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I have this tendency to not want to work with Germans who have just arrived in Switzerland. I end up seeing too many of my own mishaps and small failures back when I was a newbie in Switzerland. Instead of reminiscing about my failures however, l would like you to meet Dr. Rainer Schulz.

This German leader from one of the cases from The Global Mobility Workbook (2019) has never done any intercultural training. He manages a global team which is mainly based in Switzerland exactly like he manages everybody in Frankfurt. Tom Jones, the main character in this case study challenges a lot of his assumptions about hierarchy and collaboration.

At the age of 55, Dr. Schulz cannot get over the fact that everyone in Switzerland goes to first name and “Du” in no time. Even his children call him stuck up and old-fashioned. Dr. Schulz is a typical example of someone stuck in their own cultural preferences. He could have made an effort and offered Tom the first name basis. He could have tried to build trust when they began working together. Instead, he just cannot get out of his comfort zone, hides behind his intellectual competence, relationship to the Management Board and his assistant. 

Tom on the other hand, is a little naive and not even aware of intercultural differences. He made an effort to learn German but he is still depressed. He attributes his issues to others. His weakness in this situation is that he does not take responsibility for his learning and progress. Tom also limits himself and could have done more to work better with Rainer. Tom quits the company, an assignment failed, the retention score is down and people are even more convinced that working with people from other cultures is just too hard. No happily ever after.

Having lived here in Zurich for over 10 years now, I also prefer to run my life Swiss-style. Despite considering myself open and tolerant, I still mess up intercultural communication. I’m not always understood and sometimes I’m just wrong. I recently got into a long discussion about left and right and I know that I have a weakness there. At the end I had to find out that I muddled up left and right (again!).

Communication across Cultures is a Challenge

My team members sometimes don’t do what I thought I had asked them to do. Then there is the occasional issue where I thought I had sent an email with a spreadsheet attachment but the person at the other end never received it. We hop on a conference call to discuss a topic with the assumption that the other person has the spreadsheet in front of them but IT Security blocked it. The whole conversation goes in circles. (Remind me to explain the “Asian Loop” to you sometime.) 

And yes, there could be plenty of reasons behind these issues. Maybe it’s “not my fault” or “not my responsibility”.

[tweetthis]If we don’t achieve our goals as leaders, then we are not good enough as leaders. [/tweetthis]

Do you also in such situations then tend to take control and do everything yourself?

And does that then lead you to burnout, depression or anger?

Does your partnership or family life suffer?

I have had to learn to accept the fact that people are as diverse as sand corns or snow flakes. You can learn to improve your leadership style but it is a never ending story of continued failures. Eventually you’ll get the swing and then you are asked to retire from the working world…

(Isn’t it crazy that our society doesn’t value the experience of our elders? Personally I intend to work until the day I die… hopefully with a nicely branded fountain pen in my hand.)

With this post I would like to give you an intercultural explanation to these phenomena and help you get out of your cultural comfort zone.

What is Global Competency in Global Mobility?

Global Competency is the ability to work effectively in a global, complex environment with a high level of stress, while achieving goals sustainably and in accordance with your own resources”. (Weinberger, 2019)

One of the major themes in my work with clients is on how they can improve their relationships at work. In order to find a new role in the Swiss market a number of trusted relationships are required. Relationships are usually built through a third-party introduction, at events and through long-lasting cooperation. And while this is similar in Germany, the German approach to building relationships always has a hierarchical component. Usually, the younger or newer members of the crew are treated with a little less respect. Globally competent leaders know how to gauge the hierarchy level and address the person according to status and seniority. However, in Switzerland where 70% of your interactions are with other expats it is trickier than in Germany.

You can almost assume that everyone is on your experience and intellectual level. And most locals are modest, so they could easily be underestimated.

Five Reasons why You might find it hard

  1. You are shy, introverted or not convinced that they are good enough to deserve success. Many partners suffer from the “impostor syndrome”, a psychological state of mind where people doubt their own accomplishments or consider themselves frauds just about to be exposed, especially if their career-driving partner just got another promotion in another country.
  2. You are embarrassed and ashamed of being “unemployed” in a society where most of your self-worth is driven by your career and how busy you are.
  3. You come from a culture where achievement is overly emphasized and ascription is considered an unfair privilege while at the same time they are blindsided by the fact that they had an ascribed status in their home turf.  Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner used to associate the achievement dimension with mainly protestant work ethic and belief. However, even if Switzerland is the home of Zwingli and Calvin, we have catholic cantons as well and status is often equal with family name, wealth and also how many generations you have already been a member of this society. So, there is still a strong ascription component that is not so obvious to outsiders. you don’t recognize that you have been in the out-group until you join the “Circle of Trust”.
  4. You are not aware of how they come across in person and assume that your style and behavior is “normal”. You have not yet learned to read the cultural cues that would indicate to them that they might be too pushy or even rude. A common example in Switzerland is that expats tend to overstretch a time commitment. For a society that runs on the clock and is a role model of the sequential time approach according to E.T. Hall’s time dimensions, this is often creating a lot of stress for the other person.
  5. You are sending messages with which in your home turf you would mark  your status such as the “Dr.” title in Germany or a certain seniority by name-dropping the influential VIP’s you used to hang out with but in Switzerland for example this is either not understood or considered boasting, egocentric and merely annoying. 

Over the years of running my own business and projects I often noticed that all the tools I tested to maintain a strategic approach to networking failed miserably with the extensive network that I’ve built over my professional life. 

So, I decided to let go of “strategy” and follow my gut and memory. I realized that the best idea is not to worry too much about “contact segmentation”. We Germans love the word “Begriffsabgrenzung”, so we also do this to our social life (“Bekannter, Kollege, Freund, Verwandter, Familie, Partner, Ehepartner…”). It’s a step-by-step approach showing how much you trust the other person.

The same segmentation exists in Switzerland, but there are “false friends”, e.g. the word “Kollege” means “Work Colleague” in High German and “Friend” in Swiss German. The meaning of the informal way of addressing a person with “Du” has a different meaning in Switzerland than in Germany.

Without intercultural training a German manager will behave like a bull in a China shop in Switzerland – completely unintentionally. Hence, working with German managers in the “honeymoon phase” is a lot of work for the trainer or coach. I prefer to work with you when you are beyond the honeymoon phase and you understand that you might not function in Switzerland like you are used to.

My approach after 10 years in Zurich

Some of my colleagues in the #GlobalMobility world have become friends over the years and some of my best friends from the university days or early career are colleagues or clients now. Some of my team members have almost become family and some of my family members work in the same field or closely related ones. And some friends will never pay you while others will insist on giving back. The world is colorful and so are people.

While saying this, I don’t want to imply that you have to like everybody you work with and everybody you network with. However, it’s another atmosphere for collaboration and innovation when you can fully trust the other person without a doubt.

When you know in your head and in your heart, that this person would never talk badly about you behind your back and would not spill your secrets with your competitors. I thrive in safe and collaborative environments but these require “relationship work”.

[tweetthis]We can’t stay on the task-level (the “Sachebene”, one of my favorite German words) if we want to be great leaders in a globalized world.[/tweetthis]

Let me know what you are doing today to work on your business relationships.

The Expat Experience (XX): Walking alone at the shores of lake Zurich on a rainy Sunday morning.

 

Why buy us?

“Global Mobility” is currently undergoing a global transformation. New technologies, the constant evolution of companies, generational diversity and political situations have evolved the roles and lives of mobile professionals faster than existing policies can keep up, calling for a clear focus on the processes to be updated to cater better for the people driving Global Mobility.

Are you as a Global Mobility Professional feeling overwhelmed by the speed and scope of this ‘boom’? Perhaps you need to introduce yourself to the field and get a better, broader overview of Global Mobility. 

Maybe you are in HR or a line manager and want to ensure that you are becoming an employer of choice for younger generations demanding “Global Mobility” as a prerequisite for working with you. 

Or, you are just on the brink of deciding for or against an international assignment as an expat or expat family and want to understand the language we use better.

How we will help you

Working with “The Global Mobility Workbook” and Angie Weinberger will enable you to:

  • run your Global Mobility in a more strategic way by deeper understanding trends and drivers of Global Mobility
  • develop and sort out your legal framework, policies, guidelines, exception management,
  • give you models for improving how you explain what we do to the outside world,
  • support expats and their spouses and enhance their “Expat Experience” through training, coaching and deeper understanding of the psychological effects of cultural adjustment,
  • develop your professional profile and “Global Competency”.

In order to make the expat experience worthwhile for their careers and support for their families even better, it takes people who want more than ticking off a checklist.

It takes dedicated professionals and it needs personal communication with the entire expat family. We want to bring the human touch back into our process-driven work.

That is just the tip of what Global Mobility truly is, and the Global Mobility Workbook provides not only a baseline starting point to understanding the field but is a hands-on manual for people in HR, line managers, expats and their spouses.

What you can expect from us

  • Establishing the Global Mobility Brand. Strategic classification of international assignments for the “business case”, integration of the assignment in succession planning and more. 
  • Optimizing the Global Mobility Process. Optimizing the operational handling of Global Mobility in all corporate processes from recruiting, via talent development to localisation. We explain basic principles without the technical details that overwhelm beginners in the field.
  • Defining the Global Mobility Clients. Focusing on the experience of expatriates and their spouses, as well as on the process of monitoring those who are affected, including their safety and health. We also give an overview of emergency situations.
  • Building the Global Mobility Team. Presenting Global Competency as a key component in the career development of Global Mobility Professionals. It’s a mix of knowledge, attitude, skills, reflected experience and body learning. We also coach you along the way and develop an online learning plan together.

It’s a workbook so it engages you with:

    • Goal Setting: In the beginning of our journey together you set goals for yourself.
    • Homework: Most chapters come with a suggestion of a homework.
    • 12 Case Studies: In addition we provide downloadable cases studies from daily business scenarios. These present you with various international mobility challenges to engage with and analyze. 
    • 7 Templates: We share templates upon request.
    • 5 Tools: We send you examples how you can run your operations and projects
    • 3 Checklists: Global Recruitment, Relocation, Social security considerations
    • 12 months RockMeApp: Free access to the RockMeApp, our career planner and online coaching platform (value 250 CHF/USD).

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About the Author

Angie Weinberger is the Global Mobility Coach. She combines executive coaching, her long-standing Global Mobility expertise and workshop facilitation skills into programs for Global Mobility Professionals, Expats and Expat Spouses. She’s a recognized guest lecturer in “Global Mobility” and “Intercultural Management” and has worked in HR with an international focus for over 20 years.

Previously she wrote “The Global Career Workbook” (2016). She also wrote a German textbook on managing international assignment into and out of Germany published in 2009, 2010 and 2011. This publication triggered her interest in writing again.

Angie’s current projects include building the Global Mobility Function for a private bank, the development of a web application for online coaching called RockMeApp and RockMeRetreat

Angie also defines herself as an author, social media junkie and Bollywood lover. She has lived and worked in Germany, Switzerland, the UK, India and Australia.

When Angie is not working she enjoys hiking in the Swiss countryside, watches movies and overindulges on the cooking of her Pakistani partner.