A Case Study by Patricia Harmon, Ph.D.
The CEO of a global, European electronics company and his senior team were discussing a problematic issue that had plagued the company for some time. It was perplexing to say the least. They were experiencing lagging levels of innovation in various parts of Asia. No one could figure it out. Their senior management at the regional levels believed that they hired talented and motivated individuals, and paid them well for their work.
Looking for answers they hired a Canadian University MBA group to do a country by country analysis to uncover any patterns or trends that might lead them to resolving this issue. At the same time, they arranged to have all of their country managers and division heads profiled with the EQ-i to see what insights, if any, might be found.
A clear pattern emerged with their 67 managers and division heads. Empathy levels were low while assertiveness levels were high, relatively. What could that mean? they pondered. In discussing this finding, senior management members offered that they were proud of their direct, no-nonsense management style. “That is how you get things done and make things happen around here” some said with obvious pride.
As the meeting progressed, a clue emerged. The managers who ran the regional offices in Asia were all European expatriates. The style of management of these Europeans was typically a direct, say-it-like-it-is approach. This style that did not mesh well with some of the more indirect, subtle, Asian management styles where “yes’ can mean “no” and much effort is in ‘saving face’ at all costs.
Those two management styles could not have conflicted more, resulting in a cross-cultural communication clash that inhibited the trial and error practices that accompany innovation. It was a light bulb moment. Not surprisingly, the university findings corroborated this result.
Shortly thereafter the company amended its management practice and focused more on hiring local managers, where possible, together with providing cross-cultural training to expatriates.
If you are interested in finding out more about Pat Harmon’s studies on Innovation, check out her new book entitled The Mind of an Innovator.