Learn the Language


If you are going to spend a year or more in a country—definitely, absolutely, do your utmost to learn the language. It will make a tremendous difference to your state of mind. Ability to understand the local language seems to play a major role in adjustment to culture shock and personal success in a foreign world.

It is not clear why speaking the language makes such a big difference, but it does. Obviously it makes getting around a lot easier. In hundreds of moments of struggling to get something done, from shopping to household repairs to getting directions, just knowing some of the language removes huge portions of aggravation and helps you gain a sense of safety and self-assurance. When people around you are babbling away in a foreign language, you become vaguely insecure and feel isolated. Knowing the language gives you a sense of mastery in situations where you may feel vulnerable.

The more process of learning the language gets you more in tune with the culture, and breaks the ice, putting you in the right frame of mind to adjust. In some places, speaking a second language is important to enhance your image as a well-bred, educated person—you may be somewhat better off if the language you learn is not the language spoken in the country.

The frequent traveler should think about learning languages too, of course, depending on the amount of travel and bilingualism of the business community. Speaking a language fluently can permit you to attain levels of relationship and business advantage unattainably by someone who doesn’t.

Fluency in the language will allow the traveler into otherwise exclusive realms of local business. The process of negotiation often depends on behind-the-scenes information flow.

Learning the language is no substitute for learning the culture and appropriate behavior. People who are fluent in a language but not sensitive to the culture can make worse mistakes, perhaps because the local experts more of them. And there are dangers in speaking a language if you are not competent in it. Not knowing the nuances of words or being careless with intonations, you might say things you don’t mean. In most languages, some common words have extremely vulgar meanings if pronounced incorrectly. Or you may hear unintended meanings.

If you don’t speak the language well, it is best to reveal that you have made the effort to learn—but then rely on English or an interpreter. Experts advise that is generally best to speak the language for socializing and daily activities, but not when transacting business. As a rule of thumb, if you are not fluent and your foreign counterpart does not speak fluent English, always transact business with an interpreter. Traders who meet frequently with foreigners say that while English is the business language around the world, buyers are far more comfortable talking in their native language, and even if they can speak English, it is often better to have an interpreter. They don’t have to struggle so hard, and it puts them at ease.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Approaches to Change


Axelrod discusses in his book titled: Terms of Engagement, four approaches to change: i) Leader-driven approach, ii) Process-driven approach, iii) Team-driven approach, and iv) Change Management approach.

Leader-driven change is more suitable for small and medium enterprises with owner-managers. This approach works well when the manager or leader has all the necessary information and knowledge. Leader-driven changes tend to be directive and non-participative. Therefore this approach is less suitable when: a) the workforce is young and/or highly skilled, b) the business environment is complex and dynamic, and c) successful change requires active involvement of a number of people in the organization.

Process-driven changes are led by experts or outside consultants and supported by the leader; these changes are more common in large, bureaucratic organizations. This approach works well when the change requires technical or specialized expertise. Also being directive and non-participative, as in the case of leader-driven approach, this approach is therefore less suitable when: a) the workforce is young and/or highly skilled, b) the business environment is complex and dynamic, and c) successful change requires active involvement of a number of people in the organization.

Team-driven approaches are most common in large, manufacturing enterprises that have skilled and educated employees. Change management strategies—such as TQM, Quality Circles, and Six Sigma—exemplify this approach. These are highly participative change efforts that empower employees and provide them with involvement, participation and ownership of change. Team-based approaches that are properly executed can unleash enormous levels of employee energy and motivation. This can, in turn, lead to innovation and productivity gains. However, using this approach can also cause some discomfort for managers in an organization because they may not be used to sharing their power and authority with workers. Moreover, this approach requires managers to shift from a directive, authoritarian style based on power and expertise to a participative style based on persuasion, coaching and helping. More importantly, the team-based approach to execute change requires the establishment of a ‘parallel organization.’

The fourth approach to change is called the Change Management approach. This is a combination of expert-driven and team-driven approaches. Whereas the former provides a business and technical focus to change, the latter generates ownership, involvement and commitment. So as to gain this commitment, most specialists, experts and change management consultants have incorporated the parallel organization concept in their process-driven approach. The Change Management paradigm is the approach to change that most organizations use today. Although it seemingly seeks to integrate ownership of change with practical business focus, the Change Management approach has shortcomings. Instead of involvement and commitment, this approach breeds cynicism, bureaucracy and resistance. It actually disempowers employees, by reinforcing hierarchical top-down management.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

The Shift to Customer Service


You may wonder what, exactly, caused the economic shift to service away from manufacturing. Some of the more prominent reasons are described herebelow:

  • Increased efficiency in technology. Because of the development and improvement of machines and computers, production and quality have increased. Two resulting side effects have been an increased need for service industries to care for the technology, and a decrease in manufacturing.
  • Globalization of the economy: Beginning in the 1960s, when worldwide trade barriers were lowered, a variety of factors have contributed to expanded international cooperation and competition. Since that time, advances in technology, communications, diplomacy, and transportation have opened new markets and allowed decentralized worldwide access for production, sales, and service.
  • Deregulation of many industries: the 1970s saw deregulation of industries (e.g., airlines, telephone) alongwith oil embargoes and political unrest (Vietnam, Iran) reducing US competition while allowing other countries free access to those areas of the world. The rapid deregulation of major US public services, competition (with an emphasis on providing service excellence) has flourished.
  • More women entering the workforce: Because more women are in the workplace, many of the traditional roles in society have shifted out of necessity or convenience to service providers.
  • Desire to better use leisure time: More than ever, workers of developed nations enjoy increasing amounts of leisure time. This has heightened a desire to relax, enjoy children, and do other things they value—people want to use their free time in more personally satisfying ways. To accomplish this, they now rely more heavily on service industries to maintain their desired lifestyles.
  • Expectation of quality service: Most customers expect that they will receive a quality product or service. If their expectations are not met, customers simply pick up the phone to call or visit a competing company where they can receive what they think they paid for. This created a need for more and better trained customer service professionals.
  • Better educated customers: Not only are customers more highly educated, they are also well informed about price, quality, and value of products and services. This has occurred in part because of advertising and publicity by companies competing for market share by the activity of consumer information and advocacy groups.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight