Coaching across cultures

by 01 Apr 2008

COACHING THAT facilitates cultural intelligence can assist companies to attract and retain talented leadership and skilled professionals, according to the Institute of Executive Coaching.

There has been a tendency for Australian executives and HR professionals to expect people to simply ‘fit in’ with structures, communication styles, performance programs, systems and approaches based on western management and cultural norms. However with 25 per cent of the Australian workforce born overseas there are increasing pressures for a more complex and systematic approach to dealing with difference.

“If companies want to stay in the race for customers, profits and talent they will have to deal with increased complexity in all facets of their operations. Cultural issues are vital, yet an underestimated element of complexity. This is where coaching that is sensitive to culture can be of value,” said Geoffrey Abbott, an associate with the Institute of Executive Coaching.

With Australia’s demographic diversity increasing and companies being forced to operate on a global scale, Abbott said it is important to incorporate ‘cultural intelligence’ into coaching. This is a recent term to describe the capacity to operate across cultures. In order to be successful, HR and management have to want to engage with the whole area of cultural difference, understand cultural orientations and preferences, and they also have to be able to do it.

“Dealing with cultural diversity is not simple and it takes time, which is why coaching programs are often more effective than one-off training sessions. The other point we emphasise about culture is that it is not just about nations. All groups have cultures – families, communities, teams, organisations, etc.” he said.

India and China are two countries which companies have the most coaching challenges with. The pair currently dominate the thinking of many companies, for reasons such as their insatiable demand for Australian resources, the availability of cheap labour, as well as sources of skilled, business and family migration.

According to Abbott, different levels of attention are needed in dealing with cultural issues depending on the country the organisation is working with. However, it is often the case that companies overlook many cultural differences when dealing with countries of similar cultural heritage.

“In the case of the UK and Australia, players tend to discount subtle, underlying but often powerful cultural variations and complexities,” he said.


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