf of) the senior person. An onboarding case is more likely to fail if the emphasis is on the culturally-inappropriate approach.

 In a practical sense, cross-cultural training for both the new hire and for the receiving team improve the chances of a successful onboarding. Training may be on practical issues such as ways of working, but may also address doubts and pre-defined ideas about the new culture of the person joining the organisation. Training may also give an opportunity to facilitate a review and new consensus on ways of working within the team.

 A new hire may bring into an organisation insights and skills relating to his/her home culture which can benefit the organisation as it tackles cultural challenges in other areas, such as strategy, sales, customer service, supply chain, and more. The onboarding programme should ensure that those new skills and insights are immediately recognised and that the receiving team becomes aware of the advantages of the increased diversity of the team.

 A good onboarding programme has an intercultural feedback loop, and measures success. This means listening to the views of new hires who have been through it, setting expectations for future onboarding cases and implementing ideas generated from the feedback.

 What should organisations take into account when managing the performance of their international employees?

Goal-setting and supervision happen in very different ways around the world. If an organisation has a global performance-management scheme, the concepts and practices should be flexible enough to adapt to cultural diversity, without losing the consistency of measurement across the organisation.

 For example, appraisal meeting should reflect the cultures of the people in the supervisory relationship in terms of the frequency, participants and format of the discussion.

 In between the formal, HR-accredited performance discussions, managers must recognise the highly-varied cultural expectations relating to questions of performance. Initiative-taking is celebrated in some cultures, while seen as rebellious or too risky in others. Micro-management may be the employee’s expectation in some regions, but it can lead to employee turnover in others.

 Including a module on cultural diversity in supervisor training will bring big benefits in a diverse organisation.

 How can internationally-diverse teams become more productive?

High-performing diverse teams explicitly recognise their internal diversity and negotiate common working practices that take account of the varying expectations and strengths of the team’s members.

 There is no single hierarchical pattern or rulebook which will work in every case. But research tells us that poor-performing diverse teams can boost their performance by building their intercultural skills.

 Successful diverse teams focus on nurturing trust, resolving internal conflicts in sensitive ways, and using their diversity as a resource in their relationships with external stakeholders, such as customers, partners and other parts of the same organisation.

 Can you recommend any helpful sources of information, in case our readers would like to find out more about the topic of managing international employees in organisations? 

And finally, what is your favorite quote?

“Everything will be OK in the end. And if things are not OK, this is not the end.”


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