Cultures are Different – People are Not!

When a client called last Spring with an intriguing invitation, it was one that I’d heard before. Would I take our program across the world to her team in India? It was quite an invitation, but I waited for the trade-off that I thought might come next.

I’ve been asked to lead a global program before, and it usually comes with a trade-off. Can you…coach 40 people in a half day instead of 10 people in a full day? Can you run a program remotely? Can you take out the videotaping and coaching? And yes, we can do all of those things. But, the modified formats can dilute the program and reduce the impact that we have. So, I waited.

But, there was no trade-off to this request. This leader was focused on consistency and impact. “The remote leaders are as much a part of my team as the domestic leaders. I want the coaching experience and the development opportunity to be the same.”

And, that seemed like the right reason to travel to India.

Coaching a leader from a different culture was not a new idea to me. Our workshops have included managers and leaders from many different cultures for more than two decades. Executive coaching has exposed me to leaders from different countries with diverse beliefs, but the skill of communicating to drive influence and impact is a universal one. India would be a new experience for me, and I was excited to work with these leaders and learn more about their challenges and opportunities to influence colleagues who were more than 9,000 miles away.

So, what was different?

Timing and exposure for the remote leaders.

When you talk to a leader about influencing groups, you start by understanding the kind of visibility and opportunity they have. And for teams that work more than eight hours ahead, that exposure can be the most difficult part.

Calls with US colleagues and leaders often take place late at night. Their report out segments are five minutes, not 30 minutes. So, communication is short and makes it difficult to position clear messaging and takeaways.

Add to it the inconvenience of participating on a call late at night. I learned that remote managers reduce the limited visibility they have by turning off video on calls and participating from home where the internet is less consistent.

So, even when they have the potential for exposure, they aren’t leveraging it. Would you want to be on video at 10pm? Unintentionally, they are more absent than they realize. An invisible listener on a call is easily forgotten and actually, often isn’t there. Because they are usually only listeners, they tend to drop out of the big group calls. They’ve gotten complacent as listeners and as a result, they miss some of the very insights that could help them build relationships across the company…even from a great distance.

When we work with any group, we label remote communication as the hardest scenario for leaders and managers to build their brands. And while many recognize it isn’t their strongest opportunity, for these leaders it is their only one. The ability to establish impact with the voice is more critical to this group than any other group across the company. They are always remote, it’s always late in their day and it’s all they have to gain visibility.

So, their communication skills have to be crisp, clear and compelling.

It means all of their impressions are created through the strength of the voice. In cultures where English is a second language, that’s a tall expectation. And in India, the speech habits are often talking fast, talking softly and running syllables together. When words aren’t understood and speech patterns move quickly, impressions form of an individual who can’t make a point, isn’t really committed to the project at hand and seems uncomfortable communicating in front of a group.

Nothing could be further from the truth with the team I met.

They were bright, engaging and very earnest about their work and their impact. And, they left every ounce of skepticism at home the day that I met them. They were eager to learn, grateful for the feedback and quite good with the concepts. As engineers, they just hadn’t thought about impressions and they didn’t have the tools to influence those impressions.

I worked on fundamentals to improve the voice impression from rate of speech and articulation to voice projection and expression. And knowing how they fit within a broader corporate picture, gave me an opportunity to look further at their desire to increase visibility.

How do you solve for visibility with a remote team?

It isn’t easy. You can’t change time zones, but you can help people think beyond the existing meeting structure and the limitations of their current visibility. Here’s what I told them:

Build Relationships. If you want increased visibility, don’t wait for this five minute call to be the only vehicle. Reach out beyond the current project and audience. Build new connections and relationships across the company. Engineers aren’t always great at doing that among their own work groups. Thinking about an internal network that cuts across divisions takes work.

Know the Influencers. Because I knew this company, I was able to provide real examples of people who could influence their next opportunity. It isn’t always one connection or one phone call. If you’re committed to new opportunities in a company, invest the time to know who influences those opportunities. It takes time to build trust, so get focused on the effort.

Deliver a Sound Bite. Prepare for calls. Take your five minutes of visibility seriously. Learn how to make your point and drive home a sound bite. If you’re out of sight, you are often not top of mind. But, you can make an effort to be. And if you miss the opportunity, send a note. Leverage opportunities. Don’t skip them.

Strengthen your Presence. Personal brand and executive presence were new concepts for the groups I met. Technology groups are like professional groups. They are valued for what they know, and they don’t always connect that the way things are said determines whether they get heard.

Here’s my takeaway:

Cultures are different, but people are not. My thirty years’ experience brought as much value to leaders in India as we see weekly in our US-based programs. In fact, it may have brought more. And, that’s because it brought together two concepts: the fundamentals and the relationships. Just as we have done for their US leaders, we were able to connect their roles into the organization through communication skills and relationship knowledge.

The group in India validated this. While they have had core training, they don’t have access to resources who know their companies and their leaders. And, they found the insight on the group they were trying to influence very helpful in considering their brand and their impact.

While this was my first trip to India, I reached out to other clients with global and remote leaders to ask if the dynamics were similar. And, they validated that what I learned from one company rings universally true for many of them.

So, I’m recanting my skeptical response and worry about trade-offs. The core reason to take a US-based resource to your global offices is that they are a US-based resource. And, if we know your leaders here, then we’ll be more successful than others in helping the remote leaders gain influence with them.

It took one of my most trusted relationships to show me that, and now I believe it. So, ask me about global travel again. I’m ready to connect your leaders.

Call us when you need us!