Iliyana's Blog

Managing Cross-Cultural Communication in a Multinational Company

[fa icon="calendar"] 23-Jan-2018 10:00:00 / by Iliyana Stareva

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As companies grow, scale and expand in international markets, the need for cross-cultural sensitivity and communication ability increases.

In fact, communication is what underpins both stakeholder management and change management - two areas without which a company cannot function or grow.

However, when we add cultural differences to how people make decisions and follow orders, organisations face a tremendous challenge to getting things done.

Two Areas for Consideration

There are two key areas that companies should be strategically looking into when operating in a cross-cultural setting:

  • Developing cultural understanding and sensitivity among executives and employees through education and learning.
  • Adjusting the communication style to markets and cultural needs for certain initiatives, projects or programs when decisions are being made about them, when they are being rolled out and while they are being managed.

Rarely, these two are systematically planned and managed on a global level within a company.

However, they are fairly straightforward to define by creating resources and communication guides that employees can follow.

Education about Cultural Differences

At my company HubSpot, we strive to drive education around cultural difference.

In my role as Global Partner Program Manager, I realised very early what an impact cultural differences make and so I personally have been spreading learning about two major studies:

  1. Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory that allows to understand and compare market nuances based on 6 dimensions: power distance, individualism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, time orientation, indulgence vs. restraint.
  2. Erin Meyer's work on how culture impacts 7 key areas: communication, evaluation, leadership, decision-making, trust, disagreement, and scheduling among individuals and organisations.

These learnings underpin the understanding of how to approach executive leadership and execs from different cultures when it comes to getting buy-in and making decisions.

Adjusting Your Communication

In addition, considering cultural nuances allows you to find the most suited approach to making change happen across the rest of the organisation.

As a Program Manager on a global scale, there is no better tool to have than this understanding of how individuals like to makes decisions, the information that they need and the buttons that you need to push in order to successfully execute on projects and programs globally.

Failing to realise the impact culture has on individuals simply results in a mismatch when it comes to managing stakeholders as well as managing change. For example, when you have an executive from an Asian culture and you want their buy-in, you can't go in there with a forcefully made proposal because you undermine their status and increase their fear of losing face. Tactfully asking for feedback and seeking their advice (sometimes on multiple occasions) will get you further. Conversely, not presenting a strong opinion and quick solution to getting things done right now, might undermine your ability to do your job among American executives.

Cultural differences require cross-cultural communication that is adjusted almost for every stakeholder and initiative of different scale.

You can't get an executive yes without adjusting your communication style nor can you ensure that front-line employees will do the work without thinking about how things need to be communicated down the line according to market and country nuances.

If you want to successfully manage cross-cultural communication, then I suggest using Hofstede's and Meyer's cultural studies to build an understanding of international markets and cultures and then to create a communications plan for internal stakeholder management and change management based on the cultures that underpin your organisation for each initiative, project or even meeting.

How do you manage cross-cultural communication?


Topics: Program Management, Project Management

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Chief of Staff to the EMEA President at ServiceNow. Before that, she held global and EMEA-wide positions at Cisco and HubSpot. She is also certified by the PMI as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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