Trade mission to Turkey (1): to do or not to do?

  We were about 80 entrepreneurs travelling to Turkey this week in a trade mission headed by our Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Some entrepreneurs already had their contacts or even their own company in Turkey: others were only considering doing business in Turkey and looking for the right contacts and good opportunities.
Beforehand I asked quite some people about their experience with trade missions, and how useful it could be. Most reactions were not too enthusiast, telling that the best results usually come from the Dutch entrepreneurs who are also in the trade mission, and not from the foreign contacts made during the trade mission. The general advice was: don’t do it, it’s probably not worth the time and money. The reasons for me to go anyway were that I love Turkey and the Turkish language in the first place, and moreover that I never joined a trade mission before and I like to try new experiences that cross my path in life…
Well, I was not disappointed, on the contrary, and my experience was confirmed by most other participating business (wo)men. The trade mission to Turkey was a vibrant happening in entrepreneurship and good relationships. And the results were certainly not limited to the network of the Dutch participants but also involved the many interested Turkish counterparts. Turkey is developing in a very fast way. Its entrepreneurs are happy to do business with the Dutch. They are determined and concrete on the road to more, better, easier, smarter. While the Dutch economy seems to have come to a stand still these days, the Turkish economy is growing and full of life. Anybody who is respectful and ready to give the credits the Turkish entrepreneurs and their government deserve for this, will be welcomed for business.
As a participant to this trade mission I can only say thank you to our Prime Minister and to minister Ploumen who went with us all the way, even though there were many Dutch-internal problems to form an excuse not to participate; to the Turkish government that made this possible and received delegates in various ministries to discuss mutual insights and problems and come to common solutions; and to the staff of Dutch ministries in The Hague, the Embassy in Ankara and the Consolate in Istanbul who were very very creative, helpful and full of care for all the participants.
So when you are invited to join a trade mission and confronted with the question ‘to do or not to do?’: just do it! Of course it is important to know the goals you have for it and to prepare it very well – but with the right optimistic, entrepreneurial spirit you will enjoy every second!

Preparing for trade mission to Turkey

  Several meetings are held to prepare for the Dutch trade mission to Turkey 5-9 November 2012. The Netherlands and Turkey are celebrating 400 years of diplomatic relations with many cultural and economic exchange activities. Trade missions are part of these activities of course, as both countries have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. It is interesting to see how Turkey is presented at different occasions.
Two weeks ago, there was an official government presentation. Turkey is presented as a good partner and a country with excellent business opportunities. Information was given about CSR and the OECD guidelines for multinational entreprises. Many companies were present to tell why they join the trade mission to Turkey: it was an inspiring meeting.
The organizers of the trade mission also introduced us to a masterclass of the independent Turkije Instituut that took place today. The economic analysis shown by one of their specialists was very interesting. He was able to summarize ten years of Turkish economic development in a comprehensive and tangible way: it was intruiging to follow his lecture and helpfull for doing business. Also he gave a clear insight in how the EU becomes slowly by slowly less interesting for Turkey and how Middle Eastern countries become more interesting, which was visible in decreasing and increasing trade figures. However the Dutch-Turkish trade figures are still growing, if I understood well…
Then the director of the Turkije Instituut introduced us to the world of cultural differences when doing international business. She surprised with her view on bribery practices. The theory she follows says that many countries have a pattern of 3 phases for bribery. The 1st phase is when a political party comes to power, like the AK Party in Turkey: they do everything to end bribery and improve things for the people. That is because all the positions where the money is cashed are in the hands of adverse political parties. In the next governing period, they start to put their own people in the right positions and some bribery begins again. In the 3rd period, and the AK party is in its 3rd period, the cashing that comes with bribery fully flourishes. So that is Turkey now and bribery can not be avoided. Her advice to the companies present was amazing: if you don’t want to deal with bribery, don’t go to Turkey, go to Germany where they do comparable things but it is called for example paying for a service contract and it is not paying cash money to private persons who offer service like in Turkey, she said. If you go to Turkey don’t make a problem out of it, just pay, but don’t do it yourself, do it through your local partner, they know how to do it. You can offer the local partner more money for their ‘normal’ services so it won’t show officially.
Boiiiing…. so far the OECD guidelines given 2 weeks ago, that are quite clear about dealing with bribery (see http://www.oecdguidelines.nl/guidelines/combatingbribery/). Also the advice to Dutch companies to actively involve local partners in this and ‘hide behind their back’ is a surprising tactic. Of course bribery is a huge dilemma for companies but this way out is too easy, especially since the Netherlands are 1 of the 44 governments recommending the OECD guidelines: more of an effort is needed to make us dignitary of that position.

When inclusiveness met apartheid…

  In our last workshop at Stephanos Foundation today, participants looked for role models in change and innovation. They came up with a list that is different from what European groups would make, except for Mandela: he is always everywhere present in the list of role models participants come up with.
Afterwards one of the managers told me that Malawi did not deal with South Africa in the apartheid period the same way other African countries did. The first president of Malawi Mr. Banda was in favour of dialogue, much in line with the inclusiveness that I experienced in Malawi during the last ten days. While other countries boycotted South Africa, Mr. Banda refused to stop his contacts and met with the president of South Africa. But when he did that, he made a statement. He helt a black child on one hand, a white child on the other hand and like that he showed that all humans are equal and that that would be the way forward also for South Africa. Mr. Banda got political ennemies in several African countries because of his vision, my manager told me, but he had a vision that suited Malawian culture and did not give it up. Later, he might have become more like a dictator, but for this attitude towards South Africa he can be considered as a role model.
I think I learned at least as much as the managers of Stephanos Foundation who followed my workshops. For me, it was like presenting familiar themes and practices in a completely unfamiliar context. Maybe it could have been better if I had known more about the local context – on the other hand, this might have been the key for interaction and participation of the managers, as I asked explicitly for their help at the beginning.
One thing is for sure, themes like culture, diversity, change, innovation and even project planning don’t differ per country: only the context differs – and the language was not an easy step to take. The workshops were highly appreciated and I highly appreciated to be given this opportunity that was really ‘out of the box’ for me. Not easy, but very rewarding!

All managers are alike!

      
Today I worked with the management team of Stephanos on several principles for strategic planning. Interesting was the drawings they came up with after making a stakeholder analysis (see above). I will not explain them to you here but if you have been in sessions like this, you can certainly see what I mean.
Another remarkable aspect is that people will stay in a session without a break if this is what is expected from them. In The Netherlands, people usually start to ask about the break within 45 minutes time – it is not just important to have the break, it is also very important to know when exactly it will be. Here it isn’t.
Furthermore you can see from the pictures that spending money in expensive places is not for managers here. We sat in a basic room, normally used for the vocational training of Stephanos students and: without coffee or tea. Nobody was eating or drinking during the session. That did not positively or negatively influence the results I think. People just perform under the circumstances that they are used to perform. In a country like Malawi with an average yearly income of 250 euro, people do not eat and drink all the time: forget about the bag with candies and sweets that finds its way over the training tables while the workshop is going on. No such thing here.
But, miraculously, looking at your cell phone during the workshop is a favorite activity both here and in Western Europe. When it comes to that kind of communication, all managers are alike 🙂 The same goes for content: managers are managers, and they want to get things done. Give them ideas for that, and you have their interest.

What do you see? (2)

  The Malawian Fever Tree was during some time suspected to be the cause of malaria, as this tree was found particularly in areas where malarial fever often occured. It is a very beautiful tree with a shiny, almost glowing bright green-yellow bark but of course nobody can like it when it is supposed to bring disease. Later on, people found out that the malaria mosquito who is the real cause of malaria likes the same swampy areas as the Fever Tree does. So the Fever Tree was blamed not for what it was, but for what it looked like… Ever heard or maybe even been the victim of this kind of mechanism?Ever drawn conclusions yourself just on the basis of that first impression?
Fortunately this particular situation was resolved and we can now enjoy the Fever Tree for what it is: an special and unique kind of Acacia!

Seba culture and diversity workshops in Malawi

  By now I have given 2 workshops on culture and diversity for the management team of the Stephanos Foundation. Beforehand I was wondering whether it would be possible to be of any benefit, as my knowledge about Malawi and Africa in general seemed to be low. Wasn’t it a risk to be too western in my approach, far from ‘the way we do things here’ in Malawi? But after my 2 first workshops here I can say (with some relief) that it worked out very well, also in the context of Malawi.
The awareness about culture and diversity is much bigger here than average in Europe. Most of the management team has the Malawi nationality, but they come from different tribes and have team members from various backgrounds. In workshops in for example The Netherlands, participants sometimes feel compelled to discuss the notion of culture itself: does it really matter? Aren’t we all different so what’s the point? When this occurs, it is always a participant from the ‘dominant’ group and never a member of a minority group who brings up the discussion. There is little awareness of the very existence and influence of culture and diversity – regardless whether dominant individuals find it necessary or not…
Here in Malawi I meet with strong curiosity to learn more and know how it works and what a manager can do to make it work so that diverse talents are used for the job. Exercises from The Champagne Pool (see www.diversityshop.eu) passed without any problem: be it informal rules of the organisation, what is my culture or the five dimensions of culture from Hofstede – it all suited Malawi and Stephanos reality. Also the Makeda game gave a lot of food for thought.
The fact that the Makeda game bears the name of the Ethiopean Queen of Sheba however did not seem to interest anyone. People are very practical here and not too nationalistic. Does training material come from America, Europe, Asia or Africa? No point as long as it works in the local context. In terms of Hofstede, there is a low uncertainty avoidance (low on ‘what is different is dangerous’, difference did not scare these managers off). And there is a good sense of humour, which is always nice to have. This makes me look forward to the other 2 workshops to come.

 

What do you see?

It was a great eyeopener for many attendants in the room when professor Halleh Gorashi explained what influenced her career. Gorashi arrived in The Netherlands as a refugee many years ago and was often confronted with people focussed on what she could do less than others: for example her ability of the Dutch language is not the same level as a native speaker has. What really made the difference in her career was the fact that a professor – when she was still a teacher at university – focussed on her specific talents.
Do we see a person who is shortcoming or a person who has unique added value? Daily reality shows all too often, specifically for refugees, that the ‘shortcoming’ part is accentuated and the unique added value is passing unnoticed. What a waste of talent for our organisations and for our country!
Please watch the (Dutch spoken) movie UAF made about a meeting with employers (VNO-NCW) – you can also see me in an interview for a few seconds: http://http://www.uaf.nl/het_uaf_voor_u/werkgevers/bijeenkomst_fonds_100_jaar_vno-ncw_en_het_uaf
If you like, join the project ‘Sustainable and Diverse’ that our company Seba has with UAF, to employ refugees and create  high-profile refugy-friendly organisations: let’s focus on talents together!

Diversity in governance: quality comes first (kwaliteit staat op nummer één)!

  “During every match there are three minutes that really matter“, football icon Johan Cruijff said. I put this quote in my new book about diversity in the governance of public housing corporations. It relates directly to diversity competence at board level.
Diversity does not matter ‘all the time’. It is not about political correctness. It is about being open for it ánd recognizing it ánd the ability to make it work for the board and the organisation in the right moment: those three minutes that particularly matter! That is a specific competence that first of all chairs need, and then also other boardmembers.
Is diversity an issue for public housing corporations? The board members I interviewed in the book agreed on that, but they saw it in a different way. Some would put accent on the board dynamics and decision making process that are richer and more balanced in a diverse board. Others just comment on the fact that there are still few women, younger people or people with a minority background at board level, considered as less favourable for the public image of housing corporations and also less favourable for the necessary knowledge about customer needs, as the customers are much more diverse than the boards are.
The title of the book is ‘Kwaliteit staat op nummer één’, quality comes first. That is what people often say when talking about diversity, as if appointing ‘different’ people would mean bringing in less quality. Football icon Johan Cruijff said: “Quality comes first but quality must serve the entity as a whole“.
Buy my book at www.diversityshop.eu, www.bol.com, www.boekenroute.nl or in your local bookshop and read all about board principles, actuality in governance and diversity, practical cases and tools and so on… and please send me your feedback or other reactions, I will be happy to hear them!

Commercial diversity management (2)

  In the first blog about commercial diversity management I mentioned that quite some organisations tend to go back to ‘single characteristic’ diversity, summarized in customer feedback like: ‘we want a more specific approach, not just diversity’.  This asks a lot from our conceptual patience…
Another ‘after crisis trend’, merely found in large national government organisations, is the hope that we are now finally done with diversity. I was talking with a responsible person a short while ago and he was telling me this: ‘We are now doing inclusiveness. Nobody likes diversity any more, the word itself is unpopular. So we are now working on inclusion in the organisation’.
When I hear this kind of wording, I am so surprised. It is difficult to understand that a highly educated professional does not see the contradiction in his words. Many companies all over the world work on ‘Diversity & Inclusion’, also called D&I: it is like a twin set, one can’t be there without the other and they strengthen each other.  
So I asked the guy: ‘OK, so what exactly is it what your organisation wants to include?’ He looked at me blankly, then started to explain that our government is supported by a political party that is against diversity, so no national government organisation can work on organisational diversity any more because it would be undemocratic to do so. Didn’t I understand that? But that was not my question, and I repeated it: ‘Ok I see but then what do you include?’ I then heard many words but no answer. It was clear what he didn’t want, but not clear what he did want…
Of course every organisation has its own responsabilities. If this is how a national government organisation wants to prepare for the future, so be it. In my company Seba we see that in most organisations diversity in one way or the other is still on the agenda. Although the crisis continues, most organisations expect a war for talent in the very near future and they see diversity as a future theme that might make the difference. We support those organisations. Commercial diversity management means that we go where the opportunities are.
However, as a Dutch citizen, I like my government organisations to be the best. The challenge they face for the future is enormous and they will need the best talents to perform. What a pity to do that in ‘inclusive’ organisations where diversity is taboo…

Commercial diversity management

  One of the problems I experience in this crisis for my company is the fact that the concept of diversity seems to fall back to the situation of 15 years ago, when I started my company. In that time, the world was divided in consultants working for man-woman issues (gender), or intercultural issues, or gay-straight issues. There were several so-called target groups handling their own limited business and nobody seemed to understand yet that all there is is this: people are different and we have to learn to recognize that, face the consequences and try to create synergy, to do better than in the past when we thought everybody would be and expect the same in organisations. So we came up with a fundamentally new way of approaching differences in organisations.
Since then, I thought we made a great conceptual progress; the idea not to just think in terms of man-woman, gay-straight or black-white but in the benefit of differences in organisations. A friend predicted that it would take me 20 years to introduce the concept in the market since that is the time conceptual innovations need to be fully accepted. After 12 years, I started to think: yes eventually we will be there.
However, in 2011 a new trend came up, customers asking for specific target groups again: offers we made were refused because, as customer feedback said, ‘we want a more specific approach, not just diversity’. My analysis is that the crisis is bringing many organisations back to original basics, on a spot where they think they will have immediate success with the tools offered by us or a competitor as externe company by reducing the subject to a single difference-subject.
A hiring company should always have the lead, of course. However, it is not so easy for a commercial company like ours to just leave its truthful concept behind and adapt to concepts risen in times of crisis; because we do not believe in the effect and success that those customers hope for. We do not just work for money, we also want to realize ideas. It is a dilemma, because we also think that we should always listen to our customers, and we really lost assignments on this basis in 2011.
Considering it all, I think we will just stick to our concept in 2012 and see where it ends. One can loose everything but not one’s truth! We’ll hope for the best in 2012, and I do wish you all the best for 2012 too, with your personal truth becoming true…

My new book about diversity at work

  In the Netherlands managers often feel confused about cultural differences. The main confusion derives from the question: does this person act ‘like that’ because of his cultural background or is he ‘like that’ as a personality? Apparently managers seem to consider culture as a source of behaviour that they have to take into account, while personality as the source of behaviour means that they will not accept the behaviour they see. As they cannot decide ‘is it culture or personality’ they are facing a dilemma in how to deal with ineffective behaviours at work – let alone the question how to deal with customer behaviour that is perceived as probably culturally different.

Last week I published a new book Diversiteit op de Werkvloer (available in Dutch at www.diversityshop.eu) that shows how culture works out in daily business life. One chapter of the book proves that culture exists, another chapter that it doesn’t exist. There is no way managers will solve their business issues by analyzing culture as an objective fact. In line with that way of thinking, diversity is much larger than just culture.
The perception of difference matters at work (and also in other situations): when you see somebody, do you see a person that looks like you or that is different from you? And how does that influence your acts, your decision making? The perception of difference includes not just culture but also gender, sexual orientation, age and many things that cannot be seen directly but can still be perceived like education, class or intelligence. Those who develop insight in the mechanisms of perceptions and skills in handling them, will be most succesfull at work.

Meet me at lunch!
Want to know more about this? Inscribe for an interesting lunch meeting and meet me in Amsterdam at 6th December or The Hague at 14th December, more info at www.seba.nl

social safety at work for gays and lesbians

  A new scientific report was published yesterday about social safety in the workplace for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Netherlands under the title ‘Gewoon aan de slag’, see also: http://www.scp.nl/Publicaties/Alle_publicaties/Publicaties_2011/Gewoon_aan_de_slag
The report written by professor Saskia Keuzenkamp and Ans Oudejans sketches a work environment where 14% of gay and 5% of lesbian colleagues are confronted with unfavourable reactions to their sexual identity. This might be a lot less than in many other countries, it is way too much for the Netherlands where homosexuality is equal on all legal levels to heterosexuality. Unfavourable reactions are things like nasty jokes, openly disapproval and bothersome curious questions.
Gays and lesbians who are not open at work about their sexual identity give roughly two major explanations for that: half of them consider it as private information, the other half are afraid of possible disagreeable, inconvenient reactions.
What is very good about this report is that we finally have scientific facts about social safety at work for this specific group. A lot can be assumed, it is better to know: that allows targeted measures and I really hope that companies will actively work on that! Social safety, a strong basis for talent management, will not just come by itself, it needs an effort.

What is food for thought is what I said before in a blog: that in our policies in the Netherlands we seem to pay attention to a different ‘group’ every four years. One period it’s women, then it is migrants, then it is age, now it is gays: apparently we are unable to find the right way to inclusiveness and diversity, calling it ‘too complicated’ to include all differences and sticking to group identities rather than individual identities.
The effect is that ‘groups’ interact negatively in the workplace to get the attention that they all want, and that the outcome of measures rarely is inclusiveness for all but attention, financial means and appreciation for one group versus jealousy and frustration with others. Nobody is only gay, only woman, only migrant, only young or old or whatever; the focus on group identity in workplace measures creates stereotypes rather than inclusiveness.