Ivey Publishing

Working Cross Culturally: Forget "Business as Usual"

A young professional at CPA Solutions, a U.S.-based multinational company, has to involve herself in a critical situation in Moscow that could damage the company’s reputation. Should she follow the usual approach to appease her superiors, or a relationship-based approach?

This case provides learning opportunities for students preparing to enter the globalized business world. It is designed for students of global leadership courses at all levels of cross-cultural competence. 

We spoke with Professor Lynn Imai and Kanina Blanchard from Ivey Business School in London, Canada, for deeper perspectives on their case, Working Cross-Culturally: Forget Business as Usual.

Q: This is a very relevant topic for many business professionals, yet there aren’t many cases that focus on it. Do you have insight on why that is? Is that what initially inspired you to write this case?

Kanina Blanchard: 

Kanina Blanchard

It is common to talk about, teach and mentor those engaging internationally on topics such as how to shake hands, whether to take gifts and how to say hello and engage in social settings. In my experience, it is the deeper conversations that have most supported my efforts to build meaningful relationships. In fact topics such as "what does a relationship mean?" vary across geographies and cultures!

Although there are many commonalities in the international world of work (from airports to office towers, from restaurant fare to board rooms), having a mindset that embraces the need to dig deeper, exploring what underlies the surface, is most valuable.  I encourage my clients and students to interrogate the complexities and the nuanced realities of different cultures as opposed to being content to operate at a level of superficial comfort.

My focus in writing cases is to open dialogue and open eyes, hearts, and minds. I acknowledge that my experiences are unique in many ways due to context, however I hope the broader learnings are relevant regardless of age, time or place. 

Q: The protagonist in this case has a multicultural upbringing and international work experience. How valuable is cross-cultural competence in today’s job market? Can these skills be taught or must they be learned through experience?

Professor Lynn Imai:

Lynn Imai

It is imperative for leaders wanting to remain competitive in today’s global business arena. However, among the repertoire of leadership skills that one could have, I find cross-cultural competence one of the most difficult for us to realize we lack. It is only when we step out of our comfort zone, and familiarize ourselves with other ways of thinking and behaving, that we finally gain an objective understanding of our own cultural biases.

Effective global leadership nowadays requires that you can truly see the world from multiple cultural lenses and that you are able to navigate between them. Gaining cross-cultural competence in the earlier stages involves a lot of cognitive learning (i.e., gaining knowledge about other cultures). This can be taught. However, as you become more advanced, you need real-life cultural experiences that disconfirm your preconceived assumptions due to some cultural difference. These experiences act as opportunities that allow you to reflect and learn what clashes in cultural perspectives led to an incident (versus just blaming the other person or the culture, which does not lead to any learning).

You need experiences to build cross-cultural competence as you get more advanced. What you do with the experiences is what matters. There is a lot to be learned from collective case discussion about these topics.

Q: You are both an academic and a practitioner (who has written ten cases with Ivey Publishing). What do you see as the value of writing and teaching with real-life business cases?

Kanina Blanchard: I have guest lectured at educational institutions and have engaged with audiences in professional settings my whole career. Long before the idea of "narrative story telling" became popularized, I found that students, colleagues and audiences were often seeking examples of how others have dealt with issues and challenges to help them uncover meaning and find their own ways through the trials and tribulations of leadership. 

The power of the Ivey case method is that it enables story telling grounded on real life experiences, which encourages dialogue and learning. I was very lucking in my career to have leaders like Sarah Opperman, Jim Giroux and other amazing colleagues who took the time to share their lived experiences, which encouraged my growth and development. They created a safe place to ask tough, awkward and difficult questions as well as a place to form relationships in which we could share vulnerabilities and discomforts. For me, case writing is an opportunity to pay-it-forward in a small way.

Would you like to learn more about writing cases? There’s still time to register for an upcoming Ivey Publishing Case Teaching and Writing Workshop.