The Interrelationship of Culture, Consulting, and Assessment
America as a land of opportunity attracts culture-diversified workforce from all over the world because of this nation’s economic power, political stability, and social equality. The emergence of global economy has formed cross-cultural workplace and business environment in organizations. For example, many U.S. high tech firms have opened development centers in Asian regions including China and India to take advantage of cost-effective supplies of labor and resources; companies from Europe, Asia, and South America increasingly penetrate the U.S. market and offer products and services to American consumers and businesses. In these organizations, people of different racial and cultural backgrounds must work together in divergent social and legal environments towards convergent organizational goals.
Globalization and culture diversification have brought both opportunities and challenges to organizational consultants. As elaborated in Nederveen Pieterse, van Knippenberg, and van Dierendonck (2013), cultural diversity could be a double-edged sword. On one hand, diverse perspectives and experience facilitate creativity. On the other hand, culture shock, culture conflict, and culture prejudice can dissolve team synergy and hinder group performance. Both U.S. and international organizations today quest for solutions to cross-cultural issues in organizational development. To meet such demand, coaches and consultants must understand human and organizational aspects of multicultural influence to organizational behavior and business process. Organizational consultants need to enhance their assessment and intervention competencies with cultural concerns and international perspectives in order to help organizations manage their cultural diversified workforce, integrate global business practice, and internationalize their products and services (Ensari, 2002).
To help consultants develop culture awareness and culture-relevant consulting competencies, this article reviews organizational aspects of cultural diversification and analyzes issues and impacts of cultural diversity on coaching and consulting practices. From the systemic perspective, coaching and consultation for individuals, groups, and organizations share common grounds where multiple cultures influence intervention, leadership, and organizational changes. Thus this article also discusses the interrelationship of culture, consulting, and assessment in individual, group, and organizational levels. The assessment for effectiveness of coaching and consulting interventions is also studied.
Effects of Cultural Diversity on Coaching and Consulting
Culture is defined as “the shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through socialization” (Leonard, Freedman, Hill, Ng, Warrier, and Chu, 2012, p. 252). Either within an organization or in public society, people are identified and distinguished by their culture groups based on these shared patterns. Cultural factors influence and mediate knowledge creation and dissemination in coaching and consulting for both individual and collective clients (Abbott, Gilbert, & Rosinski, 2013). To accommodate cultural diversity, coaches and consultants should adjust their interventions for cultural considerations in five dimensions that include: “(1) context orientation; (2) power distance, (3) uncertainty avoidance; (4) achievement orientation; and (5) collectivism/individualism” (Hofstede as cited in Cooper, 2012, p. 244).
In individual coaching, it is imperative for a coach to foster an engaging relationship with the client. Alongside psychological and cognitive complex of coaching, culture could present additional challenges to establish constructive relationships with diverse clients and in international environments. Passmore (2010) suggested that a coach could apply a strategy of inclusiveness to initially transcend apparent layers of diversity in gender, age and race; then the coach should consider critical cultural aspects to establish lasting interventions customized for the client’s specific situations. In order to transcend cultural and national boundaries, a coach may exert intervention techniques such as culture exchange, experience sharing, and storytelling for both the coach and the client to understand the cultural context of verbal and non-verbal communications from both sides (Passmore, 2010). In executive coaching for international business, the coach could help global leaders develop trans-cultural leadership that combines traditional leadership practice with an understanding and sensitivity of the world’s many cultures (Davie as cited in Passmore, 2010). Well adapted trans-cultural leadership can enhance competitive edge and business expansion in the global market.
In team coaching for diverse workforce, a coach should aim to unify team members to work together with in-depth understanding of culture differences among them. A multicultural team often demonstrates capricious behaviors, attitudes, and communication styles; such variation may elicit bias and separation thus team diversity often becomes challenge to team coaches (Nederveen Pieterse, van Knippenberg, & van Dierendonck, 2013). To eliminate conflicts among team members, interventions of team coaching should balance group thinking and individual creativity. The coach needs to ensure that individual uniqueness is recognized and respected while the team establishes a collective identity in the pursuit of group cohesiveness (Abbott, Gilbert, & Rosinski, 2013).
Organizational consultants play important roles in helping organizations and their leaders manage diverse workforce and workplace either in home countries or internationally. As explained in Ewoh (2013), caprices of color, gender, and ethnicity in the labor pool have greatly proliferated culture diversity in organizations, thus in order to disseminate multicultural understanding among organizational members, consultants should provide intervention programs to help organizations bridge cultural gaps. The diversity of human resource furnishes a dynamic body of knowledge, skills, and abilities to accomplish organizational goals. Using culture-proven strategies in team building and organizational development, an organization can optimize the use of diversified resources and maximize team productivity. In international consulting, both consultants and clients need to raise cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity. It is crucial for international consultants to learn clients’ cultural background and avoid making false assumptions in organizational assessment. For example, when consulting for a foreign organization, an American consultant should be aware of that “the majority of interventions used today largely are based on a Western centric model of scientific thinking, intervention assumptions may not be aligned with a specific culture and must constantly be challenged” (Fulkerson, 2012, p. 327). In consulting with multicultural companies, consultants may apply culture exchange and culture integration to increase effectiveness of interventions.
Assessing Effectiveness of Coaching and Consulting Interventions
Assessments for effectiveness of coaching and consulting interventions are important to both consultants and organizational clients. For organizations, their leaders demand accountable results because they make business decisions by the returns on investment of consulting services (Winum, Nielsen, & Bradford, 2002). For a consultant, the assessment provides an objective evaluation on his or her work. Consultants may use the assessment as a feedback of the consulting practice from which they consistently learn new knowledge and improve their skills.
According to Greif (2013), the assessment for intervention effectiveness pertains to standard scientific evaluation for preconditions, costs, processes, and especially the outcomes of interventions; the evaluation usually embraces data collection, statistical data processing, interpretation, and presentation of the results. In assessment of individual coaching, questionnaires are the most common examples of a reaction measure that generates satisfaction ratings of coaching intervention (Greif, 2013, p. 447). For executive coaching, the assessment of effectiveness focuses on intervention outcomes in “five categories: performance, motivation, behaviour change, culture, and leadership” (MacKie, 2007, p. 312). For instance, the improvement of leadership behavior may be assessed by leadership scales.
In organizational consulting, the effectiveness of interventions could be assessed in four dimensions that include an organization’s mission, people, structure, and systems (Winum, Nielsen, & Bradford, 2002). Effective outcomes of interventions may be evaluated as members’ alignment to organization’s mission, highly competent and satisfied work force, improved organizational structure for better operational efficiency, and optimized business system for effective communication and workflow across all departments. For the assessment, consultants and organizational clients should agree on the measurements of qualitative or quantitative evaluations. According to Halfhill, Huff, Johnson, Ballentine, and Beyerlein (2002), consultants could assess organizational development interventions by measuring performance, productivity, and financial outcomes using sales, production output, and product quality data. For human resource intervention, the job satisfaction survey and employee retention data may be used for assessing the intervention effectiveness.
Consultants should consider cultural aspects when assessing effectiveness of interventions since a valid method in one culture may not achieve desirable results in other cultures. For example, an employee satisfaction survey is a standard method to gather information from a work team, but it might not be applicable to the Chinese culture of higher power distance because “the employees would be suspicious about the leader’s intention and tend not to offer an explicit response to a questionnaire” (Passmore, 2010, p. 112). Even in an American workplace, if the organizational culture could not support open communications among employees, workers might not reveal their true opinions in the survey for the intervention feedback, thus the assessment would become inaccurate and ineffective. In the Chinese case, the assessment may be customized to take advantage of Chinese culture’s emphases on trusted relationship. As suggested in Passmore (2010), an alternative approach of converted informant can be used: a trusted team member is identified and recruited to collect feedback and report the situation informally. After all, an organization is an intricate system thus consultants must be capable to customize interventions and assessments with consideration of many interactive and influential factors.
Cultural diversity is a prominent trend in both U.S. and international organizations. An organization is a dynamic system where culture could further complicate interactions among its teams and members. To help organizations develop and transform in today’s global economy, coaches and consultants must cope with cultural affects in consulting interventions. In organizational intervention and assessment, cultural differences should be considered in five aspects: context orientation, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, achievement orientation, and collectivism/individualism. Cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity are crucial for consultants to avoid making false assumptions. Coaches and consultants should corporate with international clients for mutual understanding of cultural differences through culture exchange and culture integration.
Assessments for effectiveness of coaching and consulting interventions are necessary and beneficial for both clients and consultants. Such assessments should be conducted using standard scientific measurements to evaluate intervention outcomes in organizational and human dimensions that include an organization’s mission, people, structure, and systems. Questionnaires and survey are common methods for data collection and assessment. Organizational data such as sales, production, and employee performance and job satisfaction may be acquired and processed for measuring and evaluating intervention effectiveness. Consultants need to consider culture aspects and adjust assessment methods and approaches accordingly for culture-diversified environments.
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