Author Archives: Angie Weinberger

What we know can get in our way. This is true with intercultural knowledge too. We tend to assume that everything works exactly as it does in our home culture. And then we experience the opposite.

It could be that a train is not running when we expect one. The definition of „morning“ could be different than “roughly between 7 and 10 am”. Machines for petrol, for parking or for payments could be running in another way than what we are used to. Locks could turn the other way round.

It could be common to have a net price for a meal on the menu, a charge for the cover, a charge to open a bottle and the VAT added at the end of invoice. Maybe the tip is a lot higher or lower than what you are used to.

Crossing cultures you could be confused by words, by language, by habits, and by standards. It could be that your expectation of „normal“ is absurd in the other context. It could happen that you drink water from the tab and it is detrimental to your health.

Intercultural crossings have been as old as Europe. We (Europeans) never had to go far to hear a language that we do not understand. We know the feeling of being in a place where you have a different currency, different plugs, and different rules. We enjoy these little challenges as long as we are tourists. We enjoy our incapabilities in the language. When we have crossed many cultures and lived abroad, we tend to overestimate our intercultural competence. We tend to think that we are good at communicating with people from other cultures. This might be easy on holidays but it could be a challenge when we are managing a global and virtual team.

As managers, we then often ask our team members to follow our cultural dominance. We assume that we create the rules because we were chosen to lead. We assume that we can become irritable and impatient with our staff if they do not „get it“ right away. We assume that we don’t have to change, but the others have to.

Think of your last week.

Did you think to yourself „Why don’t they get it?“. Have you been annoyed or even angry with one of your team members from another culture? Have you said „…this process is not efficient“? These could be signs that you are not yet a global leader and that your intercultural competence has not evolved yet. It could be a sign that you still have a lot to learn in interactions with people in general but especially with people from other cultures.

Tell me what you remember.

Kind regards,

Angela

PS: This post is about a related theme on aggression at work and five methods to reduce aggressive and annoying behavior in the workplace.

 

This is for all our readers who have not yet enjoyed the Global Mobility Workbook or any of our courses on intercultural transition. 

 

The Global Mobility Workbook by @angieweinberger (2016 Print Edition)

by Angela Weinberger

Tom Jones, 32 is an expatriate in in-house consulting. He came to Zurich, Switzerland from New York in August 2011. Tom sits on the balcony of his overpriced apartment, overlooking the Grossmuenster on a Sunday night, while he types a letter into his laptop. He is writing his resignation letter to Star Bank AG. The Human Resources Business Partner Urs Schwarzkopf has reminded him that he had to resign in writing. Otherwise, the bank would not accept his resignation.  The final date to hand in his resignation is tomorrow, and he must take his resignation to HR personally to make sure that he is not making any formal mistakes this time. As Tom reads through the letter once more, he recalls some of the incidents that took place since his first encounter with Star Bank.

 

Part 1 – The first project

 

Tom was hired as a Senior Consultant at the bank’s in-house Consulting Group. He was working for McKinsey in New York when a headhunter contacted him. As he was looking for a new challenge and was promised some interesting projects within the bank, he was excited about joining. One of these projects was to build up a strategic consulting group that would target consulting senior managers on strategy implementation because the Executive Board seemed worried that some of the future strategies required this type of support.

 

Tom’s Swiss boss, Dr. Peter Schmidt (an original “Zurcher”) had been hired from Boston Consulting Group to build up the new strategy group. Peter hired consulting talents from major multinationals and Tom was the one who received the best package. Once his offer was finalized Tom agreed to move to Switzerland on June 1, 2012. When he arrived Peter explained that he was resigning as he had been offered a challenging position at another major consulting firm.

 

Tom was surprized to hear this in his very first meeting in Switzerland. The Managing Director responsible for in-house Consulting, Dr. Rainer Schultz, told Tom right away that the offer still stood and there were no other changes, even though there would probably not be a replacement for Dr. Schmidt for the next few months.

 

On his first day at Star Bank, he had a meeting with Urs Schwarzkopf, his HR contact who was very nice and gave him some important documents and the B-permit that they had requested for him. He also mentioned that the Swiss social security card (“AHV-Ausweis”) would be sent to his home address and was needed for payroll. Tom would also have to open an employee account immediately. He also sent him to the “Ausweisstelle” where he had to have his picture taken in order to receive a security card.

 

At the end of the meeting, Urs Schwarzkopf said: “Mr. Jones, if you have any questions, please call me”. Tom was wondering why Urs? had called him Mr. Jones, although Tom had requested he was called by his first name. He soon realized that many people called each other by their last names when they spoke German even when seemed appropriate to use their first name.

However, sometimes he got stuck when people shook his hands and said “Schwarzenbach” as a way of introduction, or even fairly complicated names like “Kreisweiler-Glass” because he was not sure whether they were giving him his full name or first and last name. Most of the time he would ask for a business card so that he could see the written name.

 

When Tom went to a central branch of the bank to open his employee account, no one was able to explain the system to him in English. He had to fill out a German form and was asked for identification. He assumed that there was only one type of account that he could apply for and that this was because you remained loyal to your employer. He had heard that people in Switzerland would stay with one employer for more than 10 years and that they still had lifelong employment he had also heard that most people received their salary without problems and that performance was not compensated with a bonus.

 

The people in the branch seemed quite rude to him. He was slightly shocked to wait in a line while one of the clerks was working at her desk and did not attend to waiting customers until she had finished what she was doing. As she could not speak English he had to wait for another 10 minutes for an “apprentice”. Her English was acceptable but he was worried that she had no idea what she was talking about, as an apprentice in a bank seemed a very bizarre thing. In the USA apprentices are generally used in manufacturing but not in banks. He finally got an account and his account number and called Klaus Schwarzkopf to let him know the account number.

 

Tom raised his concerns, “Klaus, Are you sure the girls down there know what they are doing? I just had to wait 30 minutes and then was served by an apprentice because no one could speak English. I hope I did the right thing and filled in the forms correctly. I think I might have a slight problem in the future when I try to call them to get things done for me. What if th e apprentice is not there?” Klaus replied by telling him to be patient and that he should start to learn German as soon as possible because this would be the best way to integrate.

 

At the office the first week went very well. Tom got a laptop and a mobile although he had to ask his boss how to get one. He would have expected these technical details to be sorted out before his arrival. He did not have access to any systems immediately but was promised by the group’s secretary that he would have access by the end of the second week. His group consisted of four consultants who had all lived and studied abroad. One of them was Turkish, two Swiss and one came from the Singapore office. As they had all started on the same day, Tom would have expected that they go out on Friday to have a few drinks together and get to know each other a little bit better.

 

When he brought up the idea they all said that they had plans for the night but that they would definitely go out one night soon. Tom went for dinner alone. By the end of the next week, he still had no access to the systems and he was waiting for a project. By the following Wednesday, Peter asked him to work on a concept for an offshoring strategy for the compliance division. Tom asked a few preliminary questions and wanted to know who the client was. Peter said “We have to show a concept to the Management Board (MB) next month. Please integrate the others especially your colleague John Woo as he is an expert“. Tom was pleased to be involved in such a high-level project immediately so he did his best and looked for input from the group.

 

When the presentation was ready he sent the first draft to Dr. Rainer Schultz (also Swiss). Tom learned quickly that he was supposed to address Rainer as “Dr. Schultz”. He did not get any feedback on the presentation and so assumed everything was going well. He gave Dr. Schultz a call finally and left a message with his secretary. The next morning Dr. Schultz called him into his office. “Tom, I have looked at your presentation. Could you please change the things I marked in red and give it back to me by tonight. I have to prepare myself”.

 

Tom was a little taken aback. There was no word of praise and it seemed very obvious to him that Dr. Schultz was not very happy about the presentation. He also got the feeling that he was no longer involved in the project. Tom was disappointed. In his opinion, he had done a lot of research and given a very professional presentation. He was appalled when he saw that Dr. Schultz had added comments with a red pen. Somehow he thought that Dr. Schultz did not take him seriously and that he had used his input to give the presentation himself. He was also not happy about the lack of feedback generally.

 

After the presentation, Dr. Schultz came into Tom’s office to let him know that everything went well and that the Vorstand had approved the budget for the project. Tom was still angry that he had not even been invited to join Dr. Schultz to the presentation and said “Honestly, I do not understand what my role in this project is going to be so I do not really know whether I should be happy about the approval or concentrate on some minor project where I am fully responsible.” Once again Dr. Schultz did not react but replied: “You have the budget and the project plan is approved. I would like you to go ahead. I have marked some milestones in the project plan and if you report to me on time I will not bother you in between. I expect you to discuss all HR-related decisions on the team with me and if you would like to have any amendments to the budget please schedule a meeting with my secretary.”

 

Questions:

  • Which cultural dimensions do you recognize here?
  • Describe briefly the differences between US and (German) Swiss cultural dimensions here.

 

Part 2 – The culture clash

As of then, the project went ahead pretty well. Tom had to change direction several times but the group was following and delivering high-quality results. Tom had to get used to the fact that it took a longer time to get things done compared to the States. When he changed the project plan after week 3, some people on the team seemed to be confused but they got used to the new direction quickly.

 

The Turkish colleague gave Tom a hint “Look, you have to involve us before you decide any major changes in direction. We would like to participate in what is happening”. By week 6 Tom got a call from Dr. Schultz saying, “I actually expected your report yesterday. I assume you have been too busy. Can you come to my office at 3 p.m. and give me an update on milestone 1.” “Sure I will,”, Tom said wondering what milestone 1 actually was.

 

Then he remembered the original project plan. He had totally forgotten that Dr. Schultz had taken his first project plan very seriously and even marked out some milestones. From previous projects, Tom knew that his best plan would never match reality. However, he usually did a weekly status check on Friday so decided to email his status check off from the last week to Dr. Schultz with a brief explanation. “Rainer, FYI – Let’s discuss later, Tom”.

When Tom came to Dr. Schultz’s office his door was closed. Tom had learned by now that a closed door was a sign of privacy. He had to pass the secretary. He didn’t want to wait because the older lady stated something in German (“Dr. Schultz ist am Telefon. Sie dürfen nicht stören.”).

 

Tom did not understand enough German but could read the expression on her face. When Dr. Schultz finally asked him to come in he even apologized for Frau Meier’s behavior.

Then he got very serious, “Mr. Jones, we have to talk. First of all, I would like you not to send these important documents via email. I do not want it to get into the wrong hands. Secondly, I would prefer it if you could address me properly next time. I do not remember the two of us going out for a beer and becoming close friends. I am afraid I have not explained clearly that the project plan is already approved by the Management Board. You cannot change it after approval.”

Tom was puzzled. Dr. Schultz sighed and shrugged, “I have the feeling that you are doing whatever you want to do and you do not have any respect for me. If you continue to work like this I will have to send you back to America. You are very expensive and you are overstretching my budget. I had very high expectations of you and after the first presentation I thought that the project would be a great success but now you have changed everything without consulting me and I am inclined to cut off your budget. Why did you not follow the plan as we had discussed it?”

Tom was very confused and angry as well, “I do not know what your problem is Dr. Schultz. The initial project plan was not meant to be final. It was a starting point for the first two weeks. I did not even know whether we had a budget when I drafted the plan. Also, I had no idea about the resources that are available. So I had to factor those into my initial plan. Some people here have a very low work attitude. It takes ages until things get done and no one even apologizes. We spent far too much time in meetings, at lunches and coffees without doing any real work and I assume this is because you pay those socialist wages to people and do not reward good performance. How could I have known all these things at the beginning? You did not give me any explanation nor did you put me in touch with the right people. Why are you so keen on sticking to an old plan?”

At the same time, Tom was thinking to himself: “I do not understand you. Maybe it is because I am not a doctor. I only have an MBA from Princeton but I assume that this is not good enough in this country.”

Dr. Schultz was very quiet. Tom could tell he was thinking about the conversation and took a sip of water to calm down. Then Dr. Schultz finally said: “OK, I understand we have a different approach to planning and budgeting. Next time you change something I would like to be informed about it. Otherwise, I look bad in front of the MB members as if I have no control over my team.“

He knew that Tom would manage to get the outcome the MB wanted but he found him very arrogant and very American. Tom started to send Dr. Schultz a weekly update, a crisis was averted and the project seemed to be progressing steadily.

Questions

  • How could Tom have improved his situation?
  • What could Dr. Schultz, Urs Schwarzkopf, and others have done to support Tom’s transition?
  • Why do you think this is a typical Global Mobility case?

 

 

Part 3 – Getting organized

 

After four weeks, Tom finally started to organize his private life in Switzerland. He was looking for an apartment with the bank’s relocation service, Ms. Ulrike Apfel. Ms. Apfel found the nice and expensive apartment in the Niederdorf with its bars and pubs. Tom liked the place immediately. Ms. Apfel called him and explained him the details of his lease contract in English. The contract was in German and his German was enough to order a beer but he certainly did not understand any of the legal languages. He asked for a translation but Ms. Apfel said that the translation could not be paid for by the company. He would have to pay the translation out of his own pocket. So he signed the contract trusting that Ulrike Apfel was authorized because she was a reliable and service oriented.

Personally, life seemed to improve after a few months. Tom met a few other expats but gave up on the idea of meeting Swiss friends. They had a good time and spend a lot of weekends watching the Swiss ice hockey team and the soccer championship. They enjoyed the highlights of Swiss culture (skiing, hiking, carnivals, street parades, opera). The only Swiss person he spent time with was a man who had lived in the US as a student, who was very open and showed Tom some nice hikes in the Swiss national park. However, Tom got fed up with being a tourist and he could not see any added value in being in Switzerland. In-house Consulting might as well hire a Swiss in his opinion, to get on with the project. Tom had left his girlfriend in the US to come to Zurich and now he started regretting that career decision.

For Christmas, he flew back to the US and met her but she still could not understand him. She wanted to have a serious relationship and she had no intention of giving up her career for a man living in a foreign country. His mood worsened after he flew back to Zurich in January. The weather was miserable and he was not really enjoying his job and felt useless. Then he found out that the payroll department had made some adjustments in his personal account. Again he was very angry about the fact that things had been changed and that he had not been informed. Urs Schwarzkopf said. “You were on vacation I could not reach you in the office”. Tom could not understand why he did not send an email but he was too angry to reply in a nice manner so he hung up the phone.

Tom’s anger exploded the next morning when he found out he could not draw any money from the cash machine because his account was overdrawn now. He called Klaus again “Klaus, what the hell is going on with that payroll? Now I cannot even get any cash. Can you explain this to me?” Klaus replied: “Well, they have asked you several times to hand in your AHV-Ausweis and you did not hand it in. There was a correction necessary for all the social security you had not paid yet basically August to December 2011. If they had waited, the correction would not work in our system any longer.”

Tom thought that this was a joke. He had totally forgotten about the AHV-Ausweis. He found it in a pile of letters from his early days. Ashe had never understood the letters and as nobody had given him a clear explanation, he had assumed that the AHV-Ausweis would be sent to his employer directly. He was getting very frustrated and complained to the other expats about HR. Others had similar experiences and they decided that coming to Switzerland was a very difficult move.  

In April 2012 the project was at a stage where the MB found that they had expected more savings from offshoring of the compliance processes. Tom had been wondering why nobody had questioned the business case earlier. When his assignment was complete, he handed it over to Dr. Schultz in June and waited for his project bonus. The project bonus was paid in July in addition to the regular bonus payment in February. For Tom, the amount of 15’000 CHF seemed ridiculously low. At this point, Tom decided that there was no point in staying. Dr. Schultz was fine with the decision, as he had to get rid of the highly paid consultants. The budget was reduced and there was a crisis in sight.

However having missed his close friends and his girlfriend, Tom tried to find a new job in New York. When he discussed his plans with the relocation service, Ms. Apfel alerted him to the fact he had a rental lease for three years. This was obviously a problem. Tom called Urs Schwarzkopf because he was sure that the bank would pay for any double rent but was told,“ Sorry Tom, this is your problem. You have signed the contract and the bank cannot be held liable for your personal matters.”

Tom could not believe what he heard.

—-

The Global Mobility Workbook

Exercise

3)   Put yourself into the shoes of Tom and write a letter to a good friend about your situation. Observe your emotional reactions and reflect on them.

 

Wanna buy the Global Mobility Workbook?

We have published updated and enhanced the print edition: ISBN 978-39524284-1-2.

You find it at your favorite bookseller or here: Amazon.com.

Global Competency Model by Weinberger (2014)
Weinberger (2014)

 

For the last two weeks, we had started the journey of the “Future of Work (#FoW)” and we asked you what you would need to learn if you wanted to become an entrepreneur in 2018.

If you are an entrepreneur already, you probably know that health and time are your most important assets. You would, therefore, ensure that you exercise, relax and watch your nutrition. You would also guard your time and try to be helpful at the same time. Most importantly, you would celebrate your close friends and family. They will probably stand by you when the going gets rough or when the rent doesn’t get paid.

You are not able to hide behind a manager and let her do the tough jobs only so you can complain that she never lets you do anything exciting. As an entrepreneur, you will stand in the limelight and you will need to perform all of your billable time.

What I have learned over the last few years is that “learning new stuff” took a new dimension for me when I started my business because, in the beginning, you have zero help. You can source support but it is usually too expensive so you will do a lot of tasks yourself that were done by other people in the corporate world. You might have been used to a team and never had to change the paper in the printer. You had a PA who would claim your expenses. Maybe you had a business development professional who would spice up your proposals. You certainly did not have to raise invoices and chase their payments.

On a skill level, we can always improve or learn something. We even need to practice in order not to forget.

If you feel you already know everything, you could write a book or learn Mandarin or Arabic. This will probably humble you.

Most of you have one theme in common. You are overwhelmed and stressed. One of the reasons is perfectionism, another is the need to optimize life as if it was a business. Everything is a project. The first communion of your daughter an event. The light exercise is a fitness marathon. A date with someone is a juggling exercise and creates anxiety as you will need everything to be on the “promi-dinner” standard. Your apartment is mega-clean because you only accept hotel standard nowadays. Do you also fold the toilet paper into a triangle shape sometimes and lay a piece of chocolate on your partner’s cushion?

So how do you prioritize your learning?

Give room for creation.

When you are satisfied with your work because you have a strong purpose, the amount of time you put in is not really that relevant. Your creative process needs a different space than a factory-style task. Deep satisfaction comes from creation, not from the routine and administration. I also believe you can only monetize creation. Routine can be automated and outsourced.

We created the RockMe! App to increase stress for you. No joke. You will probably feel under pressure to achieve when you work with a coach. You might experience though that your energy is more targeted. You will achieve what is important to you and you will do it with pleasure. I advise you to write your three major goals for 2018 in present tense as if you had already achieved them. If you are a visual person try to find an image or photo for every one of the three future states you would like to achieve.

As soon as you start working with the app one of our coaches will check in with you on a regular basis to see how you are getting ahead. Will this cost you anything? Yes. You will need to give us feedback. If you find our work helpful, we assume that you will recommend GPT and the RockMe! App to all your contacts and friends. That’s all.

Become the leader you want to be and work with our RockMe! App. Contact Lucie Koch to have an account set up for you.

I wish you a productive week.

Kind regards,

Angie Weinberger

P.S.: Don’t forget to check out Lucie’s post on Expat children and Identity Crisis.

Plus, read this article if you are interested in 12 tips for working virtually in a multicultural team.

Do you sometimes wonder when you update a spreadsheet, database or presentation, why you went to university in the first place? Do you sometimes feel in meetings that your potential is not fully utilized? Or when you run a team, are you the Chief Entertainer? Are you the parent cleaning up the toys after the kids, trying to stop them from fighting about the electronic devices, the projects and the recognition (i.e. bonus)?

Do you regularly try to calm the storm when one of your colleagues thinks she is right and the other one says that she started picking on him for no reason?

Companies and organizations feel like kindergarten. I don’t want to sound mean but I as a leader you spend a large part of your day solving problems, easing difficult relationships, convincing colleagues to collaborate (instead of fighting) and cleaning up sloppy data entries from unmotivated service providers who lost touch to the end client and lost pride in their work as they are working in a data factory.

We need to deconstruct career and build a new concept for a fulfilled professional life. Last week we started to discuss the future of work and how it will affect your “career”. We encouraged you to think like an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs have a purpose in their life. They know why they roll up a stone every day, they have an aim for their daily efforts. Here are five questions for you to reflect on:

1) What if you wanted or had to become an entrepreneur early next year?
2) What would be your three main goals for 2018?
3) Which knowledge can you build on?
4) Which critical skills do you want to develop further?
5) Which attitude would you need and which beliefs would you have to let go of?

You can write the answers down for your or record them with us now. If you would like to record your answers in our RockMe! App please email Lucie Koch so we can set you up there.

We recommend you also listen to and read this:

Podcast by Sundae Bean on Expat Life Upgrade

“The future of work is a complex thing” featuring Luke Skywalker and Buffy by the Libby.

Kai Beckmann’s take on the future of work Are we Curious Enough for the Future of Work?

Join the discussion on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter with #FoW.

 

My successful friends and I also faced job losses, health issues or international moves in the past. I observe how when we are pulled out of our program of going to work and caring for family, we open up to change.

It is more difficult to change when you are not forced to. When we feel healthy enough we don’t feel like watching our diet or go to the doctor for a check-up.

It is harder to make an effort to learn when you have a well-paid managerial job. The reason for this is not always time. Learning occurs when we stretch outside of our comfort zones but who will do that unless he or she is pushed a little?

Where are the risk-takers, who voluntarily expose themselves to learning situations that keep their brains active? Is an international career and transition into another culture one of those potential stretches you could do? Is it running your own company? Or becoming a mentor to a more junior professional in your industry?

In today’s global and digital world, do you still want to depend on an “employer” and make your self-worth dependent on a title such as “Vice President” or “Senior Manager”? Is that really driving you? Is another suit, car or holiday really going to make your life so much better?

We believe at GPT that we need to deconstruct “career”. If you think about your own professional life, you might be experiencing automation, the death of industry and uberization. Have you asked yourself if you will still have a “retirement” in 20 or 30 years?

Maybe you won’t even stop “working” because your work gives you purpose.

Being a Gen-X, I believe in ‘work hard, play hard’ and at the same time, I would like to make a contribution to the world.

Why would you use all of your energy to make a multinational more successful?

Do you really want to spend hours discussing words on a presentation or numbers in a business case?

We could go on and become the ”Walking Dead” of the workforce.

We could also say that we develop ourselves into the leaders that we really want to be.

Instead of thinking about our next promotion, more money, and the next career step, we could think about what we would like to contribute to the world. We could brainstorm a vision: why do we get up in the morning? We could think about how we can improve society, our company or even our neighborhood. We could write down what we would do every day for a better world. We could paint it, photograph it and have a vision board (on Pinterest).

Would that not make you happy and be better than “making a living”?

Kind regards,

Angie Weinberger

P.S.: related to this topic is also this short blog post from the Middle Finger Project