112. Interview with Gigi de Groot on intercultural management – continued

The continuation of the interview with Gigi de Groot – CEO of itim international, global consultancy network. The interview is focused on intercultural management, trends in the field of cultural differences education. Here is the first part of the interview.


Michal: What are the trends that you observe over the last years in the field of intercultural management?

Gigi de Groot: If we go back around 25 years when we started as first in the field with the training ? it was itself the trend. ;)

Toward end of 90s most of market players in this field offered ?dos? and ?don?ts? ? quick introduction on how to behave in other environment. It can of course help you a lot, but from our perspective you will never get all the answers because you still don?t know ?why? people behave differently.

If we look further ? we noticed more companies and the value of the culture is not about the national differences but also about organizational culture differences. Recently we have added even the third level to that ? what is the latest trend ? culture and personality, this is where coaching comes into the picture.

Can you give an example here?

Let?s assume that a company wants to expand its business in Russia. They had difficulties and had certain plan and now they see that they are not going to make it. Very often companies copy what they do at home in the new market. But if that is not a good cultural fit then yes, you can be successful in your home market but you can fail in the new market.

Now let?s imagine that they have realized that they need to change there, they need different organizational culture in Russia and need to hire new head – someone who has a better fit with the local culture. That individual needs not just to be very cultural aware of national differences and also know how to provide organizational culture elements from the mother company versus local company. What?s more – that person on the individual level needs the right skills. And here comes the coaching as key element. It enables to combine traditional intercultural training with personal soft skills.

Summing up trends: we have coaching, but also moving towards more strategic look ? implications of culture for company in general ? instead of focusing only on things like communication or behavioral issues.

Is overall, so called ?global? ICM awareness growing, as we have Internet, media and we have constantly access to many cultures? Different cultures are at our fingertips. If we have so many possibilities of interactions with other cultures ? are we becoming more culturally similar, or we become much more different, as we all the differences more clearly?

You can see both trends. The assumption of many people is that due to the globalization the cultural differences will disappear. They say: look at McDonalds or Coca-cola. Wherever I go I can buy the same products. But what?s actually is happening is that due to the fact that indeed all those different (similar) products are widely available around the world, we become much more aware of our own preferences.

But people do different things with the same products. McDonalds is a nice example. McDonalds in New York is a restaurant? well you can?t hardly call it a restaurant. It?s just a shop where you can buy a hamburger for a couple of dollars. It?s a quick meal and nothing special. The same McDonalds in Beijing is actually a restaurant. It?s one of the few places where young couples can go and have dinner together with just two of them without having all family around them. It?s not about quick nor cheap. It?s about showing up, sitting down, taking the time and spending money. The McDonalds is the same. The hamburger is the same. However the translation and deeper laying values behind what McDonalds stands for is totally different in New York and Beijing.

So when I say that you can see both trends you see people who claim we become much more ?one? culture. And there are many people who claim that the trend is just the opposite. Take a look at the political trends. We have EU, but there are so many countries fighting for their own rights. On the global level, there are more countries splitting up than going together.

I think that by all those influences we get from the outside world be it food, products, immigrants ? we can be inspired by those differences. I?m positive and I really believe in what cultural differences has to offer us. The more cultural differences, we can be more creative, we can have more possibilities, the more fun of life is.

Are there cultures which can?t cope together? Which are the most difficult to co-exist?

I will tell a short example answering this. If we would move to China we would assume that it?s so different that we need to prepare really well to cope with that. Contrasting this, it seems not so problematic or even traumatic to move to France, Germany which is very close by. You can assume: I can speak the language, I know many people from there, I?ve been there before for holiday. So we prepare to it in a different way and are therefore we are less prepared for the differences that exist.

I think everyone can learn to cooperate and work with each other. There are certainly countries that are extremely opposite. Perhaps a surprise for some people will be that such example is Belgium and The Netherlands. They are boarding countries. Half of Belgians speak the same language as the Netherlands. But from the cultural point of view they are completely different. So when in the past when many global companies decided to join Belgium and Dutch offices in order to cut costs, they realized after a while that it was not such a good decision. The Belgians and the Dutch ? employees and managers, have completely different view of opinions on how companies should be led, how meeting should take place, how people should be motivated. It was a huge frustration for both sides. I wouldn?t say that Dutch and Belgians can?t cope with each other, but it?s difficult.

You can also think about Japan here. In the sense that Japan is really unique. There?s no other country in the world that is like Japan. For everyone it?s difficult to relate to their culture. It?s difficult to find elements with which you yourself can identify with.

In how many countries does itim have its offices?

itim nternational has around 60 consultants in 22 different countries including China, Brazil, Korea. We are very strong in Europe, especially in The Netherlands where we started and the topic is most developed. And of course we are also present in Poland http://www.itim.org/pl/.

What?s especially challenging in being CEO of such global network?

Both most challenging and rewarding is the fact that we?re so multicultural. We have to apply what we teach also to ourselves. Living every day with different cultures is difficult. Sometimes I think that I may act in too much Dutch way, being to straight, too blunt. So before I send an e-mail or pick up the phone ? I think about what am I going to say and how am I going to say what I want to say. I need it to be both culturally appropriate and effective as well.

What?s also really challenging for us is that we?re in 22 different countries. So when we have joint projects it?s a challenge to make sure that people will understand what?s required in the same way. We need to find the right balance between globalization and localization.

I love my work, I like the fact that there are so many different people among itim consultants. The more the better ? more variety. This variety is helping to improve ourselves.

Thank you for the interview

Thank you!


intercultural management, national culture, trends in culture, cultural differences, interview on cultures