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Understanding intercultural sensitivity and your workplace

Dr. Jarik Conrad, Sr. Director of HCM Innovation at Ultimate Software discusses using science to understand people and how they will adapt to cultures abroad and in the workplace.

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people” – but immersing yourself in an entirely new culture can be uncomfortable.

When it comes to understanding intercultural sensitivity, Dr. Jarik Conrad is a certified expert.

Dr. Conrad is Sr. Director of Human Capital Management (HCM) Innovation at Ultimate Software, and will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming HR Leaders Summit Toronto.  We caught up with Dr. Conrad to discuss how employees should soak up new cultural experiences.

“The common theme in my life revolves around using science to understand people,” Dr. Conrad prefaced. “There’s a tool called the IDI (the Intercultural Development Inventory), which was developed to help employees working abroad – essentially to predict how effectively an individual would be able to immerse themselves in another culture. It measures one’s openness to understanding cultural nuances – both overseas and at home.”

The tool looks at how readily employees can adapt to another culture – how open they are to change and immersion. This openness to change is a key part of understanding not only a foreign culture but the workplace cultures that change and evolve from office to office.

A report from Robert Walter found that 61% of employees conduct thorough research on a company’s culture before accepting a role – while 73% of professionals have a left a job because of a poor cultural fit.

With culture being a known indicator of profitability, productivity, and good morale, how should employers and employees alike be approaching cultural sensitivity?

According to Dr. Conrad, we should try thinking about it in terms of “cultural connoisseurship”.

“Let’s look at this in terms of wine,” he explained. “My wife, she doesn’t drink alcohol at all. And so, her categories are ‘alcohol’ and ‘no alcohol’ – there’s nothing in between.

“But, as you know, when you start to dabble in different varieties of wine, you realize that there are whites, reds, rosés. And then, when you go further still, there are pinots and chardonnays and sauvignon blanc and champagne.”

Dr. Conrad explains that it’s somewhat the same with culture – the more you explore, the more you realize the subtle differences. And the more you appreciate them.

“And it doesn’t necessarily follow that these experiences will be good ones. Sometimes you get a really bad bottle of red wine – but you’re not suddenly going to say, ‘That’s it! I’m never tasting wine again!’” Dr. Conrad adds.

“No. It was a bad experience, but you shouldn’t judge all wines the same. It’s the same way with people; you come across one person from a different culture, and you can’t label whether they’re good or bad. You can’t label everything based on one experience.”

The key, according to Dr. Conrad, is to really immerse yourself in a culture, to the level where you can recognize its distinct traits – and to remain open to change. Because, much like with a fine wine, you often don’t find the best-fitting culture on the first try.

“It’s about having the palate to perceive these differences. You can only really develop that through experience – after all, you can’t become a wine expert just by reading a book. You’ve got to taste the wine.”

Global CEO reveals life lesson that transformed his leadership style

Global CEO reveals life lesson that transformed his leadership style

Mike Serbinis was always destined to be a great entrepreneur. In high school he won the International Science and Engineering Fair, which in turn led to an opportunity to meet the CEO of Intel, sparking a vision for what a career as a tech CEO might look like.

Having worked at Zip2, alongside Elon Musk, Serbinis is now founder and CEO of revolutionary health benefits organization League.

“League started three years ago, born from the idea that the future of healthcare would be vastly different,” he told HRD Canada. “We set out to build a platform that would empower people with their health every day and help them live happier lives. Along the road, we discovered the way to do that was to completely re-invent health benefits, making it the central portal through which employees access their health care.”

But health care hasn’t always been his calling. Serbinis has enjoyed a rich and exciting career in all manner of technology start-ups, rubbing shoulders with famed digital guru Elon Musk. And his passion for automation sprang up at a rather early age.

Because, by his own admission, in his youth Serbinis was both the sports enthusiast and the ‘jet-propulsion nerd’.

“I use sports metaphors for a lot of business matters. Just look at the recent World Cup, there were so many inspiring stories that came out of the games. And it’s the same situation at League. My company is a team, one that works hard together in order to enjoy the successes that come after.

“I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship as a kid. In fact, I only heard the word when a reporter labelled me as one after having built my very first company. This was the beginning of a snowball effect in which I imagined what the future would be like and sought to seek out ways to make it even better.

“The biggest lesson I learned along the way, and one which definitely impacts my leadership style, is allowing yourself to believe in a better future. If you have conviction that something is possible then

it’s just a question of whether it’ll be you or someone else who makes it a reality. An individual who can rally a group of people without money, or assets or brands, is something to behold.

“If you have will and conviction, the most important thing it to start and never to stop.”

This is why #MeToo hasn’t changed your workplace – and it’s HR’s fault

This is why #MeToo hasn’t changed your workplace – and it’s HR’s fault

If 2018 was a phrase, it would undoubtedly be #MeToo. It seems the world imploded when Harvey Weinstein was outed as an abuser, with the after-shocks rippling through offices around the globe.

But how has the #MeToo phenomenon really impacted HR?

“I’d like to think there is greater awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment,” she told HRD Canada. “We’ve also seen more dialogue, both in the media and in my own personal circles. However, despite this, I don’t know if a lot has changed in businesses purely because of #MeToo.

Organizations are now paying much closer attention to the risks associated with sexual harassment. Unfortunately, a lot of the conversations in HR have not changed. We’re still talking about the same tactics we’ve been rolling out for years – which one could argue did not prevent the abuse from occurring in the first place.

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 43% of women have been sexually harassed in their workplace, with female employees being twice as likely as their male counterparts to having been subjected to unwanted sexual contact in the office.

So, what exactly is the problem here? If this pandemic of sexual harassment is showing no signs of stopping, what’s HR’s role in clearing the miasma?

“We’re still focused on policy training, which research suggests is ineffective for preventing sexual harassment, and investigations – which are entirely reactive and can only address the estimated 30% of incidents that are reported,” explained Jane.

“I’d like to see our profession approach this topic with renewed humility and curiosity and look beyond legal compliance to consider how we can prevent harassment.”

The culture of blame around workplace abuse is still palpable – especially when complaints are levied at high-performers and senior executives. But someone’s seniority shouldn’t be a factor in assessing sexual harassment.

“First, you should recognize how difficult it is for employees who have experienced harassment to come forward,” added Jane. “The EEOC, and other sources of research, have found that most workplace harassment isn’t reported.

“Secondly, the fact that the complaint concerns a top performer, or a high-level executive, is irrelevant to your obligations as an employer, and as a human being. You still need to follow your policies and treat those involved with dignity and fairness. In the case of a high-level executive, I know I’d want to seek legal advice and potentially engage a third-party investigator to avoid any bias – either real or perceived.

The simple productivity booster you’re probably ignoring

The simple productivity booster you’re probably ignoring

There’s no denying the very real link between low employee morale and a productivity slump. And despite the plethora of research out there documenting the correlation, 36% of organizations still see engagement as a top challenge.

Why, you ask? Well, according to Gena Restivo, vice president of HR at AstraZeneca ,  it’s time for HR to really start examining their culture rather than papering over the cracks – starting with your most disengaged workers.

“The first step in analysing why exactly your employees may be disheartened, starts with some introspection,” she told HRD.

“Ask yourself, does your organization have a clear people strategy? Do your people know the company’s commitment to them? Is there a culture of openness and trust?”

As a leader, Gena believes it’s important to question yourself too. Are you communicating a compelling organizational purpose? Do you personally model your organizational values consistently and recognize others when they see them in action?? Are you communicating to your employees as regularly as you could be?

“After some introspection, then you have to listen,” she quipped. “You need to have a real honest conversation with your employees. Dig a little deeper, uncover their aspirations, their worries and, ultimately, how you as their leader can help.”

It may seem like pure talk but measuring the ROI on engagement will quell any doubts you’ve grown. Engaged employees are five times less likely to leave the company, with actively involved workers willing to “go the extra mile” for their brand, their managers and their colleagues.

“Put a plan in place and act on that plan,” added Gena. “Mutually agree on how you’re going to support them, and then act on it. From my perspective, a leader must excel at communicating, listening and recognizing great work consistently. Sometimes employees feel like they’re not actually making an impact on the business, so let them know how their involvement is making a tangible difference.”

And Gena was quick to stress that this is an ongoing conversation – you can’t put a pin in it and come back later. It’s an ever evolving, transparent and continual process between employer and employee. This is something, she told HRD, that she’s very proud of at AstraZeneca.

“At AZ, we push the boundaries of science and deliver life changing medicine, and our values guide the way; We follow the science. We put patients first. We play to win. We do the right thing. We are entrepreneurial. Those five values are at the centre of everything we do, and how we do it.”

It’s not flashy promotions or media kits that shape a company, it’s the values. The statistical case for building a strong company culture is difficult to disagree with. An organization with a discernible core culture will enjoy an average turnover rate of just 13.9% – a dearth of values will see that figure sky rocket to 48.4%.

So where does that leave your organization? In the war for talent, Gena reminds us that you simply cannot afford to ignore the waring signs of a decaying corporate culture – because a tidal wave of resignations are sure to follow if you do.

This CEO wants you to try to get yourself fired at work

This CEO wants you to try to get yourself fired at work

Shawn Kanungo is a master of innovation. Having spent 12 years working at Deloitte, Shawn helped leading executives better understand and plan for the opportunities and threats associated with disruptive innovation.

Today, he revealed his own personal life motto – one which admittedly makes CEOs and executives nervous.

“What I tell clients, and what gets the boardroom on edge, is people should go into work every day and try to get themselves fired. Back from when I worked at Deloitte, I found this was an amazing way of facilitating innovation.”

Shawn was quick to clarify that this doesn’t mean punching your CFO in the face. It just means trying something new, something different, and something that will disrupt your day-to-day job.

“Honestly, I would say 100% of the time you will not be fired. You’ll actually just push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’ll try something new and, ultimately, you’ll take your organization to the next level. If you can come to work with this mindset, it’s unbelievably liberating.”

And Shawn is quick to practice what he preaches. In fact, on one wall of his office reads the sign: ‘Try to get yourself fired today’ – pride of place as employees and clients walk in. It’s a bold statement, but one entrenched in the spirit of innovation and industriousness.

“I think that when it comes to disruption, there’s a lot of hype around new technologies such as machine learning and AI. There’s lots of people who’re afraid of this. Organizations are panicking that robotics will emerge and steal their jobs, but personally, I think machine learning will be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to human beings.

“It’s not only going to create new industries, but it will create more meaningful work for us. It’ll remove the aspects of our roles we don’t like and allow us to double down on stuff that actually matters.”

As Shawn revealed during our conversation, the point of technology is to remove technology – you shouldn’t even see it. What pains him the most is going into an organization and seeing staff stuck to their laptops, behest to the tech.

“Spending your precious time entering data and copying between systems shouldn’t happen. As humans, we’re simply not designed to do this.

“Things like voice or AI will do this for you – meaning you can focus on the things that actually matter in life.”

This world-leading tech founder just predicted the future of staff perks

This world-leading tech founder just predicted the future of staff perks

Albert Einstein once said: “The human spirit must prevail over technology.” But in today’s age, it’s almost impossible not to embrace digitalization – and really, why would you want to?

A recent report from the Davos economic forum found that, by 2025, more than half of all workplace tasks will be carried out by machines. Today, that figure stands at just 29%.

So, how will the wave of robotics enhance our people function? We spoke to world-leading entrepreneur Mike Serbinis, founder and CEO of digital benefits platform League.

After college, Mike turned down a six-figure job at Microsoft to work as an engineer alongside Elon Musk, helping him build his first internet company, Zip2. From there, Mike’s successes grew and grew – culminating in his foray into the world of employee benefits.

We picked his brains over what he believes the future of perks will look like.

“I envision a future where health is highly personalized and focused on always-on prevention,” he told us. “We spend $4 trillion on healthcare, but just a fraction of that goes towards preventative care and the health insurance industry is stuck in the stone age, comprised of ‘one-size-fits-none’ options; according to The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey 2016, these models, established in a post-WWII era, will satisfy less than 20% of people by 2025.”

Netflix, iTunes, Google alerts – in a world where we can individualize every aspect of our lives, it stands to reason we’ll want to personalize our benefits plans. Mike thinks companies should be offering an experience that really supports proactive wellness by placing the control in the hands of the employee.

“The benefits experience has changed because of the flexibility, personalization, and always-on trends we are used to seeing as consumers,” he continued.

“Workers demand this consumer experience translate into their employment experience as well. Given this shift, it is no surprise that this is in-line with what we are seeing from younger generations – According to PwC Millennials at Work, health insurance coverage is the number one desired hard benefit for older Millennials (28 to 35), the number two desired benefit for younger Millennials (20 to 27), and the number one desired benefit for Gen Z.

“And the benefits experience has changed because of the flexibility, personalization, and always-on trends we are used to seeing as consumers. Workers demand this consumer experience translate into their employment experience as well.”

Hyper-personalization may well be here to stay, so perhaps it’s time to embrace the change and give the power back to your employees.

As for Mike, he’s in the unique position of working with both technology and wellness – meaning he really appreciates the benefits of ‘switching off’ from time to time.

“I believe in the importance of injecting small moments of healthy habits into your day – even the smallest moments of reprieve can go a long way in ensuring your overall wellbeing,” he told HRD.

“Personally, I start every day by working out for 90 minutes, with no iPhone, email, Slack, whatever; just my music. If I’m moving better, everything is better.”

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