Earlier this year, I received an invitation from a company to co-deliver a HR Leadership Excellence workshop in Asia. Fast-forward a few months, and I was in Bangkok, in front of delegates from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Mongolia. Quite a mix of cultures, as well as people with different levels of HR experience working for companies in a variety of industries, with headcounts ranging from a couple of hundred to tens of thousands.
Culture is fascinating to me. Companies attempt to define global cultures, with those that do it well remembering that local culture does also matter. Likewise, when introducing new brands successfully, consideration is given to local culture. However, not all brand launches are successful, so there are plenty of stories about when it goes wrong. I have one to share, and the memory of it was prompted by the fact there were Mongolian delegates on this HR Leadership workshop.
Going back to the late 1990s, I was living and working in Kazakhstan. A multinational tobacco company was launching a new brand of cigarette and named it after Genghis Khan. A lot of time and money was spent in preparation for the grand launch, which included someone dressed as the Mongol warrior riding on horseback into the ballroom of the five-star hotel where the launch was being held. Things were going really well, until the audience was asked for questions. The first hand went up. “Why did you choose to name a product for launch in Kazakhstan after a ruthless warrior who murdered millions of Kazakhs? Do you think he was a hero?”
The background to the decision was that a European chose the brand name and pushed for the launch, without stopping to ask any locals in their team for their input. So without considering the choice from a different point of view, the decision was made. How many times can you think of when you have seen that happen? And what have been the consequences?
It’s not only products and company culture that need to be considered when working internationally, but also sensitivity and sensibility when travelling. Sometimes it is just the simple things, such as checking any health or security requirements for the country you will be visiting. At other times, it may be that you need to do a little research into recent events to be aware of other issues.
As I prepared for my visit to Thailand, I remembered that the country was still in official mourning following the death of their King. I wanted to know if there were any guidelines about appropriate clothing during this time and sure enough, advice was to avoid wearing bright colours, to be respectful to the Thai people at this time. So my new red dress stayed at home.
If you are experiencing cultural challenges in your company and need help in looking at things from a different point of view, contact me for a no-obligation discussion.