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Issue #28: Let's Talk About the Weather

I have been doing a little reading recently on the topic of cross-cultural management (managing teams in ways that consider differences in cultures, practices and preferences).
Although I am no expert on culture in any shape or form (particularly not the type involving a petri dish), I found the concept intriguing especially as it helped explain why an agnostic upbringing by the most amazing (but notoriously strict) dragon mum via the French education system and stints in the sunny climes of Malaysia and (less sunny) France may not necessarily have prepared me for the bright lights of London's 'city' culture.

According to HBR, now that businesses are increasingly global and multicultural, it is no longer enough to know how to lead in a particular way - you have to know how to manage up and down the cultural spectrum and be flexible enough to adapt your style to the culture at hand. But research indicates that finding yourself confronted with a different culture without the tools to deal with it can make you feel uncomfortable, anxious, embarrassed, inauthentic and frustrated. As a result, many people avoid these situations altogether.

Fear not, however, as in this issue we explore how cross-cultural differences can be measured, how they can manifest themselves at work and get some (rather telling) tips from our overseas friends on how best to handle those awkward cross cultural moments.

We also check in on Mr Smith on his return from the office ski trip and explore what manvertising during the Super Bowl says about men's new role in America in our Men's Corner.

Happy reading!
x  (cross-cultural) foong
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Issue #28 of Suit & Pie is out on the 19th of February. Subscribe here to receive it straight to your inbox and catch up on past issues in our archive. You can also read the Suit & Pie story here courtesy of
Culture Clash
According to E. Adamsom Hoebel, culture is 'an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance'. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the word culture came to refer to the common references of whole peoples and was often connected to national aspirations and ideals. So how do different countries compare on a cultural scale?
Power distance and other measures
Between 1967 and 1973, Geert Hofstede, founder of the personnel research department at IBM, carried out a survey of 117,000 IBM employees across 50 countries in order to try and determine the effects of a society's culture on the values of its members and how these related to behaviour. He identified 4 initial 'dimensions' on which cultures could be compared:

1. Power Distance Index: The extent to which less powerful members of organisations accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. Latin, Asian, certain African areas and the Arab world scored highly on this index indicating that these societies accept hierarchies in which everyone has a place without the need for justification. Societies with low PD (Anglo and Germanic countries) seek to have equal distribution of power.

2. Individualism vs collectivism: The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. In individualistic societies such a North American and Europe, the emphasis is on personal achievements and individual rights. In collectivist societies (Asia, Africa, Latin America), individuals act as members of a lifelong and cohesive group.

3. Uncertainty Avoidance Index: Cultures with high UA (Latin America, South and Eastern Europe, Japan) tend to be more emotional, they minimise uncertainty by implementing rules and laws. Low UA cultures (Anglo, Nordic and Chinese) accept and feel comfortable in unstructured situations, they tend to be more pragmatic and tolerant of change.

4. Masculinity vs femininity (renamed Quantity vs Quality of Life): Masculine cultures' values (high in Japan and European countries influenced by German culture) are competitiveness, assertiveness, materialism, ambition and power. In feminine cultures (mainly Nordic countries) men and women have the same values emphasizing modesty and caring. 
Excuse me, sir
So how do these cross-cultural dimensions manifest themselves in a work environment? Erin Meyer helps us translate the Power Distance Index into office culture...

In an egalitarian culture (low PDI):
  • It's ok to disagree with the boss openly, even in front of others.
  • People are more likely to move to action without getting the boss' approval.
  • In a meeting with a client, it is not important to match hierarchical levels.
  • It's acceptable to email or call people several levels below or above you.
  • With clients or partners, expect to be seated and spoken to in no specific order.
In a hierarchical culture (high PDI):
  • People will defer to the boss' opinion, especially in public.
  • People are likely to get the boss' approval before acting.
  • If your boss plans to attend a meeting, your clients will send their boss. If your boss cancels, their boss will likely not come.
  • Expect communication to follow the hierarchical chain; people correspond with others on their own level.
  • With clients or partners, you are likely to be seated and spoken to in order of position.
I imagine hell like this...
"...Italian punctuality, German humour and English wine" (Sir Peter Ustinov).

There is much to be said about cultural stereotypes, however seeing your culture through someone else's eyes can often be quite enlightening (or frightening!). So we asked some of our suitie spies (who have worked in the UK and abroad) to share some of their cross-cultural observations (note: these are also specific to the culture within any specific organisation):

"In London, people (clients, bosses, co-workers) place more value on life outside of work and have more respect for holiday and personal time." (USA)

"In Australia everyone who walks past your desk on you first morning will say "Hi, you must be new here I am Bruce, where have you joined us from?", whilst in London you'll get a "sorry, that's someone elses seat" or a grunt and a 'Hi'." (Australia)

"The majority of the people working in [our organisation] in Romania are predominantly women or very young - this may stem from the fact that the business as we know it started in Romania in the late nineties." (Romania)

"In the office in the UK, you need more of a sense of humour and the ability to talk about the weather... a lot. In Germany, people might not take you seriously if you make jokes and don't get straight to the point." (Germany)

"I noticed a big difference in eating habits - Romanians have sandwiches only for breakfast. I am truly amazed to see people eat a sandwich, crisps and have a coke for lunch every day of the week!" (Romania)

"In Australia they'll generally be better dressed (there's no pullovers to avoid ironing your shirts, Gentlemen). They're louder, less formal when addressing senior staff and swear a whole lot more, yet this enables them to create connections with their colleagues and clients better and faster." (Australia)
Socks & crumbs (or the bit at the bottom)
Heard it through the (corporate) grapevine...

- Four times more men negotiate job offers than women. So get honing your negotiation skills at excellent online magazine About Time's "I Want To Negotiate Better" on 18 February and make like Taylor Swift - realise your worth and ask for it.

- Tina Baxter's next guided walk for Footprints of London on "Women Through Time - Inspiring Change" will take place on 7 February and will introduce you to inspirational women (known and unknown) spanning a period of over 1500 years. Join her to hear the stories of some extraordinary women.
This week I will be...

- enjoying a delicious and very cosy afternoon tea in the Sitting Room at the Capital Hotel (plus 25% off until 10 Feb!) 

- watching Emma Watson's excellent #HeforShe speech Part II in Davos where she launched Impact 10x10x10

- debating which freshly baked brownies to order to be delivered (to my desk!) by The Brownie Post - (hello, gooey double choc!)

- enjoying Stylist's infographics of how the 'ideal' female body shape has changed over 100 years
It's a man's world - maybe we aren't so different after all 
Ads during the Super Bowl are a $360 million business for NBC which screens the sporting event watched by over 120 million people. 

Despite a nearly equal number of male (54%) and female (46%) viewers, the ads have historically been targeted (and still are targeted) at a male audience. However for 2015, manvertising centered around fathers. 

Dove Men+Care released its #RealStrength ad which showed kids of all ages calling their father "Daddy", "Da-Da" or "Dad". In a Toyota Camry ad, a man tears up as he thinks back on his daughter's childhood and watches her leave to join the military.

According to the Washington Post, these changes in marketing are reflective of changes in American jobs and gender roles over the last decade. Although women are still the primary consumers, men are doing more housework, grocery shopping and childcare than ever before.

"Most of the ads in the 2015 Super Bowl reflected a deeply traditional American view of gender roles [...] But a newer kind of masculinity was also on display, a marketer's vision of a man as someone who is emotionally connected with his family - nurturing, invested in his children and not afraid to cry." A shameless play on emotions, but also signs that America's ideas about manhood are changing.
Mr Smith's Corner
Mr Smith gives us his thoughts for the week.

Highlights: Survived the annual office ski trip! Mild concussion and a suspected broken finger... so it actually went slightly better than usual. Using the indicators in the car (without crying) is a bit of a problem though so I am taking that a bit easy this week. 

Lowlights: Everyone is super busy at work right now which means January has disappeared like a flash. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I need to make sure February is a bit more sensible otherwise it will be Easter and the summer before I know it. Having a house that is habitable also would be useful. Slightly concerned the builder is setting the timetable using tree rings...

Lesson learnt: I thought we had bought all the Jagermeister in the resort during our apres ski sessions (receipts suggest so) - looks like this one got away...

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