Last week I was in Manila working with colleagues from the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, India, and China. I am back home now, researching recipes for adobo and holding in my hand the most beautiful pistachio-colored, South Sea pearl I have ever seen. All in all, a terrific experience both personally and professionally, and certainly one difficult to summarize in a few words. Still, a few of takeaways, this being my first trip to Asia:
- Soup, sushi, curry, and bread pudding (with vanilla sauce!) at breakfast — why not?
- Kindness requires no translation.
- All motorized vehicles seem faster and bigger when headed directly towards you; use extreme caution when crossing the street, no matter what the traffic controls indicate.
- By all means, avail yourself of the generosity of locals to help explore; and never, ever shop alone.
- The world’s smallest volcano is bigger than you may think; in fact I’ve seen proof that it is substantially larger than the smoking anthill I initially imagined.
We were gathered in Manila to discuss implementation of training for business leaders throughout the Asia-Pacific region. A question that often arises when training outside the U.S. is, “How can we provide a consistent message when laws differ so much from country to country?” Or, “How can we build a common culture around our values when cultural differences vary so extensively throughout our regions?” Foundationally, there are two key steps:
- Engage. Understanding begins with reflection and awareness. We start there: engaging discussion and discovery about what our values mean, organizationally and personally, in the context of our roles, as well as our own personal experiences and cultures. In this way, it’s not the laws that define what we do, it’s our values, expressed in the myriad ways that we work and connect with one other.
- Rely on your Code. An organization’s Code of Business Conduct can be a helpful living document, providing an overview of expectations on an array of topics. Often the guidelines are the same throughout the organization, regardless of what country you are in. In essence, the Code identifies (a) if this comes up, (b) here’s what we do or don’t do within our company, (c) and if you know of a problem or need more guidance, here’s where we want you to go for help.
These steps seem so straightforward that unfortunately, many believe they can be accomplished by simply distributing a copy of the Code and asking people to confirm that they’ve read it. In so doing, we may miss the opportunity to check for the kind of understanding and insight that can only come through some combination of simulation and experience. Instead, experiential learning, the kind that pairs both emotional content and realistic examples from the news and our own experience, is the key to bringing our Codes to life and creating an ethical business culture across the globe. “What would you do if . . . ?” becomes the more important question, the kind of question that draws us in as leader, participant, stakeholder – rather than a passive reader of rules. This kind of personal inquiry combined with “What does our company expect of us when these types of things happen?” is a line of inquiry that supersedes and, in many ways, exceeds the standards associated with the laws of any one country.
My own experience in Manila illustrates this: in all ways, I was treated lawfully and fairly. That’s to be expected. What will never be forgotten, though, is my experience of the collective commitment of my colleagues to earnestness, integrity, respect, and kindness. Can’t wait to go again!