What can YOU do at the SIETAR Congress to change your life?

A Guide to the European Intercultural Event of the Year by Matthew Hill     1, Meeting people With up to 360 people attending the SIETAR Congress in Dublin later in May, There is no better opportunity this year to … Continue reading

Cultural Risk Management – Part I of a new series by Glen Burridge

This is the first of a series of articles where Interculturalist and Earth Scientist Glen Burridge be looking to highlight a topic that confronts us every day in all aspects of our lives and yet is frequently neglected by both organisations and individuals: Cultural Risk Management

Crowd. A large group of people of a white background.

If we have one characteristic as humans that represents both our greatest capability and our greatest weapon it is our ability to self-organise.

In other words, to create cultures.

In these groupings, we become actors in the world, through our organisations, societies, tribes, networks and communities. Through them, we trade and we exchange, we engage in conflict and war and we create things of beauty and value. In doing so, they form the basis of our identities and influence our behaviour at every moment. Some stem back to the origin of our species, while others are bubbling up as we speak.

Culture as Lifeform

We may do our best to romanticise them, especially those identities to whom we belong and find the most meaningful, yet a culture is – at best – no more than a meta-stable life-form. As ambient conditions vary, vulnerable cultures die, a few coalesce, whilst others are born. They are susceptible to changes in the environment, undergoing perpetual fashioning by external challenge and interaction – an analogy with viral behaviour would not be unfair – and our increasing connectivity with each other accelerates this process.

History tells us that cultural ‘entropy’ has operated since our earliest times: As human populations have expanded and come in closer proximity, there is a tendency for any extensive culture to produce homogenisation of society in their image. In order to survive the onslaught, any target community will require strong traits – either of adaptability, invincibility, suitability or to defy the threat by virtue of distance or size. There are moral and practical consequences to what is lost and gained by such an organic course, but it could be argued that this is simply the to-and-fro of natural selection at play; a culture is no more than an elegant ecological solution to a problem at a given time.

Whatever their origins and health, what the human story makes abundantly clear is that the simultaneous greatest threat to our future wellbeing and opportunity for positive development comes from the interaction between cultural groups. This is where interculturalists operate and (ought to) have a capital role to play in our future.

Yes, it really is as important as that.

Limited Space

The Earth, at present our sole home, has a surface area of 510 million square km. That might sound like a lot to you and me, used to possessing only an infinitesimal morsel of that terrain, but of that immense expanse only roughly 20% is habitable. In terms of the volume of our planet, only a fraction of 1% is a survivable biosphere. We are currently adding over 200,000 extra people per day to that space.

It pays for us to get along well with each other.

The Other

Cultures, with their attendant values, motivations and artefacts will come and go, but the perennial question that matters is whether these groupings – and their representatives – are able to find a common basis in which the existence of the Other is not a accompanied by fear. No group is ever going to fire a nuclear warhead deliberately at itself, it will always be at an Other. ‘Civil’ Wars are anything but civil. They entail the disintegration of the façade of a collective identity under exterior pressure or internal reckoning.

Equally, all valuable endeavours we embark on culminate, in some form, in a collective effort. At all scales of our lives, this entails an association of existing bodies, whether they are political, commercial, humanitarian or social. We therefore know we are going to face a myriad of interfaces in much of what we do. We ought to be prepared. Any organisation that neglects the multiple dimensions and effects of culture is ignoring not only its own DNA, but that of the environment it operates in.

Yet, despite a whole field of solutions that now stretch back more than half a century, the risk associated with cultural interactions remains the one we are collectively most reluctant to address in business and in the world at large.

The worst kind of success

The worst kind of failure is when we ignore a critical factor that was staring us in the face all along. The worst kind of success is one achieved without the capacity to repeat it, carrying threats into the very next situation we find ourselves, but now with a perilous confidence, until the moment of drama when we realise we have made a serious misjudgement, when it becomes no longer a risk, but history.

In the following articles, Glen will open up the discussion to explore further dimensions of cultural risk, how deeply it reaches into our lives, society and business, which go far beyond the familiar cultural realm of national identities.

For a discussion of the topics raised in this article and associated blogs, please feel free to get in touch with Glen at; glen@glenburridge.com or via LinkedIn or leave a comment below.

glenEarth Scientist and Interculturalist, Glen Burridge

 

 

DANGER – Expat Traps

Wise Words of WARNING!

From a recent relocation training for a couple of executives going to a relatively dangerous country, we build up a useful list of the possible difficulties and risks they could face. This post provides a summary of some of the dangers your relocation executives may face and the best methods of preventing or eliminating these problems. So as not to scare you or the delegates in your relocation classes, we have kept the tone light.

On the streets

You don’t have to be Orson Welles in The Third Man to experience threat and drama downtown. And, whilst Vienna, is an extremely civilised place now, there are many cities where nearly all of the incidents in this post have happened and continue to be a possible threat.

1, The hungry policeman – on a Thursday or Friday (to build up weekend spending money) our friendly cop asks to see your passport. (This can be legitimate, and carrying a passport is a legal requirement in many countries.) The problem comes when it is time for the policeman, having seen your papers are in order, to give you back the documents. If they are scamming you, they will ask for money at this point! – This is irritating but survivable. How can you make their job a little bit more difficult?

Action – take a colour photocopy of your passport and offer this instead. Tell them that the original is in your hotel safe or your office. Say that the document is just 5 minutes away. Smile and invite them to come with you. You have made their lives more difficult, and they are likely to just move on, in search of their next, more compliant, victim.

Armed policemen

Hello Sir, can I see your papers?

2, Double identity – in a restaurant you receive the bill and put down a credit card. The person takes the bill and the card away for just a couple of minutes. 3 weeks later you end up with a €7000 credit card charge originating from Argentina – and you don’t remember buying a hand tooled leather horse saddle! Your card details have been skimmed and cloned. The waiter has used a skimming machine smaller than a packet of cigarettes and you will now have months of pain working with your bank to separate your real expenditure from the thieve’s happy spending spree.

Action – I prefer American Express – they have a famously efficient department dealing in a more dynamic and energetic way with identity theft. Of course, to prevent their overwork, never let your credit card out of your sight. Take an appropriate amount of cash out with you, in the more difficult towns and pay with that. Finally, if you have a more sophisticated and customer friendly bank, tell them when you’re abroad. This may seem a bit of a pain, but you will get credibility points and, if the worst happens, they will be more sympathetic to your case and put more energy into restoring your good name and cash balance.

3, Got to pick a pocket or two – it normally happens around the railway station, getting on and off buses and trams or in a crowd. Someone bumps into you and distracts you, and … your wallet is gone. It isn’t personal, though if you dress like a naive tourist, you haven’t helped yourself.

Action – blend in, dress down a level, avoid crowds and don’t put your bulging overfull wallet in your back pocket or an open handbag. Another nifty traveller’s trick is to take two wallets, one with $20 and out of date credit cards kept in the obvious place, and another containing your valuables in your fanny pack or deeper on your person.

4, Spiked drinks – no this is not because you are 007 and the beautiful girl wishes to take you back to SPECTRE HQ. This threat is on the increase where German, British or American executives are targeted. For some strange reason, when they are carried out of a club staggering and supported by glamorous locals, other customers in the bar, seem to think this normal cultural behavior! You then wake up in your hotel room, minus your wallet, phone and Ipad.

Action – don’t drink – only joking – look in the mirror and rate your attractiveness on the scale of 1 to 10. Go on, do it. If you are a senior executive and scored less than 6, then you are a ready target for this scam. If you have an ego, or a sales based job, these double the size of the target on your back!

But seriously – drink in the bars of better international hotels or the bars of classy restaurants, where this is a lot less likely to happen. Avoid those gorgeous women, with a slight glazed look in their eyes. You know the ones – they are sitting down near the bar looking rather comfortable. This is their lounge.

You can also buy a drink tamper test kit that detects whether your red wine has been spiked. It is pretty uncool to ever use this, but it’s also uncool to wake up naked and handcuffed to the sink.

5, Driving – if the potholes, animals in the road and winter ice don’t hurt you, then the policeman, on Thursday, stopping you for a spurious traffic violation will. See point 1.

Car theft is a big problem – there was a wonderful advertisement by the Polish tourist authorities run recently in Germany which basically said, “Come to lovely Poland – your car is already here!”

Action – park in secure underground facilities beneath the hotel where you are staying. Do not park on the street or leave valuables on display. Make sure you have a car tracking system such as LoJack fitted. Also, have a steering column lock which make your vehicle more difficult to drive away.

  1. Honey trap – again James Bond is with us. Over my career as an intercultural facilitator and relocation trainer, I have encountered a shocking number of executives who have fallen prey to being exploited by young women. Again their mental faculties seem neutralised by charm and some heavy flirtation. What follows can be video footage, audio recordings, light industrial espionage and, if they get hold of the wife’s details, extortion demands for money and favours.

A more subtle version of this is the office romance, where people in the mid-level of your organisation try to get a leg up by offering to sleep with you on a business trip.

Action – Wake up and smell the Rohypnol. Get over yourself. Read more John Le Carre and be prepared for the crazy shenanigans of international office life. They don’t find your looks, charm or lame attempts at humour remotely attractive. It is not about you. It is about your power, your passport and your bank account.

  1. The knock at the door – you may come from a culture where protection, a shakedown and Mafia business tax are normal. If you don’t, ironically, your naivete may protect you. A good friend of mine, setting up an office in Italy, was approached by such a character, in search of Kriza – protection money. The young executive did not have a clue about the subtle conversation that was taking place. He politely declined the offer, and showed the mobster out. Probably through shame, the organised crime official never called again!

Action – find out what other people in the building do, build a good relationship with your bank and insurance company. Bond with your local Chamber of Commerce and find out how the other companies protect themselves in your town.

8, Employee discontent – whilst you look over your shoulder to see if you are being followed by someone in a wide brimmed hat, a credible threat may already be inside your building. Many companies have a tiny number of rogue employees. I know one senior executive who measured staff happiness by the amount of stationery stolen per month – less paper missing – happy staff. More paper missing – better call a meeting…

A more sinister version of this happens when discontented or money hungry staff purloin data for the purposes of selling it to your competitors. This is terrifying because it represents a high level of threat, and any measures you take to protect yourself, naturally insult the loyal members of staff in your team.

Action – a lot of companies are wise to data loss threats and put in back-end systems which track user logins, data access and dates. At least retroactively, you can effectively track down the culprit and take the appropriate action.

One of the more powerful charismatic leaders I trained about 10 years ago had a method of finding culprits without electronic measures. He would stand up in front of a circle of his department and say that, from now on, anyone caught breaking the corporate security rules, would have the most severe consequences brought down upon them – all he had to do then was to look at everybody’s faces – the guilty ones would freeze, look directly at him and find themselves on a watch-list. A couple of weeks after the first meeting, he would hold a second meeting. In a similar way, he would say he was disappointed and had found the rules have been broken in the past – he now threatened retroactive punishment for past crimes – again he would look around the room and see which additional employees had developed breathing difficulties. It was a clever old school way of finding out if the butler did it.

Ripping off at night

“Where is the stationery cupboard?”

9, Bribery – related to 8, you can often detect if staff members are being bought off by suppliers by the quality of their watches, cars and holidays. These 3 items are likely to experience an illogical and sudden upgrade when bribery is happening.

Action – make a note of everybody’s watch brand, car value and holiday expenditure! I am exaggerating but only by a little. Classically, executives making decisions involving hundreds of thousands of £,$ or € are susceptible to unscrupulous approaches by suppliers wishing to gain unfair competitive advantage. Have the conversation with them. Offer an amnesty period during which time, no punishment will occur in exchange for full cooperation. It is harsh to say, but to stop a corrupt atmosphere it is necessary to sacrifice a few culprits in the early days. This is the tougher side of any international leadership role.

10 – just because you’re paranoid… We began in the black-and-white streets of Vienna, and we end in the world of espionage and politics. In various countries, politicians do not seek office for the good of the people but more, to rack up large personal fortunes. There are many examples of this and it is your job not to get damaged by them on their journey of accumulation. In the pursuit of political riches, you may be followed, spied upon, threatened or made promises that require company expenditure.

Action – stay at arms length (or further) from any politicians. Remember, you will be asked to do many things for them. It is questionable whether they will be reliable or honest in helping you when it is your turn and you need help. If you must have political contact in one of the more famously corrupt countries, it is best to be transparent and do so in front of bona fide witnesses. Above all protect yourself from scandal, blackmail and coercion.

Conclusion – we do not mean to frighten you or turn your delegates away from beginning their overseas assignments.

With common sense and a little preparation, It is possible to stay, happy, safe and honest. And guys – come on – get a mirror – you are NOT THAT HANDSOME!!!

Good luck with your relocation sessions.