Have we ever asked this question ourselves? Have we ever asked this question the employee we regularly send on an international business trip to close an important deal? Have we ever asked this question the manager who is leading a multicultural team? And have we ever asked this question the employee who is about to be sent on an international assignment?
Few months ago I watched a presentation that really caught my attention. The personal sport coach of one of the greatest professional hockey players of all time was talking about how he works with the athlete’s motivation in order to maximize his performance. On the motivational scale where the left side is represented by results and the right side is represented by emotional connection to the sport activity, the coach always tries to keep the athlete right in the middle of the scale which he calls the centralization. When the athlete is far on the left side of the scale, driven strongly by results, he thrives each time he achieves that result and he feels energized. But whenever he doesn’t achieve the expected result, he might become demotivated. And if this repeats few times his emotional connection to the sport activity starts to decline. When the athlete is far on the right side of the scale having a strong emotional connection to the sport activity, he will wake up every morning, train hard and play the game no matter if he wins or loses. This is pretty much alright as long as the athlete is doing the sport activity as a hobby. But once he is doing it as a professional athlete results are expected. The centralization means shifting the athlete’s motivation in the middle of the scale where the emotional connection to the sport activity goes hand in hand with the drive for results. From this position on the coach starts to work on performance maximization.
I see a great use of this methodology in cross-cultural education. The motivation or drive is the baseline of the cultural intelligence. Yet very often we jump directly (if even) to building the knowledge base about specific cultures and preparing strategies how to bridge the differences between cultures. And then we realize that the employee who was expected to close the important deal on his international business trip did not succeed. The manager leading the multicultural team doesn’t deliver on results due to low engagement and poor communication within the team. And the employee who we sent abroad on an assignment returns prematurely causing frustration on both sides, the company is frustrated by the loss of money they invested into the assignment and the employee is frustrated by the personal failure.
We can prevent many of these negative impacts dedicating the right amount of time and energy into building up the motivation of those team members who work cross-culturally. When we let them on the left side of the scale they will most probably work hard to get the result. As did one of my friends who given his track as an excellent goal oriented manager in his home country was asked to lead a team spread around the globe. He did not manage to achieve his goals with the team members in certain parts of the world, started to become frustrated avoiding business travels to those countries and ended up leading a local team again. Being on the right side of the scale and feeling pure joy of working across cultures might be great. But then you might have similar conversation like one of my clients when her boss said “Glad to hear you had great time on your business trip learning more about the culture, trying some local food and you even learned few words in their language. Very important all that. I would be even happier if you managed to close the deal. You know, when a panther goes to hunt and doesn’t catch anything, he probably won’t feel energized by having gone for a cool run.”
As in the sport our motivation for cross-cultural work should be centered. First we need to answer the very basic question “what drives us to work with people from other cultures”. Next we have to find the right balance between the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. And only then we are really ready to build our cultural intelligence.