As a consultant most is know that much of our work is detailed and exploratory. Making change means we need to study and discuss the gaps in the “what is” position so you can have a discussion about changing that state. This takes planning thought and collaborative skill to get people to dig in to the detail and then go a new way to fix the problems we find. That process can be both continuous and radical.
Either way it happens best if the process is fun so people enjoy engaging to get detail information and explore looking for solutions and best practices.
I read something recently about teaching, and it seemed to me the parallels with consulting are similar. The article about teaching in an Asian culture pointed to quite different approaches needed to what we see in the so-called traditional west. A British teacher posted this in the Naked Farang entitled Working teaching Thais
In it he reinforces to be a successful teacher, the best advice is to steer away from boring lectures, long explanations and tests. Like we find also in consulting workshops, making your classes interactive and fun works best. Then not only do students enjoy the classes, but they also learn from them by being involved. The post goes on to explore some great examples that are thought provoking for every culture. It well worth a read.
We have to take all of this into consideration when we decide how we are going to manage change too, In addition to human cultural difference there always different business cultures which vary from business to business too. The common thread however is that people everywhere like to have fun, even at work. The corollary truism to this makes sense. “If you are not having fun it is very hard get things done”
In a work place it important, like it is with most students to win them over early. If they think that learning about change is going to be too serious, people involved will mentally switch off, turn up late or skip sessions and make minimal progress. The flip side is people will be more motivated to be productive and learn effectively if they enjoy the work and have a rapport with the leader.
This is deeply ingrained into Asian cultures more so than the west as following is more encouraged rather than making direct contributions at the risk offending or losing face. In fact, why should we want to change it? We should be flexible enough to adapt the way we teach or engage with people in any cultural styles.
In a workplace these cultural differences can be used to advantage as people who work in silos have fun with to joining the dots when you get them together.
As an example an Asia culture with students and what westerners regard as cheating in class can be of great value, In Asia this is almost pathological. As left to their own devices Asian students will typically gather round to just copy their answers. The counter-productiveness of this has absolutely no logic but you can do nothing about it.
Knowing this means at work however getting people to work things out as a group can be used to great advantage when they are given a problem to study and naturally relax under the protection of group discussions.
Another aspect of leading for results I have found useful, being foreigner is to set the scene in the common language of English then allow it to debated out in the native tongue. This can be very effective in facilitated workshops if it is allowed to run under this protection. By contrast to large passive participation in lecture style workshops, allowing time for discussion in the native tongue sees the noise levels and participation very high from all levels with occasional so called clarification feedback so you can keep it on track. That can be a tough call if your local language skill is not good. But other signals and natural group dynamics tell most of the stories as you just watch while people get comfortable and to the point. It is far from boring with the challenge to get agreement to move to the next steps.
The spoken language too is not the only tool. As we all know speaking is based on not only being cohesive with words and body language but also on the history in local cultures that have much deeper meaning. So unless you are stupid and use a Shakespearian style straight forward English is common use and widely accepted as the written structure format. Most Asians in business now have better understanding of written English even more so than a locally expressive document. Hence we often find people at all levels ask for a document before they ever ask for an explanation. The trick then, as with everyone, is it walk them thru it and allow learning process to take its course.
Another wonderful example of understanding rote learning is in the Naked Farang post.
He says, “When I was in high school in England, one of my favorite subjects was history because I enjoyed hearing about how important events and people changed the course of history. We would analyze these lessons to see what we had learned and how they affected the present. It was, to me, fascinating and stimulating. In contrast, I hated maths because it just seemed too inflexible and boring.
For Thai students, history is one of the least favorite subjects simply because of the way it is taught. The students are simply expected to memories names and dates without actually attaching any significance to them. There is no wonder they find this boring. In contrast, maths is a popular subject. Why is maths so popular? Well, instead of rote learning names, words or dates, maths offers the students a relative degree of academic freedom because they can learn formulas and experiment with them. In an environment where everything else is so rigid, this is their chance to express themselves.
In our business world of consulting to identify problems and find solutions is always a challenge. But as always the biggest challenge is implementing in diverse cultures that by nature don’t really want to change. The process of learning how to do this is constant and ever stimulating to me
I am always fascinated reading and taking to others about their insights and experience. If you feel inclined please share your experience. I would love to hear about it.