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When in Rome…

Managing people across cultural divides

We recently had the privilege of travelling to the beautiful Italian town of Cremona near Milan to deliver the people management aspect of a new business management qualification there.

Given how often we get asked whether challenges are the same across Europe / the World and how much cultural difference needs to be considered, we thought we would share our findings and reflections:

Even in a more direct, ‘say what you think’ culture, feedback is still a problem.  Feedback is not simply about telling someone what you think of them, it’s critical that the message is understood and the individual wants to change their behaviour.

Helping delegates consider what outcome they wanted and then use better questioning to find out what reaction someone was having to the feedback, made the difference here, just like it does in the UK and every other country we have worked in, including the US and Asia.  And that backs up our learning from our previous escapades here…

People Management is not for everyone and we would all do better to acknowledge this.  Just as financial management is not for everyone and we build coping mechanisms around that, how do we do the same for people management?

One delegate realised he could make better use of someone in his team who is far better at the honest conversations.  It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

Accountability for behaviour change is the greatest challenge.  This is a battle we fight on every programme – how to help delegates change their behaviour back in the workplace.

A hugely helpful move here has been to share stories from people who have been through the programme before, tried, failed, learned from experience and succeeded.

In Italy, we closed the programme with delegates showing a more realistic outlook on what they could do and what they couldn’t, working in tune with their reality.

Whilst it is comforting to know we are not alone with our learning challenges in the UK, this begs the question, why are these issues so prevalent?  The answer appears to be a lack of quality and quantity of focused on-the-job learning in these areas.

Take on any other new task: using new software, introducing a new process or system, taking on budget management for the first time, and there are guides to follow and people to ask.  When it comes to considering our suitability for people management and working out how to have difficult conversations, there tends to be less structure.

There are fewer “how-to guides” available and most line managers will not initiate a conversation with the individual in their team about their skills and confidence in people management.  Why should they?  Who did that for them?

This is an opportunity for all of us in learning, to help managers take on these conversations, so that new managers can be better prepared in their roles.