Donna Steffey, MBA, CPLP, president of Vital Signs Consulting, is an international trainer, author, facilitator of the ATD Master Trainer™ Program, and adjunct faculty member at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.
“Cultural Intelligence develops intentionally with your commitment to increasing your global mindset.” -Donna Steffey
How are the major trends in technology and globalization impacting the field of training?
The traditional face-to-face classroom training is now less than half of all training done. According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD) 2017 State of the Industry report, that means that 51% of training is delivered via webinars, mobile, self-paced online, or other methods like DVDs or Podcasts. This represents a 10% change in the last 5 years away from traditional classroom training. With over 300 multi-national organizations employing over 35 million people around the globe, online technologies really do become the best method for reaching remote employees.
We see a trend toward mobile learning with 67% of people saying they now use mobile devices to access learning. What is interesting is that only 20% of organizations have formal mobile learning programs.
A trend known as micro-learning is becoming popular to shorten the path from learning to succeeding. Micro-learning is a bite-sized chunk of learning lasting 3-10 minutes and only covering 1-2 crucial points. It often includes interactivity and testing. According to the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, micro-learning improves retention by 20%.
67 percent of people use mobile devices to access learning.
But it’s not always so easy to understand each other.
Often I see how a phrase in one language doesn’t translate to another. Try speaking on stage and using a gesture that is common in one country and see how it offends an audience in another. Technology and travel have moved faster than our understanding of cultural differences.
Every time people from different cultures interact, a culture crossing occurs. When you get a culture connection, things go well, and the impact you have on each other matches your intentions. But there can also be a culture crash, a phenomenon that occurs when someone from one culture unintentionally confuses, frustrates, or offends a person from another culture. Typically when these occur, people’s intentions are not in alignment with the impact they may be having on each other.
Would you share a high-profile example or two? Some more recent culture crashes that come to mind include when Microsoft founder Bill Gates insulted the South Korean president by keeping one hand in his pocket while shaking her hand, a sign of disprespect in South Korea, or when LeBron James inadvertently disrespected Princess Kate (and much of the U.K.) by slinging his arm around her for a photo op.
Recognize Your Own Cultural Programming
Can you share a few simple culture crash–minimizing techniques?
There is a three-step method that can apply in many situations that helps people to take some of the “cultural reflex” out of the equation and set themselves up for success. It’s the same method I share with all my clients:
Recognize your own cultural programming.
Open your mind to other ways of perceiving or approaching a situation.
Identify opportunities to adapt your response to optimize results.
The methodology is widely applicable, whether the goal is to increase sales, build strategic partnerships lead people/teams, or maximize the potential of a diverse customer base. The more you search through your cultural baggage and recognize your own cultural programming (Step 1), the easier it will become to put the next two steps into action. Getting to the bottom of your bag won’t happen overnight. I’ve been at it for several decades, and I still regularly discover new aspects of my cultural programming.
For those who don’t know your work, what is a wicked problem?
In the early seventies, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, two professors of design and urban planning, recognized that there are certain problems that are not amenable to resolution by traditional, accepted problem-solving techniques. They evocatively labeled these problems as “wicked” and identified ten distinguishing characteristics. Ten characteristics are difficult to remember, and over the years, I have whittled them down to just five. If a problem displays these five criteria, you can be pretty sure you are facing a wicked problem.
The first characteristic is deceptively simple and requires some thought: Is the problem one that is substantially without precedent, something that you have not encountered before?
Second, are there multiple significant stakeholders with conflicting values and priorities? You need to go beyond the traditional big three stakeholders—employees, customers and shareholders. Non-government organizations, multiple layers of government, creditors, communities in which you are located, political parties in power and out of power are all becoming more significant and demanding.
Third, are there several causes and are they interactive and tangled? For instance, the future of social media is driven by a complex brew of technology advancements in hardware and apps, changing demographics, evolving social and cultural mores, government regulations, privacy expectations, geopolitical developments, educational practices, disposable income, and economic and social mobility.
“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.” -Irwin Corey
Fourth, there is no sure way of knowing you have the right answer. Another way of phrasing this is that there is no stopping rule—you can continue searching indefinitely for a “better” answer.
Fifth, the understanding of what the “problem” is changes depending on the “solution” being considered. In other words, the problem and the solution are interactive. For instance, entry into a country that does not permit foreign multi-brand retailers might be accomplished by creating a cash-and-carry model for small retailers or by being a minority partner with a local retailer or by entering an entirely new business employing a distinctive competency such as logistics. Each of these responses to the wicked problem of accessing the huge purchasing power of emerging economies’ populations creates a wholly different set of issues.
A note of warning may be in order. In the public policy arena, the wickedness of problems is hard to overlook. Problems such as immigration policy, violence against women, religious fundamentalism, and public education are overtly wicked. In the business world, however, the thing about wicked problems is that though they can show up anywhere, they are likely to be perceived as “tame” problems.
Wicked problems are certainly more common than most managers realize. Not recognizing that they were facing wicked problems, I believe, led to the dissolution of Westinghouse, the demise of Polaroid, and the decline of Kodak, RadioShack and Atari. Though wicked problems can occur anywhere, it is more likely than not that you will encounter wicked problems if you are a public company, operate globally, and are in a technology-driven business.
“Every threat to the status quo is an opportunity in disguise.” -Jay Samit
You talk about 3 megaforces that are challenging business. How do these trends help create wicked problems?
While there are a variety of forces and environmental factors that can create wicked problems, over the years I’ve identified three forces that are widely experienced which, in concert, are a major source of wicked problems. They are: the inevitability of globalization, the imperative of innovation, and the importance of shared value. The first two forces are well understood. Shared value, which has been brought to the attention of the managerial world by Michael Porter, is the notion that social benefit and economic value are synergistic. It also raises the issue of the appropriate sharing of value across diverse stakeholders.
The interactions of these three forces create strategic challenges that combine to create wicked problems. For instance, innovating to meet the needs of unserved, low-income customers across the world results—as the guru of disruptive innovation Clayton Christensen has affirmed—in disruptive technologies that can upend industries. Innovation also creates changes that differentially impact stakeholders, creating the likelihood of conflict between stakeholders as the organization transforms. The extreme complexity and uncertainty embodied in the global economy coupled with the conflicting priorities of multiple stakeholders creates unknowable futures. This roiling cauldron of disruptive technologies, conflicted stakeholders and unknowable futures is what spawns wicked problems.
I like to illustrate the interaction of these forces in a Venn diagram.
Three Mega-Forces and their Strategic Challenge
These three forces can interact to create wicked problems in any context. Of course, other environmental forces can also breed wicked problems, but I have chosen to focus on these three because they are so ubiquitous and powerful.
I believe there are business contexts or “industries” that will be breeding grounds for wicked problems. Health, software, information technology, fossil fuels, water, automobiles, and public transportation are prime examples. Technological innovation, drastically changing regulations, geopolitical developments, and changing notions of social responsibility make these industries particularly prone to encountering wicked problems that demand that firms develop and deploy wicked strategies.
“The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” -William Ellery Channing
Companies, like people, can go off track. A simple error compounds. The wrong attitude takes root. A poorly designed strategy is implemented. Perhaps the focus is just a bit off, sending everything off course. It happens.
What do you do if you are off track? How do you recognize the signs?
There are two branding experts that I turn to when it comes to branding and revitalizing brands: Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They not only have the experience, but their advice is my favorite kind: practical and actionable. I’m not one for studying theories that I can’t immediately use.
I recently spoke with the authors about the troubling behaviors and attitudes that cause companies to mess up their brand. They have identified 12 ways that brands go awry. Their updated book on branding, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization, is a must-read on the subject.
“Arrogance leads to complacency which destroys innovation and leaves you out of date.”
How do you pull a culture out of arrogance, especially if they don’t realize it?
Often it takes a sense of urgency, a perception of an impending crisis. Change is difficult. An arrogant culture resists change until it seems that there is no option. Change or die. Dramatize the need for change. The most dangerous disease is complacency. Arrogance can lead to complacency. Complacency can keep your eyes closed to innovation and leave you out of date with your customers. The common expression, “Go back to basics,” is often used to defend resisting change. Going backwards will not guide marketers how to best go forward.
“Culture change is led from the top. The leader sets the tone.”
Culture change is led from the top. The leader sets the tone. Sometimes a leadership change is necessary. This is what happened at McDonald’s in 2002. The new leadership immediately dramatized the need for change. Jim Cantalupo, the new CEO, created a sense of urgency.
We recommend the four steps of Breaking the LOCK on Brand Troubles: Fix Leadership; then leadership can fix the Organization alignment. Cultural change is an imperative. Knowledge is a powerful force. Become a learning culture…
12 Branding Sins
1: The arrogance of success
2: The comfort of complacency
3: The building of organizational barriers and bureaucratic processes
4: The focus on analyst satisfaction rather than on customer satisfaction
5: The belief that what worked yesterday will work today
6: The failure to innovate
7: The lack of focus on the core customer
8: The backtracking to basics
9: The loss of relevance
10: The lack of a coherent Plan to Win
11: The lack of a balanced Brand-Business Scorecard
12: The disregard for the changing world
Is there one that is most often the culprit in brand failures?
As we say in the book, the Twelve Tendencies for Trouble are not independent of each other. These are all interconnected forces. A company that succumbs to one seems to succumb to more than one. There is no single culprit. Each of the Twelve Tendencies for Trouble must be avoided.
“Problem solution is the most effective way to stay relevant.”
If you are looking to develop a strong global brand, you will find two names consistently mentioned as “go-to” experts: Larry Light and Joan Kiddon. They have just released a second edition of their book on branding, Six Rules of Brand Revitalization.
I recently spoke with the authors about their new book and the rules of branding.
6 Rules of Brand Revitalization
1. Refocus the organization.
Where do most corporate leaders get it wrong?
They tend to believe that “refocus” can happen through tools and templates and HR seminars. Refocus is more than filling in the blanks and talking the talk. When there is a conflict between strategy and culture, culture wins. A commitment to change requires refocusing of the cultural mindset that emanates from the top down. Merely embarking on a training program to encourage a focus on new tools, templates, and techniques can distract from the need to accomplish both the behavioral and attitudinal modifications that foster culture change.
“Refocusing an organization around common goals is the first step for brand revitalization.” -Light / Kiddon
What tip would you provide to a leadership team in the midst of this refocus?
Leaders are different from commanders. Commanders manage by telling people what to do. They create acceptors. Leaders create believers. Acceptors go through the motions complying with the new processes and behaviors. Believers have true commitment that this refocus is a better path to a successful future. Acceptors are not the same as adherents. The leader must be the one to set the tone and drive the change for all to see and emulate. Leaders must demonstrate commitment if they expect people to become believers in the new world.
“The leader must set the tone and drive change.” -Light / Kiddon
What are the best ways to stay on top of changing customer expectations?
Stay up-to-date with all available information. Read a variety of sources, not just in your business’ field but also across many disciplines. Include regular market research reports. But also include what is happening in the world around us. Be observant. Be informed. Be open to new ideas.
In this world of access to “big data’” there is now a focus on data analytics. Analysis can tell us about what is happening today. Analysis is about the decomposition of data. But real insight does not come from analysis. It comes from creative synthesis. Analysis is about taking data apart. Synthesis is about putting together disparate sources of information in original ways. Synthesis is about detecting patterns that others fail to see. Keeping a brand relevant will involve both analysis and synthesis. Make sure that the organization is open and conducive to creative synthesis.
The total brand experience includes consideration, shopping, purchase, use, service, online, offline, brand communications, handling of customer complaints, and so on. Every touch point with the customer is a part of the total brand experience. It includes every aspect of the brand promise: functional benefits, emotional and social rewards, solutions to problems, and so forth.
“Every touch point with the customer is a part of the total brand experience.” -Light / Kiddon