When you look at who must buy into this concept - executives, employee staff members, vendors, customers – really everyone on your team needs to buy into this. Customers are bought in on their own. They have their own cultural approaches that they may or may not be aware of but that is not their business to do this. It is really yours. The executives, the staff members, and down on through to vendors so it is important that they buy into this concept and that they get good at these skills however it is to varying degrees.
Here is an example of an organization that I have mentioned many times and how they really blew it by not having cultural agility throughout their organization and that is Groupon. When they were spending millions of dollars to enter the Chinese market they ran a Super Bowl ad in the United States. Now that Super Bowl ad basically used the conflict in Tibet as a punch line. It was incredibly offensive to the Chinese. That showed a lack of agility, obviously a lack of coordination, because someone at the headquarters in Chicago needed to stand up to say, “Wait.” Whether that was someone who was involved in the China approach, whether that was someone at a higher level, whether that was somebody in the marketing department. Literally, the marketing department must have known something was going on with China but they ran it anyway and it had huge negative ramifications. The ad was in English but the Chinese blogosphere miniblogs lit up like fire about this and so that person who didn’t stand up and say “wait”, maybe even someone did stand up and say “wait” in any case it also can’t fall on deaf ears. The other people in the room need to understand why they are hearing “wait, stop we have to consider this” because you can imagine, or I could certainly imagine the scenario when someone stands up and says, “We can’t go with this ad because what we are doing in China” and that person just gets shut down. “Oh no, that is over in China. They will never figure it out.” And then no matter of how loud they holler they get overrun. So that is why it needs to be part of the intuition, intuition of the organization.
Here are three questions to ask when you are determining who needs to be most culturally agile.
The first question is are they customer facing? Are they sales, marketing, executives, customer service, customer support? The other thing too are any vendors who provide services that are customer facing. These can be as simple as the people who are providing marketing materials, who are providing collateral materials or art so you don’t have to go out and educate every single time. You have a team that is across the board that has these skills of cultural agility.
The second question to ask about who needs to be most culturally agile is are they working with cross-border teams? Obviously these people really, really need to be culturally agile. You find these people a lot in operations. They are managing virtual teams at every aspect of the organization and this can even be in retail.
The third question to ask when you are determining who needs to be most culturally agile is are they regulated formally? If they are a group, say finance, who has a legal regulations on top of them they probably don’t need a ton of cultural agility. They need to be aware of the law and so that group you might be able to say not as important as the other ones.
So when considering who must buy into this concept there is buy-in across the board, there is skills development with the people who are customer facing and working with cross-border teams and the results make an enormous difference of something like the huge belly flop like what Groupon did in China and a smoothly running organization that doesn’t have those kinds of flub ups and actually has much more greater success.