“Mr. Ron, I want you to send me to some training.”
Sure, I said. Tell me about what you do and what are some of your duties in your department? After listening to him or a while, I finally asked: what type training do you think you need?
His reply floored me — “I do not know. Just send me to training.”
The exasperated look on my face told the story. Another of my colleagues was in my office and he said that is a normal reaction in this country. People look to be directed; they are not into self-direction.
What do you need and want
The culture here in Saudi Arabia (where I work) is an everyday learning experience. Things that we take for granted in the U.S. are not as straightforward here. My friend told me that as children, they are taught that parents know best and the parents will make the correct decision.
Organizationally, that presents a dilemma for a manager, especially a Western manager. The managerial result of this is that it requires constant direction from your people. They look to you to have all of the answers.
That is a managerial and leadership dilemma if you have a department of this type. Your job has just become exponentially harder because self-direction is what is needed on teams and department today.
Self-management is a new competency
Self-management is what runs so many companies today. The newer innovative companies latched on to this concept and their culture clearly supports decision-making by employees.
The new workforce does not operate with an Industrial Age mindset where managers direct every possible action.
In this environment, if your department is made up of people with various nationalities, one of the things you will have to learn is how to lead and direct in a way that pushes back the decision-making to them. As a matter of fact, leadership of various nationalities will require adjustments all the way around,
It’s not just about learning their style, but for them to learn yours.
When I first met my new staff here in Saudi Arabia, one of the things I wanted to instill in them was that they could manage themselves. I emphasized that when you bring a problem, please bring a possible solution and that is where the discussion begins.
But Saudi labor law has a lot of intricacies to it, and I really needed their guidance a whole lot more than they needed mine. They had been doing their style of HR for many years. I was not going to come in and be the smart ass American HR executive who thinks they have all the answers.
The UN of HR
This model of our working dynamic allowed all of us to get a better understanding of each other. All of them have been working in HR anywhere from 5 to 9 years. My staff doesn’t have any Americans besides me, but I do have four Saudis, an Indian, a Filipino, and a Syrian.
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The World HRD Congress always draws a stellar class of HR departments from all the major brands: IBM, Deloitte, Google, etc. Their collective struggle is somewhat the same as ours — engagement, succession, transformation.
But when we get off-line and out of the official conference sessions,many attendees admit to the struggles of trying to do the new HR with participants that are comfortable in the old style of transactions and just taking orders. The workforce, while showing some signs of being empowered, still has a long ways to go in a lot of cases.
And that penalty is what?
I sat through one presentation in Mumbai concerning HRIS/ERP implementation, and I was shocked that there is a feature on these systems that is set aside for violations. What is the fine for being late, leaving early, no doctors note for that sick day, etc?
In these countries, that is a part of the management scheme and it is not even questioned. If you do not produce a doctor’s note, you lose the day’s pay. if you are 15 minutes late, that gets deducted from your paycheck. If you have no vacation accrued and you need a day off , you must take it without pay.
This all comes back to my meeting with the person on my staff seeking training and asking for my direction.
He assumes that this is the way it is supposed to work. He is probably used to going to someone and expecting that they will fulfill his request. When I entered into a discussion trying to get him to see what he needs to develop, it seemed like a totally new concept. But at the end, he could see where I was going and was directed to give it some thought and we would have another discussion later.
Hopefully our discussion will engage him in some inner thought and allow him to become a little more self-confident in his thinking. Everyone admires self-confidence ,and this young man will hopefully learn to grow this.
Managing people in different cultures requires a new level of introspection from managers. We expats all say that the logic you developed over the years has no meaning here.