The book ”Managing Cultural Diversity in Technical Professions” (Laroche, 2003) is an excellent book that offers insightful observation on the subject that most of us take for granted.
Used as textbook and reference book in courses being offered by several Universities in Canada, including University of Calgary (BMC-316), it provides guidance to the complex attitudes and behaviors of another human being.
On the back cover, Laroche highlighted the facts that “1) …most technical professionals do not recognize the impact of cultural differences in the workplace and 2) cross-cultural issues lead to significant under-utilization of talent negatively affecting productivity.”
As I read the book, the clarity which eluded me in the past draws nearer. I now have a better view of what actually transpired and how I consciously and unconsciously contributed to the conflict.
I came to see that for a person to go out there in the workplace without understanding the cultural universe and the diversity that surrounds him/her will be in for a big surprise and a good share of heartache.
Case 1 – Nho Klu
Not more than a decade ago, Nho Klu (not his real name) was sitting in the office of John Didnotsee (not his real name) to complete the annual appraisal. He exerted all his best efforts and was hoping to be promoted to a Manager’s role. He felt that he has all the reasons to expect a promotion because he had exceeded all his goals & objectives.
After some small preliminary talk, the two went through Nho’s goals. There were a lot of nice praises and commendation, after which; John finally said,
“Nho, you know what? You are really good in what you do but I am sorry to say that although you are the best technical person in this group, you can never be a Manager. You will not be a Manager.”
Nho Klu was shocked at his leader’s concluding statement. He always thought that he was doing excellent. He confidently felt that he has the knowledge, the education, the skills and the experience. He was a respected Senior Engineering Manager for almost 15 years with several direct reports in his country of origin. The unexpectedness of the statement hurt his feelings.
Trained in a hierarchical culture with large power distance, Nho controlled himself. He respectfully responded to John’s shocking conclusion by citing his accomplishments and his other qualifications.
Unfortunately, it did not change John’s perception and in the coming days and months thereafter, their relationship soured and was finally eroded. John’s observation of Nho remained.
Adding more damage to Nho’s reputation, John spread his perception to the other Managers. This is a typical action made by many managers. It is both unfair and unethical given the particular situation.
After another six months from that fateful meeting, Nho decided that since he could no longer grow, he resigned.
I happened to come across Nho recently and he has this to say:
“My family immigrated to Canada in 2003 and was into my second year when I got employed in that EPC company where I eventually reported to John. When John talked, I was all ears. By not being vocal against some of his methods, I thought I was showing my respect and loyalty. Although, I sometimes felt he does not have any idea about the task, I kept my mouth shut. He was my leader and I trusted him to do things correctly. I have never done anything unless I have his blessing. What kind of Leader was he that after giving my best approving-yes-attitude and respect, that was how he repaid me? I do not have any idea.”
He added, “I’ve attended so many meetings and interactions in my working life before Canada. They were all good experiences. As a Manager, my word is almost sacred. I expect my direct reports to accurately follow what asked them to. My training summons respect for the one who has a higher designation or authority. I am not allowed to say anything unless I was asked to give an opinion. I have no great appreciation for people who talks a lot. I see them talking for the sake of talking, to get attention and be visible. Getting recognition should be measured from what one delivers against a goal. Team work is important to me and I cannot bear to claim the group’s accomplishment as my own. When someone talked, that was how I see them-taking the credit solely for themselves!”
“I always consider that too much talking was a waste of time. I guess this kind of thinking got me in the end. My leader thought, I was not qualified and I thought my Leader was not qualified. It was a bad combination.”
“Fortunately, the company I am with now has embarked into a program called Understanding Diversity in the Workplace. Everyone in the organization, including myself, completed a prescribed mandatory cultural education. After my training, I saw to it that I make significant adjustments to my way of thinking and positive changes start to happen.”
Nho came from a background where informal office talks are considered a waste of time, a mere rambling discussion about things that will not contribute to work objectives, where everyone was required to focus on business productivity through strict time management.
He carried this training in the Canadian workplace. He avoided what can be perceived as idle talks around the water coolers, or the hall way that might be construed as wasting time (read my article “Diversity Risk Case 2 : Puro Mali“). It was not long before he was labeled as weird and anti-social by his own group, including his Manager. They referred to him as a team-slayer (opposite of a team player).
With the pressure mounting, Nho, a loyal and qualified employee, eventually resigned.
Until now he refuses to accept that he should have made the necessary adjustments. He feels that he did nothing wrong. He did his job well and was passionate about accomplishing work objectives, but completely unaware (no clue) of any prevailing social norms he should have followed, at least for his own sake.
If only the others have some understanding about managing diversity, the outcome would have been more on the positive side as they would have provided Nho some helpful insights.
An adjustment somewhere could have been made and a win-win situation becomes the order of the day.
The truth is (that is whether you admit it or not) there will be times and occasions that one just cannot seem to get his message across and vice versa. The other party or parties apparently do not appreciate what one is bringing to the table. In the midst of these diversities lie the risks and questions that we all have to answer and manage every day (Frago, R., 2017.Diversity Risk in the Canadian Workplace.LinkedIn Pulse).
Managers tend to see the next person through perception all the time. He sees someone the way others painted the person or what he himself has painted the person to be. The danger is, what the leader perceived might be farthest from the truth.
Source: Frago, R. (2015). Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective. ISBN 978-0-9947608-0-7 (Canada). Chapter 8.Section 8.3.page 160-162
Rufran C. Frago – Author (12-Jan-17)
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Related articles authored by Rufran Frago.
- Diversity Risk in the Canadian Workplace
- Diversity Risk Case 2 : Puro Mali
- Risk Relativity
- Man is the Center of the Risk Universe
- Your World, Our Risk Universe
- Rufran Frago in the Global Risk Community Site
- Risks as a Function of Time
- Changing the Culture of Your Organization
- A Person Perceives Others Based on His Own Interest
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- Risks Surrounding Canada’s TFW Part 2