Barry Tomalin - Q&A Session

Interview with Barry Tomalin, author of World Business Cultures – A Handbook

Part One

Recently I was fortunate enough to “pick the brain” of the wonderful author, trainer, public speaker and global business consultant Barry Tomalin. Barry has authored several useful books and guides, including the groundbreaking The World’s Business Cultures: How to Unlock Them, which is now in its 3rd edition. Below are some questions I asked Barry, as well as his thoughtful responses. Given all his valuable valuable insight, here is Part one of a two-part blog.

1. Sharon: What was your purpose for writing this excellent book?

Barry: Mike Nicks, my co-author, and I sometimes worry that culture, although fascinating, can be very distracting. I work as a trainer in corporations and higher education institutions. As part of that work, I identify potential culture-related issues and evolve strategies to deal with those issues. The problem is where to look for the answers! In writing World Business Cultures, our goal was to identify the questions you need to ask, and to provide some of the answers

2. Sharon: Which other authors and thinkers have influenced your work?

Barry: Everybody I ever meet is a potential influence. That said, certain authors are key to this field. Foremost among them today is Richard Lewis, whose Lewis Model is used by the World Bank and whose works, When Cultures Collide and When Teams Collide, are must reads. He owes a debt in his turn to ET Hall, whose ‘Silent Language’ was a seminal work in the field. I also value the paradigm approach of Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, both former teachers at Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, in Riding the Waves of Culture and subsequent volumes. Robert House’s GLOBE project is very important for culture and leadership studies. Geert Hofstede is everybody’s starting point (still going strong at Check out Cultures and Organizations, the McGraw Hill edition. I like some of the practical descriptions of business culture, especially in books like John Mole’s Mind Your Manners or Terri Morrison’s Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands. One American in Europe based in France that we have to mention is Dr. George Simons, the doyen of cultural training with his Diversophy group.

3. Sharon: What intrigues you the most about world cultures?

Barry: Three things, communication, management and expectations. I started off as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages so I’m fascinated by different communication styles. In my book I identify six key styles of communication and show how to adapt to each one. The second thing is management style. It is fascinating to see the different attitudes to organization, leadership and decision making, gender politics in management, timely delivery, teamworking and so on that exist in different business cultures. There is a view that in today’s multinational corporations, once size fits all. It doesn’t. The message has to be ‘go global but THINK LOCAL’. Finally, and most important is the hidden factor, expectations. What are my expectations of our business relationship? What are yours? If they don’t mesh we don’t do business. In international joint ventures and mergers and acquisitions it can be as simple as that. But firms waste millions of dollars learning that hard lesson.

Part Two

Earlier this week, I introduced readers to the incredible author Barry Tomalin, and explored through an interview what influenced and fascinated him most in writing his latest book. Now, some additional insights from Barry:

1. Sharon: What is the single most fascinating thing you discovered when writing the book?

Barry: I think it is the stories that gave life to the book. I follow the Dale Carnegie principle: Tell a story, then make a point; make a point, then illustrate it with a story. It is hard to select just one, but my favorite might be the story I share about Jeanne Brett’s work on Fusion Teams at the Kellogg School of Management which readers can find on page 169.

2. Sharon: In addition to reading your book and traveling internationally, what else can help enlighten business professionals about world business cultures?

Barry: The worldwide web. Enter ‘Indonesian business culture’ for example, and readers will open up an ongoing world of advice and support. However, as with everything on the Web, we all have to use our critical judgment to determine what is proven and valuable, rather than unverified advice.

3. Sharon: What would you like to explore next on world cultures?

Barry: One culture that is absolutely crucial to the understanding of future world business is the culture of China. As the Chinese are learning about us, we need to be learning more about China. I also had the privilege of living in West Africa which is an extraordinarily rich culture. I am keen to do more work in that area.

4. Sharon: What are you reading now?

Barry: I just found a four volume history of China, written by Chinese scholars, so I’ve begun going through that. History matters in forming cultural expectations. I’ve also updated my book on Germany and found a wonderful reference by Philip Oltermann called Keeping up with the Germans. Anyone interested in Germany will love it!

Many thanks to Barry for taking the time to share his insights with us. I can’t wait to see what is next from him as an author, trainer, and global business consultant!

Posted on December 4 2014 by Martin Thomas


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