Conquering the Us Versus Them Mentality

By Cyndee Miller, senior editor, PM Network

“Culture eats process for lunch,” keynote speaker Avinash Chandarana of MCI Group told attendees at PMI® Global Congress 2013 — EMEA in Istanbul, Turkey.
And as organizations continue to expand into emerging markets, the pressure is on project professionals to build a keen understanding of how different cultures operate.
For starters, they must get past the “us versus them mentality,” said Mr. Chandarana. “We consider our culture to be normal and others to be abnormal.”
Instead, project professionals should acknowledge the values and even the stereotypes of other cultures, which he broke into three categories:
  1. Linear-active cultures stick to the facts.
  2. Multi-active cultures are more talkative.
  3. Reactive cultures focus on listening.
This is powerful knowledge as linear-active U.S. and European organizations launch more projects in emerging markets, which tend to fall into the multi-active and reactive categories. Only those countries and companies that bridge cultures and geographies will succeed, Mr. Chandarana said.
“What measure are you going to take to go beyond just having surface-level knowledge of other cultures?” he said. “This is the question you must ask to hone relationships in a  multicultural environment.”
The three panelists on the “Project Management in Emerging Economies” panel tackled a different kind of cultural challenge. “In the Middle East, there is a lack of awareness of the value of project management,” said panelist Imran Malik of du Telecom in Dubai.
“Practitioners need to educate decision-makers by translating the tangible benefits of using best practices in the context of business.”
Organizations view project management as a “magic pill” and temporary fix, added panelist Puian Masudifar of VIRA Co. in Iran. “They don’t look at the long term.”
Still, the project management cultural revolution can start with baby steps. “Bring upper management and executives to the kitchen and teach them what projects are,” said panelist Adnan Metin of Turkish Airlines in Turkey.
As a growing regional power, Turkey needs project managers, particularly in the defense sector, said Murad Bayar, Turkey’s Undersecretary for Defence Industry.
In his long tenure in the sector, Mr. Bayar says he’s rarely seen a project completed that met the original plan, mostly due to the long timelines.
“A combat aircraft takes 15 to 20 years to complete,” Mr. Bayar said. “By the time the project is finished, the requirements have changed. We have to be better at managing projects.”
To that end, the department encourages its project professionals to go through training, including earning the Project Management Professional (PMP®) credential.
But Mr. Bayar also acknowledged his country could use a little help.
“We need people with a deep understanding of strategic organizational, commercial, industrial and political environments. Is there someone in the room that I can hire today?”
What advice would you give on bridging cultural differences? If you attended PMI® Global Congress 2013 — EMEA, what were your top takeaways of doing business in emerging markets? 

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

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