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Sun 17 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Understanding local culture is key to executive success

Research indicates that up to 30 percent of executives who get transferred from one country to another, terminate their contracts early or just make it through their term. The cost of relocating an executive can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and terminating is equally as expensive.

Research indicates that up to 30 percent of executives who get transferred from one country to another, terminate their contracts early or just make it through their term. The cost of relocating an executive can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and terminating is equally as expensive.

Companies spend money on headhunting and recruiting top executives. They also spend money on relocating the executive's family. More money is spent on moving their home and belongings. However, little or no money is invested in assisting in the shifting of their mindset, possibly the most important of all factors and the only one that will determine success or failure.

Workforce dynamics have changed so rapidly in the last 20 years that many leadership development concepts are either outdated or inadequate to assist today's leader in dealing with the complexities they face in the now, multicultural environment.

I believe there is a missing link in global leadership and it's called Inter-Cultural Intelligence (ICI). Simply put, ICI assists you to succeed in a continually changing world, (ie) how to act in intercultural situations. IQ is not enough. EI (Emotional Intelligence) is not enough. The reason being, everything is affected by culture.

ICI is a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable you to accurately assess, wisely take action, effectively interact and thus successfully manage your work and your team. This means not only knowing your culture, their culture, company culture and national culture but knowing what to do with that information while also having the competencies to think and act accordingly. By applying global insight, extensive experience and core people skills, you should have all the tools you require to equip you for success as a leader.

ICI is the ability to co-create a new cultural space for your team to be successful. It requires an attitude adjustment, the first of which is moving from being a cultural critic to a cultural learner. It requires skills, such as the ability to anticipate, correctly interpret and adjust to the culturally-defined behavioral habits of others. ICI is the ability to deal with the reality of differing culture blends in an innovative, meaningful and sustainable way.

The development of ICI should be an ongoing process in every global leader's life. The ICI leader has the ability to bring a group of people from different cultural backgrounds together in a team that trusts, communicates, thrives, and reaches set objectives. It is a team where there is a strong sense of belonging (social capital) as well as a sense of common purpose.

Developing this type of a team is challenging but at the same time very rewarding. But in order to achieve it, we have to start with ourselves.

If you have relocated, you know how challenging it can be to integrate and deliver in a new environment, within a short space of time. Especially if that new environment is culturally very different to the one you have come from. This is why the first six months are vitally important. You need to establish the potential for success within that environment, without delay. Your margin for error is limited.

The first phase of transition is the period in which you establish patterns of success or failure. If your spouse or children relocate with you, it is even more essential to help them settle down and adjust to their new environment. The reality is that family related issues are often amongst the top reasons why senior expatriate placements fail. Transition management coaching for the executive should be a mandatory element of the relocation process.

Transition management is more than just getting to know the dos and don'ts of the new country. It shouldn't be overlooked, but you cannot possibly memorise the dos and don'ts of every single nationality you may encounter on a daily basis. Over and above this, many of the 200 million expatriates in the world have become cultural blends thereby applying standard rules may actually get them into more trouble than they bargained for.

This is the first of a series of articles about that process of transition management, how it works and what essential competencies you require to succeed in a multicultural environment. In other words: "How can I go from surviving to thriving in the shortest period possible after arriving in a new country, with a multicultural work force?"

Marco Blankenburgh is the CEO of Dubai-based Knowledgeworkx. The opinions expressed are his own.

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