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Naptime at Ikea? How good is your cultural sensitivity?

People & Culture

Reading an article in the New York Times over the weekend I started thinking about how important it is when implementing change to truly understand the culture of the organisation/country involved.

The article talked about how in Ikea - in China only - it’s acceptable to take a nap on the sofas or beds in store (the only place in the world the Swedish giant lets this happen). This practice is culturally acceptable in China


It reminded me of some of the global programs I have worked on over the last few years and how super important it is to really understand the audience going through the change.

Too many times we see it through our own lense or adopt our own mindset!

A couple come to mind – one involving an Asia Pacific rollout over 32 countries managed from Australia and the other, a global program run from the USA and we were helping the 6 countries in Asia Pacific through the change. In the first example it was essential not to think the Aussies knew best and really localize the solutions for each country. In the second example it was the reverse – we were the “underdog” as it were – so we had to take time to get the American team to understand what was needed in our Asia Pacific countries.

What were some of the strategies we put in place?

  1. Local resources - Consider local change/implementation resources or change agents if you can – they will know their countries cultural differences the best and help make the change stick!
  2. Translate - Even though English might be considered to be the language of the organisation – look for opportunities to translate simple communications, or training materials in to the local language. This is especially powerful if you can get the Sponsor’s communications written in the local languages.
  3. Speak slowly - When managing calls globally its easy (particularly for me when my kiwi heritage surfaces) to talk too fast. Remember people in different countries might not be used to your accent so slowing your speech down can be a huge plus in ensuring great communication.
  4. Learn about the culture – take some time to learn about the culture of the country you are implementing in. Talk to colleagues from that country, or those that might have successfully managed implementations in that country.
  5. Test your cultural sensitivity muscle – a couple of good websites that are worth looking at and may help you out are and  for a bit of fun

Ultimately it’s all about remembering that ‘you say tomato and I say tomahto’ and we are both right!

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