Cultural Awareness in Global Change Management: Regional Differences
Written by Lisa Kempton
Change is a universal human experience to which every single person in the world can relate. Yet, people are different. They have their own unique cultures―those ideas and beliefs that influence their responses and expectations during times of change. During a virtual panel discussion, Prosci Global Partners shared insights from their experiences facilitating training programs, coaching leaders and teams, and building change capability in organizations outside the United States and Canada.
See Change Through a Global Lens
Prosci's Best Practices in Change Management research shows that 88% of change management professionals find cultural awareness important or very important, and a similar number feel having globally literate leaders is very important. Here's what our Global Partners have to say about the similarities and differences they experience in other parts of the world.
In the U.S., we get a dominant Western English-speaking view, including a fairly high degree of awareness and acceptance of change management. That’s not always the case around the world, where awareness can range from limited to emerging, and that presents challenges. Can you describe an attribute of your culture that supports effective change management?
Thanes: Having a supportive leader is important [in the Asia-Pacific region] because the culture respects leaders and does not question them. When you have good leaders, every employee follows them. That makes change easier.
Tom: In Africa, a few aspects of the culture affect change management. One is the power distance, or how easy it is for people to access authority. In some situations, it isn't easy. But we also have collectivism, which is a strong feeling of identity linked to a group. We call that Ubuntu, and this pressure to conform helps people come along with the group. We also have a lot of dialogue and consultation, which is a hallmark of many of the cultures in this region.
Krzysztof: In our part of Europe, especially in Poland, people are very happy to be engaged and involved. There is some power distance that makes it difficult for them to get on board by themselves. But when they are invited, they are very loyal.
Anna: In Denmark, we move fairly well on the maturity scale when applying change management. One cultural aspect that might explain this is that although most people are resistant to change, they are even more uncomfortable with uncertainty. Of all global cultures, we hold one of the highest scores on the dimension of adversity avoidance. This discomfort might actually be good motivation to address barriers that follow change.
Victor: One aspect of culture in Latin America is that 85% of companies are family-owned businesses, which account for 60% of the region's GDP and employ 70% of the workforce. Having a good leader is important, of course, so knowing who these regional business owners are helps you identify the right sponsor. Another cultural point is the sense of responsibility towards others. That is a key element of Latin American culture that we can use in change management in Latin America.
Many of us still need to gain commitment and buy-in for change management. In the Prosci research, there are five ways we're doing that, the top way being benefit realization. How do you adapt your “why change management” message to fit your culture?
Source: Prosci Best Practices in Change Management – 11th Edition
Thanes: In Asia, it’s commonly about completing a project and starting a new one immediately after that. What’s even more devastating is working on the same project again and again in the name of improvement or enhancement. Many fail to realize that it takes more commitment from employees to drive the value through the project. They still fail to understand that only the employee has the ability to create value by adopting project changes. Because exposure to change management is still lacking, using poor results from past projects to illustrate its inability to deliver results will surely leave a lasting impact, especially with senior managers who need to understand the significance of having change management in an organization.
Anna: Although we have a range of diversity in change management maturity, we are also doing fairly well on the maturity scale, especially in applying change management. One of the reasons could be explained by culture. Though most people are resistant to change, Danes are even more uncomfortable with uncertainty. We actually hold one of the highest scores on uncertainty avoidance (5.22 or 4th place, according to the Globe Study). That discomfort might actually be motivation for taming the chaos that follows change.
From the five top findings, I would say that project impact and risk management are most important to us. Although all humans rely on trust, what generates trust has big cultural variations. For Danish people, being timely and keeping deadlines is one of the primary factors of trust. Therefore, tapping into the correlation between change management and keeping project timelines, budgets and objectives is probably one of our most commonly used reasons for change management.
Krzysztof: Most leaders in our parts of Europe don't connect change and the human side with the business. They think more about the technical side. So, the most common approach is to talk about employee reaction and resistance. The drawback is that it leads to change management being considered superficially, mostly through the lenses of communications and reactive change management. There is certainly a need to speak to leaders about change management in the language they understand, but it's self-limiting. Unfortunately, we have not matured yet.
Tom: [In Latin America,] there's a strong need to contextualize why we want to do change management. We often don't start at the beginning of a project. Instead change management gets called in the middle of the project, so we adapt “why change management,” to the resistance being felt at that time. The velocity of change is also a reason. There's so much change and it’s happening so much quicker that the business case for doing change management tends to focus on how quickly we can make the change happen in terms of adoption and utilization by people. So it's not just about the financial return. It’s also about making sure we can quickly get this change to happen because, guess what? Next year, we're going to come back and change again.