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With the increasing interest in Asia and globalisation of the world economy, cracking the cultural code has become important.

Beyond handing namecards with both hands and bowing, what are some of the differences in East and West. Both Hofstede and Trompenaars are very insightful in outlining some challenges to watch out for.

I came across a very practical book on cracking the cultural code. However it involves observation. India is different from China from South Korea from Indonesia from Malaysia.

Where are some of your challenges?

1. Making small talk with colleagues
2. Asking a favour from a colleague
3. Promoting myself at networking events
4. Receiving compliment from colleagues
5. Telling a joke at lunch
6. Giving feedback to my boss
7. Giving a formal presentation at a meeting
8. Pitching my idea to investors
9. Interviewing for a job

In the section on “You can be a Cultural Detective”, Prof Molinsky suggests to use a series of diagnostic questions, using the 6 dimensions of the cultural code he coined.

1. Brevity and en pointe:
Do people tend to be succinct in what they say and get right to the point – often with as few words as possible?

Or do they use words more general, or ambiguous poetic language, hinting at what they mean without being too direct? Senior Chinese government officials tend to favour reference to Tang poems for instance.

There are regional differences in that regard.

2. Energy
When something positive has happened, do people express emotions openly through facial expressions, body language and tone of voice eg Mediterranean cultures. Or do they tend to hide or suppress the outward expression of positive emotions despite their feelings, example British stiff up lip.

3. Formality
Do people dress conservatively, make official appointments to speak with each other and use titles such as “Doctor” or “CEO” . Or do they dress casually, drop by casually for a chat or first name basis. Do not be deceived by outward appearances though. Sometimes people may want to be addressed by first name but they are very formal.

4. Assertiveness
Do people express views strongly and forcefully. Is conflict encouraged? Do people express different view points in meetings? Or do they express opinions in a cautious manner and public display of conflict or disagreement is frowned?

Here, there is a difference in hierarchy. Those at the top tend to be more forceful.

5. Self promotion
Do people tend to highlight or draw attention to their personal accomplishments or tend to minimise, underplay their achievements?

6. Personal disclosure
Do people keep conversations strictly about business or do they discuss details of their personal lives with colleagues at work? In Asian cultures, people do discuss details of family life.

How much to ask depends on the seniority. Do not be surprised if an older colleague were to ask how much you earn, and your age. Such invasion of privacy may be uncomfortable for an American, who although comfortable with small talk will consider such topics taboo. A German boss on the other extreme will unlikely ask questions about your family as this would be considered too personal.

Global Dexterity , how to adapt your behaviour across cultures without losing yourself in the process” by Andy Molinsky
395.52 MOL (NLB)

SMU Associate Professor Tan Hwee Hoon is investigating on how trust is influenced by culture. In a cross-culture longitudinal study, the research team is examining dimensions of trust depending on 1. Ability 2. Benevolence 3. Integrity.

In American culture, trust is highest when the imdividual is deemed to have high ability. Whereas in Asian culture, benevolence or whether a person has consistently shown that he/she watches your back is more important.

Stay tuned as she prepares to publish her report.

Hilarious look at cultural differences between East and West
https://www.boredpanda.com/comics-chinese-western-culture-comparison-tinyeyescomics/

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My favourite sayings from Prof Koh’s interview:

1. “I was always optimistic. Even when I faced great challenges, I retained my optimism and positive mindset, kept my sense of humour, and always thought – there must be a way of solving problems.”

2. When he negotiates, he starts on the basis that “at the end of the day, we are human beings, so let’s be friends first, try to develop a relationship, some trust in each other. Don’t see each other as an adversary, but if we have a difficult problem, let’s look at the problem”.

3. CQ, or cultural intelligence, is crucial.
“We live in different cultural boxes, so when we work with either one of our neighbours, we must understand their cultural box and where they’re coming from and how they think and, if possible, conduct ourselves in a manner that would be acceptable or indeed even admired by them.

4. On negotiations in the UN. “I show him friendship and warmth. I try not to embarrass him and put him down”.

5. Even if I win every point, it means that my counterpart lost every point. So how can he go back home and sell the package if he lost every point?

6. “we must protect our core interests. But on non-core issues, we must concede so that you have a balanced outcome, one that is durable.”

Source: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/lunch-with-sumiko-professor-tommy-koh-on-winning-friends-and-influencing-people

1503840499857.jpgAs knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing in front lecturing, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room.

The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it.

Knowledge is becoming inextricable from – literally unthinkable without – the network that enables it.”

From:
“Too Big to Know” by David Weinberger

磨刀不误砍柴工 
mó dāo bú wù kǎn chái gōng

Grinding an axe will not hold up [delay] the work of cutting firewood. Spending time preparing your axe may quicken the speed of your work.

Story goes that two men were chopping wood. One started ahead. The second man just continued grinding his axe. The first man, very conceited, was anxious to find out who fell more trees ? It was the second man.

image

Photo of Ainu carving by master wood carver Takeki Fujito in Tsuruga Wings Lake Akan, Hokkaido, Japan

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Desk of Japanese Carver Kengo at Lake Akan Ainu village

Half way through chopping, the first man’s axe had become dull and blunt and it took him more effort and time to fall one tree.

工 欲 善 其 事,必 先 利其器
gōng yù shàn qí shì,bì xiān lì qí qì

“工欲善其事,必先利其器”
孔子告诉子贡,工艺的人,要想把工作完成,应该先把工具准备好。

What then for someone who manages the state?

居是邦也
Jū shì bāng yě

事其大夫之贤者,友其士之仁者
Shì qí dàfū zhī xián zhě, yǒu qí shì zhī rénzhě

孔子说:“工匠要做好工作,必须先磨快工具。住在一个国家,要侍奉大夫中的贤人,与士人中的仁人交朋友。” 

那么为仁是用什么工具呢?住在这个国家,想对国家有所贡献,必须结交上流社会有道德的人才,乃至政坛上的大员,政府的中坚;和这个国家社会上各种贤达的人,都要交成朋友。有了良好的关系,然后才能得到有所贡献的机会,完成仁的目的。
Source: Baidu with words in italics added by me

(The Baidu translation gives the impression that Confucius advised one should network with the rich, influential and powerful. But Confuscius emphasised seeking out the benevolent ones because his disciple Zigong’s question was on benevolence (仁).

When asked by his disciple how one should prepare to manage his country benevolently, Confucius noted in the “Analects” that just as a workman has to prepare his tools, an official preparing to govern a country benevolently must prepare his tools too.

Confucius advised that (humans being social creatures), one should seek out and befriend good and respectable talent in all levels of society.

How does a knowledge worker polish his tools?

Today, Confucius would have advised us, knowledge worker, what is the tool of your trade? Have you been spending time polishing it before cutting your tree.

Translation and reinterpretation by me.

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Photo: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

In the transition from technical role to a management role, one of the key areas for young managers to watch for is the lack of power base.

Jean Louis Barsoux and Cyril Bouquet in MIT Sloan Review suggest 3 areas to plug this deficit:

Legitimacy
Critical resources
Networks

Legitimacy with bosses can send a signal of credibility to others which leads to a cycle of high visibility and influence which boosts your standing. Connects you to influential people and information.

Research on (LMX) Leader Member exchange indicates that bosses mentally divide their members into “in group” vs “out group”.

What can you do?
What you do in the job:
Hard work while important is exaggerated to secure credibility. LMX research suggests that one’s attitude and perceived compatibility with the boss are more powerful determinants of good relationship.

1. Understand the boss’s style and objectives. Boss’s preferences. Can be as simple as the boss’s preferences such as for email vs face to face discussions. Brevity vs depth. Adjust your communication style accordingly. Goals and interests to provide the kind of support to help boss succeed. Deliver on those objectives. May include seeking feedback as appropriate. Find subtle ways to advertise your expertise by publicly volunteering to help colleagues tackle difficult problems.

2. Accumulate credits by helping superiors get things done. Powerful people may see them as valuable allies. Kick start the virtuous cycle of reciprocity by making good faith deposits upfront.

3. Turn yourself into a resource. Gain special expertise.

What sort of expertise ?
Identify problems that nobody else has noticed or that few people are capable of resolving and then work to address them.

Consolidate your strengths. You’ve heard the 80/20 rule. To be so good you can’t be ignored. Don’t just be a generalist.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co once said, “To be a future leader, one should have a skill that everyone looks at and says X is the go-to person for that skill. Unless you’re really knownfor something, you don’t stand out from the pack.

One of the risks involved is that you’ll be locked into the position.

4. Build your own network.
A high quality relationship with a poorly connected boss may do more harm than good. Sometimes you’ve to protect yourself from bad bosses. After all you’ve to identify escape routes for yourself in the event of sudden changes and shake up.
Cultivate useful allies. Look beyond titles and formal roles to discover informal ties and actual dynamics that drive decision making in a group. Real movers and shakers.

How?

Reach out to both internal and external stakeholders. External stakeholders can include government relations, customers and analysts and institutional investors and board members. Asking customers what do you really need ?

Match-making– create forums where ideas and information can be exchanged. Sometimes it could be the organisation’s dinner and dance where you help people connect. Gain a reputation as someone who knows how to connect people.

Many of these roles contain risks, acknowledge the authors. So walk a fine line as you may be seen as using the role for your own gain.

Assess the areas of influence which you lack.

Career events and career fairs are coming around the corner, and the job search process especially networking can be a stressful experience. The universities which I’m associated with, have asked for a list of questions that students can ask, since Asians tend to be shy.

The ability to ask insightful questions reflects an intelligent mind. Do not ask questions where there is available open source material such as company website, Hoover, Bloomberg etc, but you may show the extent of your research by asking further questions.

Note that timing is important when asking questions. The questions below only serve as a guide. Use your judgment as to when you should ask the questions. Pay attention to the “flow” of the conversation to avoid the conversation sounding awkward and abrupt.

Questions about the company

  1. Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
  2. How will you measure success?
  3. When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?
  4. How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
  5. What do you want to see accomplished in your team/ department/ company in the next 3 to 6 months? What would be ideal outcome or key performance indicator?
  6. Can you explain the impact, if any, that social networking and Web 2.0 has made on your organization or you personally?
  7. What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today?

Questions to the speaker at a personal level

  1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
  2. What are some of your go-to resources for getting guidance in your field of work?
  3. How will this position impact the organisation overall?
  4. How can I be helpful to you right now?
  5. What advice would you give someone going into this industry for the first time?
  6. What do you like to do? (Instead of what do you do?)

At an informal networking event, I do not like to ask someone what they do because it ”signals that the asker is interested in assessing the other person’s power and status to gauge if they’ll be ‘useful’ to speak with.

Don’t crowd around the CEO of the company, often times you’ll find that the younger company representatives may have more to share since they were not too long ago in your shoes.

News-worthy events

  1. So what do you think about [XXXXXXXXXX]  and its impact to your industry?
  2. How do you read the impact of a [XXXX] on your industry
  3. Can you explain the impact, if any, that social networking and Web 2.0 has made on your organization or you personally?

Questions to the speaker

[Source: http://michaelhyatt.com/20-questions-to-ask-other-leaders.html%5D

Michael Hyatt is one of my favourite gurus. Do check out his website and podcasts.

  1. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
  2. As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?
  3. How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the “core values”?
  4. How do you encourage others in your organization to communicate the “core values”?
  5. How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?
  6. How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organization?
  7. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
  8. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
  9. What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to become a better leader?
  10. Could you share some of the resources you are using to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

What other questions would you add to the above list?  Pls comment below.

Happy Networking and career success.