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“Diversity within a company releases creative ideas and drives innovation”

An interview with Dr. Jörg Hruby and Professor Dr. Thomas Hanke, directors of the Steinbeis Consulting Center Global Mindset & Leadership

Internationalization and globalization place new demands on companies and their managers. TRANSFER Magazine invited Dr. Jörg Hruby and Professor Dr. Thomas Hanke, directors of the Steinbeis Consulting Center Global Mindset & Leadership, to discuss how these demands can be met, the importance of a global mindset, and a number of other issues.

Hello Professor Hanke, hello Dr. Hruby – the topic of diversity is becoming more and more important in our society, but also in the working world in general. How do you see this change reflected in your work?

Globalization and with it, diversity within companies are continually presenting management with new challenges. Many firms are already international in outlook, but there’s an increasing need to think even more globally and act locally. A company can only be successful in a market in the long term if its managers offer not just specialist skills but also intercultural know-how.

In a global economy that’s changing rapidly and a fast-changing world with so much cultural diversity, the most important skills managers require to be effective as leaders in a multicultural environment are global thinking, an understanding of diversity, and intercultural and interpersonal skills.

Your Steinbeis Enterprise deals intensively with the topic of the global mindset. What exactly is that and how important is this capability for the success of a company?

A global mindset is about understanding different cultures and spotting the links. On an initial level, that entails perceiving cultural situations and contexts, analyzing them, and decoding them. This makes it possible to forge productive and promising relationships in the long term not just between organizations and individuals but also beyond national borders, and if necessary adapting to these. So it’s about how international managers perceive the business environment around them, how they interpret this, and acting in ways that are meaningful.

Studies confirm that a global mindset improves international performance in the long term, has a positive impact on commercial success, and leads to more successful internationalization processes. Managers with a global mindset know why cultures shape behavior, they’re open-minded when they meet strangers, and they have cultural and contextual intelligence. These are managers who build mental bridges over cultural borders, and this allows them to foster and hone relationships based on trust. These are the core constituents of long-term business success on the international stage.

Among the focal topics of your work are international and intercultural management, but also international HR management. What sort of problems do your customers ask you about?

Globalization also presents new challenges to HR management, with things like international salary models, global performance assessment, international recruitment, talent management, but also international management development.

Implementing a global mindset takes the right organizational development instruments and control mechanisms, as well as controlled exchange between co-workers in international markets and work contexts. Practical implementation within a business is often impeded by language barriers and individual fear, plus a resistance to adjust to cultural diversity and, above all, leadership styles that don’t embody the global mindset. Then there are things like social conflict and structural obstacles, because for example hierarchies have to be taken into account within different cultures, or international meetings tend to be run in different ways.

Customers ask us for support and training on who to put in global teams, and we also get asked to provide individual support to expatriates working in different cultures and markets, mainly by providing coaching sessions and mentoring. But it’s just as important to work through intercultural topics as part of a common process, so people understand why it’s important. Sometimes this is in large groups, focus groups, or one-to-ones with the people involved.

Diversity can help promote creativity and innovation at a company, but it can also be a source of conflict. What can be done in your opinion about this ambivalent situation, also in terms of drawing on a global mindset?

A whole string of studies have provided evidence that diversity within a company releases creative ideas and drives innovation. But this takes an environment that allows ideas to flourish and move forward. So we tend to see intercultural diversity and the heterogeneous outlooks that go with this – sometimes even with the tensions this creates – as more of an advantage for innovation management. But then such processes need the right support, since people involved in innovation processes already face enough complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and difficult decisions. What’s needed here is a company culture and attitude toward feedback that allows everyone to develop freely – an atmosphere that for example allows new ideas to be suggested without prejudice, for successes to be shared. This allows innovative potential to unfold in its entirety.