Pretend you’re a male American corporate manager who has been negotiating contracts for weeks with a male manager from a Saudi Arabian company. The talks are going well, and on the way to lunch, he holds your hand.
Whether your reaction is “my, how interesting” or “eek!” says a lot about your global mindset.
The “global mindset” is a point of view that embraces diversity, even when the differences are stark — like businessmen holding hands in some Middle Eastern countries, where it signifies respect and friendship. That attitude is critical for people in the modern marketplace, whether their cubicles are in Mesa or Mumbai.
“The biggest part of the picture is people working in their own country, but working with people from other parts of the world,” said Mansour Javidan, founder and executive director of the Najafi Global Mindset Institute at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale.
“You can be working in Phoenix but your client happens to be in Argentina, or your strategic partners happen to be Malaysian.”
Doing business across cultures introduces a complexity that managers must be prepared to confront. How do you stimulate innovation in Russia, where the workers are used to a rigid hierarchy? How do you arrive and start managing a Danish office, where the culture doesn’t believe in bosses?
Javidan will be spreading his message to a larger audience in 2016 as the institute works with more university business schools to develop managers for companies that are increasingly seeking to sell, buy or invest across borders.
“This issue of dealing with people different from you is not an American problem, not a Russian problem, not a Chinese problem. It’s a human problem,” Javidan said.
“It’s not about geography. It’s about the distance between your way of doing things and other people’s way of doing things.”
In Turkey, business leaders are dictatorial but paternalistic.
“They are expected to take care of employees the way a father would take care of his children,” Javidan said.
“In the U.S., that relationship does not exist. In fact, if a leader behaves that way, he or she is seen as intrusive, because there is a boundary between business and personal.”
Javidan’s work at the institute is based on decades of research he has done on the cultural profiles of different countries and the attributes of successful organizational leaders.
Javidan began to work on the Global Mindset Inventory in 2004, when he came to Thunderbird.
“Thunderbird is very practically oriented. We are trying to help executives, managers and students not just learn theories and concepts but also how to apply them in the real world,” he said.
He worked with several other Thunderbird professors to determine the individual characteristics that help managers work across cultures. They spent three years doing hundreds of interviews in many countries and finally refined the result into the Global Mindset Inventory, to measure those characteristics.
The 76-item survey, taken online, measures attributes in three areas:
Intellectual capital: This includes business savvy and whether a manager can analyze and interpret information quickly. For example, an Asian manager in Cuba wanted to reward an employee, which is illegal there. But he knew that one supermarket in Havana caters only to foreigners, so he cleverly took the employee to the store and bought him a shopping cart full of merchandise.
Psychological capital: This is a personality component having to do with a person’s passion for diversity, quest for adventure and self-assurance. One example is a manager's willingness to accept new customs, such as drinking in bars with co-workers late into the night, which is common in Japan.
Social capital: This is the behavioral part, including how well the person can negotiate and build relationships. A leader might have to manage a team that includes Germans, who respect the use of formal titles, and Scandinavian people, who find titles off-putting.
After taking the survey, managers go through several hours of debriefing to interpret the results. They also receive a copy of “Developing Your Global Mindset: The Handbook for Successful Global Leaders,” written by Javidan and Jennie Walker, director of global learning and market development for the Najafi Global Mindset Institute. The book is loaded with ideas for improving all three areas of the mindset.
For instance, a businesswoman traveled to Argentina, where she was pointedly asked her opinion on the Malvinas Islands. She had never heard of them, but discovered that Argentina and Britain are in dispute over the islands' control, and that Argentinians have strong opinions. The lesson: Learn about local history.
Currently, about 350 people are certified to give the survey, and the institute will run two-day certification courses in January and March. The organization also offers corporate training programs, which draw participants from all over the world.
“The toughest part is the psychological side because it’s rooted in your personality, your years of development as an individual, your childhood and educational experiences and your family. It’s cumulative and that’s why it’s harder to change," Javindan said.
“You can’t teach it. You can’t run a course in passion.”
All Thunderbird students are invited to take the Global Mindset Inventory before and after their program, and they typically see big improvement in intellectual and social capital and smaller gains in psychological.
Javidan said that one global CEO he knew described the global mindset as “being comfortable with being uncomfortable in an environment that’s uncomfortable.”
“For most normal people, our comfort zone is dealing with people like us. Deal with people different than us and we’re out of our comfort zone. The question is: What is your attitude toward that?
“Someone with a low global mindset wants to get out of it as soon as possible because the discomfort is too high. Someone with a high global mindset says, 'Wow, look at how these people do it. I’ll learn something.' "
Javidan said that Americans typically score in the middle range. Chinese and Japanese managers, whose cultures are more homogenous, have lower scores.
“Brazilian managers have higher scores because of the way they grow up,” he said. “Brazil is a real mix of everything — ethnicities, religions, languages. The typical Brazilian child grows up learning that diversity is natural.”
Javidan said that being open to interactions with other cultures is especially important in the current world climate.
“Politics that label diversity of any kind as evil can be very attractive in the short term, and be emotionally very appealing, but it can also cause a lot of damage.
“We have thousands of years of human history to teach us that.”
For information about the Global Mindset Facilitator Workshops at Thunderbird on Jan. 6-8 and March 9-11, visit this site.