Unlocking the full potential of your team comes down to changing perception and thinking. But how do we navigate mindsets across organizational and cultural boundaries? Nicola Wainwright, Senior HR Manager at Otto International, China, sat down to share her experience mediating the dynamic exchange that is shifting mindsets.
Tell us a bit about your backstory and what you do at OI?
I’m originally from the UK, I started my working life in Australia and then spent seven years in Hong Kong mainly working in talent management and employee engagement. I’ve been with the Otto Group for over two years and just moved to Shanghai to manage the HR function across five offices in China. “Tailor-made” and individual solutions for our customers are part of our business strategy. However, from a people perspective, this can be a harder concept to apply. My remit is to align all the China offices from a HR perspective and connect to the wider global organization.
Do you encounter any major cultural differences working in China and if so, how do you handle them?
Personally, I am focused on leading by example and immersing myself in learning about the Chinese way of working before trying to put any formalized plans in place. We’ve been running a number of training programs that focus on working across cultures and experience-sharing. Confucius said “all people are the same, just their habits differ.” I try to show that it’s ok to be open and make mistakes, even as a manager, you learn and grow every day. There is no right or wrong, good or bad when it comes to personality, just behaviors that we can adapt to suit the situation and get the best result. Using the Hofstede Six Dimensions has helped me to dig deeper into these differences and their similarities to help drive the conversation beyond stereotypes. This activity is certainly generating more open conversations and awareness for our teams about different mindsets and ways of working.
It sounds like shifting mindsets in such a large global corporation can be quite challenging. Could you expand on that?
Yes, absolutely. Shifting mindsets and ways of working is an important topic for us as a company and our new direction to act on a global level, adapting to the changing world around us. It’s not just bringing together a culturally diverse group of people but our own traditional ways of working. While our vision really drives home the global aspect of the company and moving away from operating at a country/market level, it takes time. We need to continue to recognize that every company is a living, breathing and ever-changing thing. The business strategy which was relevant 20-30 years ago may not be relevant anymore and it’s the same with company culture. Interestingly many people can respect and embrace change in their personal lives – think, no mobile phones 30 years ago and now you could not ‘survive’ without one! But somehow people are seemingly not so accepting in their professional lives. I believe such cultural change should be driven incrementally. I think many companies are going through such changes adapting to external pressures including digitalization (e.g. AI, social media) and leveraging global synergies effectively and efficiently.
Could you give some examples of initiatives or projects you’ve undertaken in order to combat this?
Simon Sinek says, “you don’t hire for skills, you hire attitude. You can always teach skills”.
Just last year we started to look at the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ we do from a people performance perspective. Before this, we focused on being KPI-driven and not so much on the soft skill competencies. For example, even if you’re killing it with KPIs but you’re not collaborating with your colleagues, it doesn’t work holistically to drive a high performance culture. And this is why we’re now focusing on both the why and the how. So, we have defined our OI leadership competencies, whether you lead yourself or a team or a function, and these have been built into our performance appraisal process as well as our learning and development programs for general staff and managers.
Another initiative we’ve just started is our workshops on “giving and receiving feedback’. Simple feedback for certain cultures, including the Chinese culture, usually happens when you’ve done something wrong or made a mistake, the message is sugar-coated and is only delivered from managers down to their staff. This can sometimes be perceived as negative criticism if not done in an effective way. So with this training, we are giving our employees the tools for having a clear and specific conversation and using role play to help them practice these techniques in a safe space. We want to encourage and drive the behavior of our employees to have positive and constructive feedback conversations to help motivate and improve themselves and their colleagues. We will run follow-up sessions later this year to see if they have embraced the saying ‘practice makes perfect!”
How would a more purposeful HR department look at OI?
You have to start with defining the ‘why’ – why you are here. Whatever your role in an organization you will have a purpose, a contribution that you make and each individual should be aware of that.
On a broader level, an organization’s purpose needs to be constantly on the leadership agenda, just as much as the financial results of the company health check for example.
Raising that awareness and starting a dialog is the first step and for me, that’s where HR adds value.
Do you have an idea of how you might go about measuring shifting mindsets?
That’s the million dollar question! For me, I think if you have the right directions and have the right foundation, you don’t need to measure, because it will show in employee engagement, business results and ultimately profit!
How does a Purposeful Organization look to you from an HR perspective?
When the company’s culture and the company’s vision are truly aligned and working in harmony this is a purposeful organization for me – when people feel they can feel they are making a genuine contribution to the business.
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