Fifty-one percent of the consultants of large executive search firms surveyed said the most common reason for U.S. citizens working overseas to fail at their jobs is a lack of cultural fit” (Korn/Ferry International, the largest executive search firm in the U.S.). This refrain of failing to adapt to the culture of one’s new surroundings is echoed in virtually every study on managerial derailment. It’s often more important than IQ, formal education or technical skills, although these factors cannot be ignored.
What is culture? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the characteristic features of a civilization including its beliefs, artistic and materialistic products, and social institutions.” It’s “how things are done around here.” What are the rules and standards of acceptable behavior? Every company and country has its own cultural benchmarks that must be learned and adhered to….and they are often unwritten and unspoken. One must become very sensitive to cultural factors and learn to quickly read between the lines. Some of these signals will be quite obvious but the more different the company or country is from what we are used to, the harder the signals are to read.
This blog is about international culture. So how does one living in central Indiana get a sense of cultural differences in this big but “shrinking” world? Here are a few easy and fun things to do that will show there is more to life than breaded tenderloins and the State Fair:
1) Take in the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of the Indy International Festival this November at the State Fair Grounds.
2) Get to really know classmates and co-workers who are not U.S. born. Go out to lunch or dinner and simply ask about how life is lived in ____________. Be politely curious.
3) Dine at “authentic” ethnic restaurants (Taco Bell and Olive Garden don’t count) and try foods you’ve never had. The Abyssinia (Ethiopian), Bosporus (Turkish) or Machu Picchu (Peruvian) might be good starts for some Hoosiers. There are many others. See www.ethnicfood.com.
4) Attend the services of a (or several) church, synagogue, mosque or temple much different than your own. Call ahead to be sure visitors are welcome and, perhaps, someone could meet you to explain what really goes on.
Whether you desire to work abroad or simply have a curious heart and mind about other cultures, there are lots of local, exploring opportunities. They won’t substitute for actually working and living in another country but can give a taste….and they can be very tasty.
—Dr. Charles Waldo, Prof. of Marketing
Dr. Waldo is a guest blogger for the AU MBA Program.