Intercultural Competence is a Journey – IC Series 1 of 3

July 29, 2011

By Monica Marcel

Though it can sound cliché, intercultural competence is a journey more than a destination which means:

1.            There are always new cultures—whether new to you and your experience, or truly ‘new’

and emerging (e.g. generations) to which one must adapt. Thus, everyone can always benefit from developing Intercultural Competence, and always will.

2.            Intercultural competence is skill-based rather than attitude based, and can be learned, built and leveraged for competitive advantage as well as qualitative benefits.

3.            Approaches to building Intercultural Competence that are short-term “band-aid” approaches are likely to fail.

4.            Equipping your organization to stay on track throughout the journey towards greater Intercultural Competence requires a holistic systems-approach that links training with operations.


Best Practices in Global Ethics Programs

July 22, 2011

By Randall Stieghorst

Global Ethics & Compliance ProgramsAs we prepare to roll out our 2011 Global Ethics & Compliance Benchmarking survey, we are reminded how imperative it is to differentiate between a “common practice” and a “best practice”.  Even if 80% of all organizations take a similar approach or leverage similar resources in a similar way, this does not indicate whether this practice is inherently “better” (i.e., an improvement on previous practices) or even “best” (i.e., the most effective and beneficial of practices, given current options) for an organization.

Common practices may offer great general guidelines, and might even be a significant improvement in how things are done in many situations (especially if nothing is currently being done in this area), but “best practices” is, in some ways, a misnomer.  There is no single standard for “best” that can be applied to every organization.  An effective ethics and compliance program will determine its own “best” practices, leveraging current best practices in an organization’s industry (i.e., the differences between successful ethics programs at oil and mining companies versus telecom or retail giants), while also taking into consideration trends in the ethics and compliance profession (e.g., ideas from thought leaders in the field), the organization’s own best practices (what worked better in 2007 than in 2010), and of course external guidelines such as the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

For example, having a local network of compliance professionals is considered by most to be a best practice.  Some organizations may find that their best results come from individuals who are hired into the local ethics and compliance role as a dedicated resource while others may find that local employees who are already an integral and trusted team member at the organization, and who have sufficient time to commit to the ethics and compliance program, provide the best results. In some cases, the best internal resources may come

from the local HR team (and are skilled at counseling employees, providing training and coaching, etc.), whereas others may come from line management (those who interface with line employees daily, are a trusted source of personal leadership, etc.).

Or for example, your organization may determine that the online community and e-mail newsletters for local compliance teams, while less expensive than multi-country conference or video calls, have been markedly less effective in building understanding of the program’s goal and initiatives, not to mention the sense of team spirit that the monthly conference calls provided in previous years. In this case, the organizational best practice might be to revert to a face-to-face or “voice-to-voice” format for maintaining the network, regardless of how successful online communities may be working for other organizations.

“Best practices” change with time.  They come about as new and different resources become available (i.e., consider the omnipresence of e-learning as a training tool in modern ethics and compliance programs), as experience provides us with better hindsight (i.e., consider the way you used to structure your employee training as well as the examples you used), and sometimes merely because we stumble upon a good idea from someone who has been reflecting on what will make the ethics and compliance profession just a little more effective.

If you are involved in your organization’s global ethics and compliance program and are interested in participating in our survey, please contact us. To see the results of previous benchmarking surveys, visit:


How to be Anti-Same-Sex Marriage

July 15, 2011

By Rebecca Parrilla

Journalist David Byrne published a column in the Chicago Tribune on July 5th called “Gay marriage across the land: Not so darn fast” inspired by the recently passed same sex marriage law in New York.  In it, he discusses the benefits of limiting marriage to be a contract only between a man and a woman.  I would like to provide Mr. Byrne with some pointers on how he could reach the pro-same-sex marriage camp with more success and credibility:

Mr. Byrne alludes to the many societal benefits of marriage throughout history.  Then he mentions that it is a “formulated response” when some people argue that marriage can continue reaping these benefits even if gays and lesbians are given the opportunity to marry – implying that this argument is invented, artificial, or insincere.  This is an example of assuming questionable intent from others, which is a turn-off to a person that you are trying to reach or persuade.  A foundation of cross-cultural competence is to assume positive intent from the person who is culturally different – to give the benefit of the doubt, to presume they are coming from an honest place.  A more effective manner to address his point would have been to acknowledge the argument neutrally, and then objectively explain why in his view it is not valid or irrelevant.

Mr. Byne states that marriage is one of civil society’s “most enduring and beneficial” institutions, with proven “civilizing properties.” It would be helpful for him to explain what is the downside to making that institution available to same-sex couples, particularly in terms of how society might be harmed if more people were allowed to participate in the benefits and civilizing properties he refers to.

Mr. Byrne goes on to say that “[c]ultural institutions like marriage can be fragile structures…Tamper with them too much, and they become diluted and ineffective in their purpose.”  However, he never explains how marriage can be fragile, or how giving same-sex couples the option to marry “tampers” with it, makes it ineffective for society, or “rob[s] society of [its] stabilizing and other beneficial effects.”  Citing behaviors, actions, and words is typically very effective in helping others understand one’s perspective.  This is one area where doing so would have helped Mr. Byrne’s argument significantly.

Mr. Byrne also does not explain how giving gays and lesbians the option to marry “dilutes” or “waters down” marriage for society as a whole.  This is another instance where citing examples of behavior would have been effective.  Is there is a finite number of marriages to be assigned in the universe?  Is the proportional quality of individual marriages pre-defined by nature or a higher power? 

Mr. Byrne mentions at the end of his column that the institution of marriage is now “relentlessly under attack.”  He might be more persuasive is he explained how the institution of marriage is under attack.  How might marriage be harmed by allowing same-sex couples to participate in it?  Once again, describing behaviors, actions, and words (rather than only using interpretative, subjective language) is typically a more effective technique to convince others with different views to be open to yours, since it it minimizes misundertandings or defensiveness.

Mr. Byrne calls comparisons between the fight for equal rights for LGBT citizens and the fight against racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S. “loathesome.”  This is another example of the language of interpretation without accompanying examples or facts.  A more effective way to make his point might be to use more neutral, objective language to support his point of view.  For example, he can state that this comparison is not on par because the conditions African Americans were forced to endure were far more despicable (and he could cite some obvious examples of this).  Then, he could also acknowledge that there are some similarities (i.e., that such comparisons have some validity, assuming positive intent).  For example, in both cases, there was/is institutional discrimination, with approval by many in society.  It can also be said that Mr. Byrne himself has applied a version of “separate but equal” to his evaluation of marriage vis a vis same sex couples.  He believes that gays and lesbians have rights “to legally designate in contract law who can visit them in hospitals [and] who can be named as insurance beneficiaries” (i.e., civil unions) but that this should not extend to full marriage. In other words, Mr. Byrne may be OK with equal (as far as legal rights), but his is not OK with including same-sex couples in marriage (keep it separate, please).

In our field of cross-cultural competence, the type of worldview demonstrated by Mr. Byrne’s column is called “defense”, or “polarization”.  From this worldview, the tendency is to see difference as a threat (marriage is “under attack”) and to negatively judge the other without (and this is key) knowing the other with enough depth or first-hand experience to make that judgment constructively.  We are all complex beings – straight or gay – but many folks who see the world from a polarized perspective on this issue tend to see that complexity only in their own selves.  A polarized worldview also assumes that if others don’t share one’s perspective, it must be because others don’t understand it or don’t have sufficient information.  Mr. Byrne gives us an example of this when he states towards the end of his column that “[p]erhaps this argument is too ethereal to be grasped or accepted in an age of radical individualism.”  In other words, if only we could only understand the subtlety of his argument, we might agree with him.

I believe that Mr. Byrne is sincere in his convictions and his arguments.  Hopefully he will also try to learn about LGBT people and culture with more insight and depth.  Then, if he still holds the same position, he can at least be constructive, and more cross-culturally competent, in his opinions.

Personally, I believe a likely reason why public opinion polls are showing a softening of opposition to same-sex marriage is that people are getting to know their gay friends, neighbors, co-workers, and relatives.  They might be learning that although straight and gay people may have different sexual orientations and thus different worldviews in some ways, the love LGBT folks feel for their partners and their children sounds and looks suspiciously like the love straight couples feel for their own families…


Canada Day: Cultural Values vs. Institutions of Influence

July 1, 2011

By Sean Oliver

I was reading an article today by Douglas Todd at the Vancouver Sun about Canada, values, culture, immigration, and identity, as sort of a reflection on Canada Day. It’s a well-written piece, and lays out the difficulties in assessing what exactly a people spread out over such a large country really share, culturally:

“We are stretched out geographically. We were “founded” about 500 years ago by antagonist peoples rooted in French or English. We have of late recognized the cultures of aboriginals. We also have a porous 9,000-kilometre border with the most powerful nation on Earth. And we continue to have the world’s highest per capita immigration rate.”

He goes on to discuss the different viewpoints of what constitutes “Canadian-ness”, and speaks about a divide between liberals and conservatives in their attitudes towards citizenship, immigration and values. He then lays out 10 values that, in his minds’ eye, transcend these divisions and encompass Canadians as a whole:


"1. Participatory democracy.

2. Reasonable tolerance of diversity.

3. The rule of law.

4. Stewardship of the Earth.

5. No discrimination, including on gender or sexual orientation.

6. Mixed economics: Market enterprise tempered by regulation.

7. Universal health care for core needs.

8. Readiness to pay taxes.

9. Willingness to learn from ‘The Other.’

10. Commitment to the common good.“

This list may accurately reflect a majority opinion of Canadians, but then again, they might not. It’s hard to say. But going a little deeper, I think that much of what he’s listed here are institutions that influence what Canadians value, rather than a set of values per se. Economy, political system, legal system, environment, health care, can be called institutions of influence, or institutions shared by most Canadians that work to create a mutual sense of what’s right, wrong, good, bad, normal, abnormal… in short, a culture. So what are some larger cultural values that these items above point to?

On Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, Canadians highest scale is individualism. Participatory democracy, tolerance of diversity, and non-discrimination could all be viewed as stemming from placing great value on an individual rights and liberties, and the individual as primary locus of a society (vs. collectivism, where the group or family is the primary focal point). However, in contrast with the equally-individualistic Americans, Canadians also tend to value cooperation. Winning at all costs isn’t always respected if it violates the spirit of wanting to do the right thing. This cultural value can be reflected in universal health care, and readiness to pay taxes on the list above. Some say that this delicate balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility is the major defining cultural value of Canadians.

Of course, even before the current wave of new immigrants to Canada, Canada had two distinct linguistic subcultures (anglophone and francophone), as well as a sizeable native population. What these subcultures may value will vary, of course. But it’s important to be able to do some basic generalizing around archetypal shared values when dealing with Canadians in business, education… or maybe you just happen to be in town while Prince William and Duchess Kate are in Ottawa for some Canada Day festivities.