Sep 23, 2015

McKinsey Quarterly - Gender equality: Taking stock of where we are

Dominic Barton, McKinsey's global managing director, Sandrine Devillard and Judith Hazlewood clarify that companies need to challenge fundamental mind-sets and behaviors inside the company while setting (or continuing) in motion a number of initiatives in support of gender diversity.

It's a long-term effort and not a sprint. - And from our experience as executive coaches and business women it's worth every mile!

Read the whole article here:

Why are women still underrepresented at every level of today’s corporations?

September 2015 | byDominic Barton, Sandrine Devillard, and Judith Hazlewood
There is a growing consensus among top executives that gender diversity is both an ethical and a business imperative. Yet progress is painfully slow. Despite modest improvements, women are underrepresented at every level of today’s corporations, especially in senior positions.

Sep 16, 2015

How to improve your listening skills

“We do not take the time to listen. We keep quiet while we look for arguments!” commented an executive in one of our sessions.

Unfortunate as this comment might be, it only reflects the reality we live in. We all recognize the importance of listening and how great a leadership skill it is. It would be difficult to find a person in business who would not stress how vital listening is.

We only listen for a pause when we can talk!

Unfortunately, it is also very rare to find a good listener. The way this usually works is as follows:
  • We start talking to someone with the good intention of really listening. We really focus on the other person and do our best to concentrate on what they say.
  • Then we hear something that really catches our attention. Maybe we do have a strong opinion on it, either for or against; or maybe a funny story to tell about it.
  • This is when our brain starts thinking about what we want to say and we only listen for a pause when we can talk and tell our story.

Our good intentions go out of the window, together with our effective listening.

Improve your listening skills in three areas

To help improve our listening skills, there are three areas to focus on:
1.       Listen to what is being said. Do not think about possible answers and keep your mind empty. Listening is an active process. This means you have to actively focus on what is being said and actively work on stopping all the other stories going on in your head.
2.       Listen to understand, not to respond. Suspend all possible judgment about what is being said and switch on your curiosity to really understand the other person.
3.       Listen to what is not being said. This really is the golden nugget. Do look out for pauses in the conversation, tone of voice, eye movement, gestures, etc. Usually some very important stuff remains unsaid.

Tips on how to improve your listening skills

As in any coaching session, the question now would be: how can I put this into practice?
Here are two good and simple exercises to help you sharpen your listening skills:
  •               Sharpen your non-verbal communication skills – “listen with your eyes”

o   Watch groups of people from far away and try to “follow their conversations” and interactions. The way to do this is: go to a coffee shop and sit where you can see a group of people and cannot hear them. Watch them talk and work out the different interactions, who supports whom, who is against whom, who is engaged, who is bored, who has switched off. Watch TV with the voice switched off and do the same exercise as above. This also works if you watch a movie in a language you do not understand. This way you practice to get the message with your eyes.
  •           Be strong remaining silent – Use your will power

o   Whenever you catch yourself wanting to tell your story instead of keeping focused on your counterpart just keep your mouth shut. Sounds bold, when we write this, but in reality that’s the way it works. You could make it a sport by counting the times you couldn’t resist and interrupted your counterpart as well as remaining silent. See which side wins…and work on your personal area for improvement.

Gravitas, not simple power!

With our clients we often discuss the pro and cons of listening and waiting for the right time for action in a meeting or conversation. It’s about the fear or risk of losing authority if you don’t interrupt others and demonstrate your power. In our opinion authority comes from gravitas – and for gravitas you need to listen to others for clearly understanding their agenda. Then you have the chance to stir the conversation in the direction you want it.

Sep 9, 2015

Contradicting your boss across cultures - Part 2

Remember from our last week’s post: “German-Spanish project team facing severe issues with quality delivery”? – Here are our expert tips:

Spaniards make everything possible
In the Spanish working culture, it is seen as a sign of engagement and commitment to do your best to deliver what your boss asks for. To tell your manager that what he is requesting is not realistic is perceived as lack of engagement and interest. You always do your utmost to meet client´s and boss´s expectations fully. It is also vital to preserve the relationship with the person and not make them lose face by pointing out that what they are requesting is not feasible. A Spanish employee would be very reluctant to put their managers or clients in such an awkward position.

Germans gain standing by contradicting
In the German culture it is a sign of professionalism to analyse your client´s or boss’s request. Should the request be unrealistic, you do let them know in the clearest possible way. They may be your managers or your clients but you are the professional who can assess what is feasible and what is not. Here the facts are important. It is your duty as an expert to teach your boss or client about them.

And how did our client team learn from this
Now, back to our international team, once we highlighted these differences to them, the breakthrough came when the German Unit Manager asked the Spanish project manager to contradict him. The Unit manager explained that this would earn the Spanish employee more professional respect.
At the end of our workshop, the team had reached an agreement. Spanish people would clearly communicate to the German management when something was not feasible or wrong.

You have to change the mindset if you want to overcome cultural differences
Implementation of this type of agreements is always difficult because of how deeply ingrained cultural values and belief systems are in our behaviors. Once people get back to their normal environment and work becomes stressful, it is difficult to implement a new behaviour. Individuals automatically go back to the old way of acting when circumstances become challenging.

How intercultural coaching can help
A longer support and follow up is required to ensure a behavioural change, so the team also enlisted our help to keep their commitments.
Enlisting the help of a coach to support the team or individuals in their journey towards change is the best way to ensure that they stay on track and continue displaying the new behavior.

Some coaching questions
to help implement a new behavior in a challenging environment are:
  • What are the triggers for the old and now undesired behavior?
  • How could you anticipate these triggers and prepare yourself to display the new behavior when they happen?
  • What would be the smallest step you could take to implement the new behavior?

It is vital to keep in mind how different values and belief systems are in different cultures. Once you know about them, you can work to integrate them. It is then that the full power of your international team can be released!! You can read more about our team coaching approach on our website here (link).

Sep 2, 2015

Contradicting your boss across cultures - Part 1

Bildergebnis für contradicting

“It is impossible!! I cannot do it…- said the senior project manager, feeling completely overwhelmed. 

“But you must!!”- Answered the unit manager- “you must contradict me!!”

This happened during one of our intercultural workshops. The client had called us in to help with a German-Spanish team that was having significant problems with the quality of their deliverables.

What would you have done in this situation?
·         try reducing scope,
·         extending deadlines,
·         scheduling more meetings,
·         adding extra testing resources?

None of this had worked so far in our client’s project. We and our intercultural coaching were their last attempt.

Cultural differences
During our preparation meetings, the Spanish sub-team had worked with our Spanish senior coach and the German sub-team with our German senior coach. Now we were all together with senior management in a kick off workshop. Once we started working on quality issues of the deliverables, we quickly realised what the problem was:

The German management team was producing requirements that the Spanish team was not able to deliver, despite their incredibly long working hours.

Two natural reactions from both sides highlight the different perspectives and frustrations:
“Why is the Spanish team not telling us that our requirements cannot be delivered?”- Was wondering the German management.

“Why is our management not appreciating the efforts we are making to deliver the next best thing to these clearly unachievable deliverables and very tight deadlines?”- was wondering the Spanish team.

It sounds like an insurmountable mismatch, doesn’t it? The impact we saw was the German management getting frustrated and could not understand the lack of quality. The Spanish team was getting frustrated at having their enormous efforts go unnoticed and their technical expertise questioned.

This was yet another clear example of how different cultures and their different value systems play a vital role in the functioning of a team. We know it is best to address them as soon as possible to ensure a successful delivery.

Find out in our next week´s post what the root cause of the problem was and how we helped the project team solve it.