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Knowledge mobilization

By Peter Muijres – Culture Class

Never in human history have we hunted for so much data, information and knowledge.

Never in human history have we gathered so much that is useful but not used.

The gap between existing and applied information concerns all types of human activity: raising children, buying food, designing products, disposing of waste, caring for the sick, governing resources, creating art. What are the results of research and development worth if nobody can use them, except perhaps a select few?

Knowledge Mobilization is a complex and emergent process that focuses on making what we know ready for action to produce value. The term was coined by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in the first years of this millennium. The need for knowledge mobilization has arisen from the complex knowledge production process that has consistently failed to translate the most useful evidence resulting from practice and research into everyday outcomes that could benefit our decision making.

Why does new and useful intelligence often end in a file, on a shelf or in a head instead of being made available to public benefit? Many factors contribute to the knowledge gap. Policies aimed at smothering conflicting interests and delay caused by bureaucratic hurdles are only two of them. The ‘information revolution’ appears to provide another explanation for the knowledge gap between knowing and doing . As a result of internet, the “expert” is no longer viewed as a dominant source of knowledge. The increased competition between sources of information has led to heightened confusion and anxiety, as to what is the “best” method of ensuring positive outcomes for the decisions we take.

What can we do to make knowledge available for application? Peter Levesque suggests that knowledge mobilization is led from the middle and for the purpose. The issues of power and control are central – especially in institutional settings. He argues that more important than content, are considerations of context, capacity, and a culture that supports the use, sharing, and co-creation of knowledge(s), in its many forms. Value is always created in exchange. Exchange can be in multiple forms that depend on context, capacity of individuals and organizations, the accessibility of content, and he culture that supports exchange and value production.

Some core questions include:

  • How do we integrate multiple sources of data, information and knowledge into our daily activities, whether they be consumer decisions, or high-level policy decisions?
  • How do we, collectively and individually, move from making decisions based mostly on emotions and opinions to making decisions based on individual as well as collective understanding?
  • How do we move from holding on to what we know rather than sharing it and acting on it in ways that are mutually beneficial?

Having useful evidence available to us in a timely fashion, in a format that we can use, is critical to the change from simply knowing to doing – and doing the best we can.

Knowledge Mobilization also includes active processes of creating linkages and exchanges between producers and users of data, information, and knowledge to engage in value-added activities. It includes a more entrepreneurial perspective than is often seen in disciplinary academic research and includes awareness of opportunities, key partnerships, market conditions, technological supports, and concepts of innovation.

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Determinants of expatriate adjustment – a 1985 vintage version

By Peter Muijres

What are the determinants of expatriate adjustment in a cross-cultural setting? The researchers Black, Mendenhall and Oddou suggested a ‘comprehensive’ model of international adjustment in 1991 based on a review of empirical studies on ‘overseas’ adjustment of expatriate managers by the latter two (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1985).

Eight years later, Shaffer et al. (1999) adapted the model by adding some new factors, including language fluency, and making a bunch of other changes. However, the 1985 review and the original 1991 model, displayed in the featuring image, included some useful handles that may help expats out there in their adjustment process. These individual and the ‘non-work factors’ in specific will be given full attention at the expense of all the rest.

The authors differentiated three sorts of ‘international adjustment’: (1) adjustment to work, (2) adjustment to interacting with host nationals, and (3) adjustment to the general environment. Good adjustment in one area spills over into another, as you might expect from anything having to do with people, motives and mental health.

The individual factors have been divided into a self-efficacy (self-oriented), relational skills (other-oriented) and perception skills. The self-oriented individual skill includes at least three subsets of skills:

(1) Reinforcement substitution: the ability to find replacing interests and joys.

This entails finding an alternative to fill the gap left by the loss of a cherished passtime that you cannot continue after relocation. If skiing is no longer an option, but photograpyhy is, perhaps that might develop into your new passion with a similar effect.

(2) Stress reduction: the ability to recuperate from stress.

Being exposed to an environment that is sometimes difficult to understand or predict is stressful. Some expats reduce that stress by regularly taking a time out for themselves to limit their exposure to external stressors and recuperate from stress, for example by engaging in a comforting activity like writing, yoga, or a cigarette break outside.

(3) Technical competence: on the job functionioning with good results.

Expats who are tuned into their sociocultural environment, perform better. Good performance promotes a positive attitude and successful adaptation and vice versa. However, HR people often wrongly assume that performance abroad will be as it has been at home and base the selection of future expats on their track record only.

The other-oriented individual skills has been relabelled ‘relation skills’. It involves the ability to develop new relationships and a willingness to communicate. Having host national friends (or indeed: lovers) may greatly benefit your intercultural adjustment in various ways.

Having local friends may not only enhance your opportunities to interact with host nationals, they may also introduce you to their way of life and help you to recognise, understand and appreciate the cultural differences. You might be introduced to their families or be taken to non-touristic places where you witness how things are done and people treated when undisturbed by office formalities and social expectations.

Even showing an interest in the non-expat population often earns you credits, as is learning the local language. However, beware of quick solutions and culturally insensitive approaches. Yelling local jokes out loud, reciting the tong twister of the local language (and pronunciating it wrongly), intruding into people’s breathing space and laughing hysterically at whatever one may say or do, doesn’t necessarily attract friends.

The perception based individual skills purport having a non-evaluative attitude and the ability to make correct intercultural attributions. Learned cultural differences in perceptions and evaluations of social behaviour often lead people from different cultures to misinterpret each other. Understanding the motives of host nationals also helps the foreigner to predict how their opinions and behaviour will be received.

The non-work factors affect the degree or extent of international adjustment, not how it happens. ‘Cultural novelty’, still called ‘cultural toughness’ in 1985, reflects the country specific variables that facilitate acculturation to a particular setting. Hofstede (1980) has made this dimension better known as ‘cultural distance’. Being in host countries with similar features as your home culture makes the whole process of settling in much easier.

Another non-work factor is ‘Adjustment of Family-Spouse’. Less exposure to and needs to come to terms with cultural differences make it less urgent adapt your mindset and personal life. Cultural restrictions in a male dominated society make adapting for western wives even extra challenging. Unsatisfied social and emotional needs of poorly adapted family members, and perhaps the associated consequences, may lead partners or dads to cut their assignment short and return back home.

Besides Individual and nonwork factors, also job factors, organisation culture and organisation socialization factors affect mode and/or degree of adjustment. The job dimension contain factors related to job clarity, job discretion, job novelty and job conflict. The ‘organisation culture’ dimension addresses the novelty of the organisation culture, social support and logistical help experienced by the expat. ‘Organisation socialisation’ entails tactics and content that only affects the mode, not the degree of expatriate adjustment. All these dimensions affecting in-country adjustment, are precipitated by Anticipatory adjustment factors. Intercultural training and previous experience affect ‘accurate expectations’ on an individual dimension. Selection mechanisms and criteria on an organisational level predict the mode and degree of in-country adjustment.

Although expatriate adjustment wasn’t much of a concern until the late 1970s and the research still in a very early phase in 1985, the research tradition has never changed much. Many different models of intercultural adjustment have been offered during the last four decades. Just like people or eras in time, each has its own pros, cons and particularities. Mostly, attention is paid to how individuals move around as actively processing centers of awareness, but less to the parts played in multiple systems. The transcultural dynamics involving the locally available social groups, the home front and virtual communities for example, as well as the adaptation process as an often emotion based process that takes time do not always receive the attention they deserve.

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Culture Class provides training in personal effectiveness, culture and communication skills

The importance of intercultural training for expats

 By Peter Muijres – Culture Class

Increased global activity has led companies around the world to seek new markets for their products, new sources of raw materials, as well as new, more cost-effective locations for manufacturing. According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2006, transnational collaboration will be of decisive importance in an increasingly global competition. Expatriates are employed for reasons such as transfer of expertise, facilitating entry into new markets, or development of international management competencies.

Some of these foreign ventures succeed, but many do not. A high percentage of expats fails to meet expected standards of performance abroad. Studies have found that as much as 40 to 55% of expats ‘fail’ to adjust to living and working abroad and many cut their assignment short. Out of the American expats who stay at their international assignments, approximately 30 to 50% are considered ineffective or marginally effective by their firms and do more harm than good.

The costs of expatriate ineffectiveness and turnover are intimidating. Studies on American companies have shown that every early return of a manager costs companies as much as $250,000 to $1 million per individual, depending on the level of the manager and the urgency of their replacement. The direct costs of failed expatriate assignments to U.S. firms are estimated at over $2 billion a year, the costs of psychological suffering, damaged corporate reputations and lost business opportunities not taken into account.

The multiple and sudden losses and challenges that expats are faced with make them a particularly vulnerable group. Challenges may include a loss of language, social support network, possessions, knowledge of laws and rules, and of geographical orientation. Expats who feel out of touch with local customs and conduct, and who are unaware of culturally accepted styles of communication and problem solving may feel unable to prevent embarrassing or frustrating incidents with host nationals whilst living and working abroad. The inability of expats to adjust to the demands of an international business environment has been identified as a primary cause of international business failures.

Intercultural training addresses the demand for an interculturally competent workforce. It makes sure that expats set off and return with realistic expectations and it provides them with the knowledge, skills and attitude they need to develop rewarding collaborative relationships and to meet standards of functioning abroad.

Various independent studies have confirmed the effectiveness of intercultural training. Empirical evidence has shown that intercultural training helps expats to develop important intercultural skills, to facilitate intercultural adjustment, and it improves their professional performance and their well-being. Intercultural training is an indispensable prerequisite for the return on investment that organisations increasingly seek in international ventures and an expatration of their staff and provides a bedrock they can rely on in times of global opportunities and change.

Culture Class develops and provides intercultural training and coaching for expats

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