Leading across borders

The importance of cultural awareness

Did you know that in Japan the most senior person tends to lead the business conversations, and it is not uncommon for their colleagues to hardly speak at all.  Whilst in Australia communication is often friendly and relaxed, but it can be direct and to the point.

For a leader, being aware of, and understanding the national cultures of their team (and clients/ customers) will have profound impact on their success.

But what is culture?!  Hofsteade describes culture as: “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others” and that “National Culture cannot be changed, but you should understand and respect it.” (2) – an important message as too often leaders try to fight and change a way of doing things, rather than accepting, understanding and compromising.

Hofsteade’s model of national culture consists of 6 dimensions which represent independent preferences for one state of affairs over another that distinguish countries (rather than individuals) from each other. (2)

Source: https://www.cleverism.com/understanding-cultures-people-hofstede-dimensions/


How culturally aware are your leaders?!  Here are our top tips to being culturally aware to successfully lead across borders.  Share these with your leaders today!


  1. Develop your culture intelligence – make a conscious effort to understand differences in culture. Learn about other cultures, understand how business is done, how success is measured, how people typically behave – and why.  For example, in certain countries it is seen as disrespectful to disagree with your boss.  Which is very different from other collaborative cultures and can be challenging when you would like to get the honest opinion of your team.  There are different techniques and tools you can use to gain trust and seek the information you need.  It almost always comes down to relationships and acceptance that your team may not challenge you in the way that your own culture might. Being agile and flexible is key!
  2. Be curious with your team members – ask questions, make an effort and show a genuine interest in understanding the country culture of your team member. Relationship building is even more important with a different culture and when working remotely. Find something in common – food, sport, travel, work, family, etc.  Be conscious of certain cultural norms for example not eating certain food or drinking alcohol but don’t avoid – ask questions and show an interest.
  3. Cultural awareness training and support – undertaking cultural awareness training is essential.  There are many tools out there where you can complete online training and compare your culture with another or understand top tips for working in another country.  Team cultural training is invaluable in helping a cross cultural team to bond and understand how to work best with each other.
  4. Clarity of the ask – one of the biggest miscommunications that we hear of is when you ask someone to do X and they do Y. This challenge isn’t directly relating to national culture!  It is always good to clarify the ask – encourage your team members to repeat back to you what you have asked them to do and then work through any differences in understanding and give clear deadlines.
  5. Do your research – when running a meeting or workshop for your team, do your research. There are some great resources available which compare working styles and business etiquette in different cultures.  Or download our guide of questions to ask when exploring working with another culture. For one of our associates, running client workshops in China and Malaysia was both exciting and nerve wracking.  You can’t assume that what works in one country, will work in another.  Our associate did her research, spoke to local colleagues whom she had a relationship with and had back up plans to ensure interaction.  We recommend not only considering culture but also thinking about language (the workshop in China was in Mandarin!), learning style and communication style.
  6. Consider personality – now that you are culturally aware, it is easy to make assumptions that all people from a certain country will act in a certain way. Which is not the case!  Remember that everyone is an individual person with different views, preferences and styles.  Having this human centred approach to leadership will enable you to build strong relationships, bond and perform as a team.


We hope you find these tips helpful and share these with your leaders.



1 https://richtopia.com/effective-leadership/how-business-etiquette-is-different-in-different-cultures

2 https://hi.hofstede-insights.com/national-culture

The role of HR in a crisis

by Dani McDonnell, KEASE Associate

Human Resources. What is it? What does HR do in a crisis? It’s an interesting question.

Most of us would probably defer to the second definition if asked ‘What is HR?’  For many who work in larger organisations, you may well see the HR Department as the one that ‘deals with employing and training people’.  And within that definition, they’re often also tarred with the ‘bad’ brush; seen as responsible for firing, retrenching or ‘performance managing’ people. Quite unfairly, HR is often seen as the enemy; a department best avoided if at all possible.

But in reality, the HR Department does a lot more than just ‘deal with employment and training’. In recent times HR has moved away from the transactional ‘doing’ it was traditionally known for, and is now focussing on more strategic activities so as to equip leaders, managers and employees to be more autonomous and to take ownership of many facets of their employment.

Ultimately, a well-run, strategically resourced and emotionally intelligent HR Department (in conjunction with a fully supportive Exec Team) can and should be at the forefront of creating a culture of trust and support, leading to a commitment to the ongoing success of the business.

So, in addition to ‘employing and training people’ your HR Department is able to;

  • Champion the organisations’ values, mission & goals – an effective HR Department will encourage employees to contribute effectively and productively to the overall company direction and the accomplishment of the organisation’s values, mission and goals.
  • Assist in strategic career planning – the HR Department is able to help you map out the pathto your ultimate career goal, and guide you toward it.  They may be able to assist as a mentor or coach, or refer you to someone who can work with you in this regard.
  • Encourage and develop your leadership capabilities – the HR Department will assist where possible to provide opportunities for continuing education. This may be offered internally as part of a strategic development program, or they may refer you to an outsourced provider for a more personalised requirement.
  • Act as an advocate between yourself and your manager – another key function of the HR Department is the managing of employee relations. If you find yourself in a dispute or misunderstanding with your manager, the HR Department can assist to mediate the situation. Let’s face it, not every manager is awesome. And not every awesome manager is awesome for every employee.
  • Act as an advocate between yourself and your team – if you manage employees, your career success often depends on their career success. If you want help knowing how to manage without being overbearing, how to manage fairly, and how to get the best results from your team, ask the HR Department.
  • Balance their obligations to the organisation and the employees – gone are the days when HR Departments received direction from the executive team as to their priorities and needs. HR is now expected to sit at the executive table and recommend processes, approaches, and business solutions that improve the ability of the organisation’s people to effectively contribute.
  • Ensure that you’re working in a safe environment – the HR Department plays a vital role in administering, communicating, and championing the safety policies of the organisation. In addition, they will implement systems (eg. EAP) and provide assistance and support to employees who may be experiencing personal or medical issues.  When required, this may include referring to outside professionals.
  • Assist in navigating Employment Law – another chief duty of the HR Department is to ensure the business operates in compliance with all appropriate IR and ER laws. They have to know and comply with each state’s particular set of rules around employment regulations, and can provide you with advice when required.
  • Act as a ‘Change Champion’ – one of the most significant roles of the HR Department, is to oversee the needs and requirements of a changing organisation. Change is the only certainty in business today, so a good HR Department (with support from the Exec Team) will be ready to adapt and embrace it, and implement new ideas and methodologies as required.

A perfect example of this is the recent Covid19 outbreak. Over the past few months businesses across the globe have had to rapidly adapt and re-position their people and teams in the transition to remote work. As a result, many have developed new and innovative ways to make remote work operate effectively for their organisations.  At the helm of this unprecedented change is our HR Departments.