Today’s business environment is increasingly diverse. Managers in multinational companies work across continents and time zones on global projects, connecting with colleagues spread out across the world.
Management consulting firm The Boston Consulting Group, for example, has 90 offices in 50 countries. It combines its global focus with efforts to increase diversity within the workplace—BCG has set up advocacy groups like Women@BCG, Pride@BCG and Diversity at BCG.
Companies have realized that diversity is not just a moral consideration; it makes business sense too. McKinsey research has found that diversity is clearly correlated with profitability.
For Thomas Allanic, director of the Master in Management at ESCP Europe (pictured below, right)—a leading proponent of Intercultural Management—knowing how to manage cultural diversity has become a strategic advantage. To be successful, he says businesspeople “need an understanding of how cultural diversities impact the structure and operation of organizations.”
At the same time, there’s something of a skills gap when it comes to managing these diverse teams. In its 2018 Skills Gap Survey, the Financial Times lists ‘the ability to influence’ and soft skills like teamwork among the most important and difficult-to-recruit skills for employers today.
Employers want to hire business school graduates who can work with and lead people from diverse international backgrounds. Above all, they’re looking for graduates skilled and experienced in Intercultural Management.
What is Intercultural Management?
More than just awareness, Intercultural Management is an understanding and respect of other cultures within an international context. In practice, it means cultural differences being acknowledged and managed openly, rather than ignored.
Culture shapes management practices. In the United States, for example, the approach to work is very practical and task-orientated, where niceties can be left out in email communication among colleagues for the sake of time-saving efficiency.
In China, by contrast, silence is an important part of discussion, indicating good listening and contemplation, and not seen as something needing to be filled. A focus on Guanxi—developing personal rather than professional connections with colleagues and partners—permeates business in China.
Intercultural Management is about opening the conversation around the nuances of different cultural approaches in business, so managers are aware of—and can respond to—these differences in attitude and behavior.
“Intercultural managers are not only sensitive to the differences; they know how to work towards adjusting behaviors to maximize results,” Thomas explains.
Why is Intercultural Management important?
Intercultural Management is important because companies today work across countries and cultures. Few organizations can work solely within their own cultural context. With the internet, even small startups can connect with customers or suppliers thousands of miles away.
To understand Intercultural Management, Thomas continues, people need to be “open-minded and adaptable to new situations and people from different countries […] and curious to learn about how different cultures communicate, live, and work together.”
Lorenzo Saudino (pictured below, right) is a current student on the Master in Management at ESCP Europe. He’s half Iranian, half Italian, and he’s lived in Morocco, Italy, Iran, and Nigeria. He speaks four languages fluently and is currently learning French while he studies at ESCP Europe’s Paris campus. The school has campuses in Paris, Berlin, London, Madrid, Turin, and Warsaw.
For Lorenzo, Intercultural Management is about overcoming cultural preconceptions. “Being biased in decision-making is one of the biggest threats to being a good manager,” Lorenzo asserts.
“You need to broaden your mind through multicultural immersion so that you have an objective outlook which doesn’t favor your cultural approach over another.”
Based in Berlin, professor Marion Festing leads ESCP Europe’s Chair in Intercultural Management and is head of the excellence center devoted to it. Intercultural Management is also taught at ESCP Europe through the newly-developed business game ‘Moving Tomorrow—An Intercultural Journey’. Created by Marion, it enables students to deepen their intercultural understanding by playing along with an interactive story of a simulated company.
Lorenzo has found such experiences at ESCP Europe useful as he targets a career in consulting after his degree. Master’s students at the school also get the opportunity to live and learn in up to four different countries during the two or three-year program, with Europe offering maximum cultural diversity at minimal geographical distances.
In the future, Intercultural Management will only become more important as students explore a variety of career paths. Nearly 50% of ESCP Europe Master in Management students develop their career outside their home country.
For Lorenzo, it’s the diverse community environment at the school that means students can practice Intercultural Management throughout their degree.
“There is a union between students, faculty and alumni across the European campuses,” Lorenzo explains, “and a sense of ownership concerning what we are a part of, and the kind of intercultural business we want to support.”