Preparing Global Managers For Global Success

An Expert's View about Cross-Cultural Communications in Singapore

Posted on: 12 Nov 2012

Savvy HR and diversity professionals already know their role includes continuously finding new ways to help their company grow, remain competitive and add to the bottom line. Cultural differences impact the way their executives communicate, interact and lead across the globe affecting productivity and performance.  Can they transform their standard diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives to be more meaningful for the increasingly multicultural workplace?

Diane, APAC Human Resource Director for a US pharmaceutical company, recently relocated to Singapore and delivered a workshop to senior supply chain managers from across Asia on their global diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Her key objective for the session was to understand how this multicultural group demonstrate their corporate values of integrity, innovation, empowerment, and creativity in the workplace.

The managers from China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand  were asked to flipchart the behaviors and words they associated with each corporate value focusing on the question “How are these values lived out, from your perspective, at our company in your location?”

After her session, I had coffee and a chat with Diane.  Together we looked over the flipchart responses received during her workshop activity.

“Diane, tell me your thoughts on the responses you received from the group,” I said.

“Well, I am a bit surprised that all these managers in the same region of the world expressed such differences in how they perceive and demonstrate our corporate values in the workplace.”

“Why do you think that is?” I asked

“I don’t think our standard diversity and inclusion initiatives are relevant or effective. This is basic stuff, they should know this. When I arrived last week I spoke with all my in-country HR managers one-on-one and they told me, ‘across Asia everyone operates with our corporate values and code of conduct in mind,’ and ‘we work in the same company so the corporate culture in Asia is the same here the world-over.’

I think working together in such a diverse region has now complicated what I thought was going to be a seemingly straight-forward mission.” she responded with a smile.

“This is a common misperception I often hear from Western managers and HR executives working in multinationals in Asia. The expectation is that all of Asia approaches business and demonstrates corporate values in very much the same way. As we can see, there are major differences country to country.”

“So can we truly develop a globally minded corporate culture?” Diane asked.

“I would recommend reading Transformational Diversity: Why and How Intercultural Competencies Can Help Organizations to Survive and Thrive by Chitkin and  Spielman.  One of the goals of their book is to ‘help HR and diversity leaders who may need to re-energize or revisit their work in light of pressures from increasingly diverse workforce populations to develop globally minded corporate cultures.’

The authors show how to bring together HR practices such as diversity and inclusion with intercultural competency.

The author’s ‘Vision of Diversity’ approach might help you with this initiative by looking at it this way:

Diversity = The state of mind

-  Complies with national laws, actively recruits and develops people who are different, promotes behaviors based on established standards, has no cultural bias in HR

Inclusion =  The action

-  Fosters and values cultural differences, considers and respects all cultures and their values—based on intercultural competence, helps employees to develop commonalities with people different from themselves, reveals and diminishes unconscious biases.

Inclusion means “working in a cooperative, inclusive, respectful way” in spite of and because of  differences; develops inter-group harmony to enhance productivity, performance & ROI.”

“I can see that differentiating diversity and inclusion might help me to establish a new and better approach that will be effective in Asia.  We do well with the diversity/state of mind part but we need more work on the inclusion/action part.  It’s best if I revise this now and implement it right away.

I will have to get buy-in from my HR team to re-work our approach. Time is a big factor though. We are growing rapidly and our HR team is already months behind in this initiative!”

“Diane, you are new to your leadership role in Asia so try not to push things too quickly.  I think you need to get a lay of the land, learn what the unspoken rules are, and who has a stake in what, before you jump in and try to do too much too soon. Taking the time to build a good relationship with your HR executives across Asia will make a world of difference.”

“You are probably right considering the varied responses I received in the workshop and feedback from my HR team,” Diane replied.

I asked Diane, “After today’s experience, what do you think you need to keep in mind as you guide and lead your HR team in Asia to update and modernize your D&I program?”

“My key lesson from today is to remember to take their cultural perspectives into account when I establish my goals and expectations with them.”

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Posted: 12 November 2012

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