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Why traditional cultural diversity training may be failing your organization

Promoting principles as opposed to specific protocols may be more useful to your staff as they work their way through different countries and different businesses.

Staff training in cultural diversity in many organizations revolves around facts as opposed to systems highlighting the importance of communication.

Because of that, it is failing.

Companies invest heavily in sending people with suitable management skills to foreign offices, only to have them request a return home before their contract is finished because they are having difficulty adjusting to the culture.

In other cases, just scraping the surface of cultural diversity fails to uncover deep-rooted cultural protocols and that sets up big business for some costly mistakes.

For example, few people have forgotten the hit that Nestle took in 1977 when they expanded into Africa and convinced many mothers to use their baby formula, without being aware that in many communities, there was no clean water readily available. Children who would normally have been nursed by their mothers became ill when they were fed the baby formula made with impure water.

In 2006, Walmart pulled out of Germany after investing an estimated $1 billion US and opening 85 stories. Walmart’s culture, which is to discount goods heavily and operate up to 24 hours a day, couldn’t fit into the German culture’s restricted business hours, complex labor laws and different layered distribution system.

That same year, Home Depot invested in opening 12 stores in China before it became apparent that unlike North American customers, the Chinese market is not full of people who actually like to “do it themselves.” The cultural mistake cost an estimated $160 million US.

In 2009, the toy company Mattel opened a huge Barbie store in Shanghai, but it only lasted two years. Sales of Barbie were scaled back in China after it became apparent that Chinese parents were not keen on giving the frivolous dolls to their children. They believed in toys, but only ones that could teach the children skills.

Through The Bridging PrinciplesTM, an intercultural communications program, the focus is shifted from the impossible challenge of teaching someone the history and protocols of every culture and business beforehand.

Instead, it provides individuals with concrete processes to successfully navigate through unpredictable cultural complexities in any situation anywhere in the world.

With an emphasis on the importance of communication, it helps managers to engage in more positive, respectful exchanges in new cultural territories.

It also increases the speed and efficiency with which they can build new relationships and partnerships.

It helps people avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings and feel comfortable and confidence in their new environment.

Some psychologists are using the term “cultural safety” to describe this new way of looking at bridging the gaps between cultures.

When people are helped to consciously talk about and share their values and protocols with each other in a way that helps everyone to feel safe, culture shock is reduced and respectful and trusting relationships can be developed.

The Bridging Principles is a blog about doing business and life differently to create better results for all. Click here to subscribe for free. To pre-order a copy of the book “The Bridging Principles: Building Bridges for Business,” coming out soon, click here. To arrange for training in The Bridging Principles for your company, email

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