Fons Trompenaars, The Speaker Show

Episode 144

Fons Trompenaars, World leader in understanding cultural difference whose seminal book Riding the Waves of Culture, Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business put culture in business on the map.

Episode 144

Fons Trompenaars, World leader in understanding cultural difference whose seminal book Riding the Waves of Culture, Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business put culture in business on the map.

Ep. 144 – In discussion with Fons Trompenaars

In this episode of #TheSpeakerShow, Sean Pillot de Chenecey interviews the organisational theorist and cross-cultural communications expert Fons Trompenaars, who is recognised around the world for his work as consultant, trainer, motivational speaker and author of best-selling books regarding culture and business.

As founder and director of Trompenaars Hampden-Turner (THT), an intercultural management firm, he has spent over 25 years helping Fortune 500 leaders manage and solve their business and cultural dilemmas to increase global effectiveness and performance, particularly in the areas of globalisation, mergers and acquisition, HR and leadership development.

In this highly informative episode, we discuss a range of his viewpoints on issues including:

  • The Seven Dimensions of Culture
  • National Culture vs Corporate Culture
  • Servant Leadership and Risk Management
  • Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business
  • Accelerating communication, decision making and business performance

Episode audio & transcript

Connect with Speakers Associates

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (00:11): Hello, this podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the business world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders. Founded in 1999, today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot de Chenecey, author of The Post-Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries, which are being followed by The New Abnormal. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialist areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (01:12): So this morning I’m really pleased to be joined by an incredibly interesting and dynamic individual Fons Trompenaars. He’s an organizational theorist and cross-cultural communications expert, who’s recognized around the world for his work as a consultant, trainer, motivational speaker and author of various books on all subjects of culture and business. As founder and director of Trompenaars Hampden-Turner (THT) an intercultural management firm. He spent over 25 years helping Fortune 500 leaders manage and solve their business and cultural dilemmas to increase global effectiveness and performance, particularly in the areas of globalization, mergers, and acquisition, HR and leadership development. His book Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business has sold over 200,000 copies and was translated into 16 languages amongst some Chinese, Estonia, French, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, and Turkish. He’s also co-author amongst others of Nine Visions of Capitalism: Unlocking the Meanings of Wealth Creation, Servant Leadership Across Cultures, M&A Tango on Mergers and Acquisitions and Rewarding Performance Globally. He works now going beyond merely understanding cultural difference to describing ways in which smart leaders can gain advantage from it. In 21 Leaders for 21st Century, he redefines our idea of leadership to include the ability to resolve competing cultural dilemmas. So Fons, good morning. And how are you?

Fons Trompenaars (02:55): I’m fine, Sean, after this introduction, nothing can go wrong anymore.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (02:59): Exactly. Ever.

Fons Trompenaars (03:02): No, I’m fine.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (03:03): Fantastic. So Fons, we were talking earlier on about the, sort of, a situation we all find ourselves in the moment to a greater or lesser degree, but before we go through some of the really key issues that you see impacting businesses and organization and management and leaders and brands of all descriptions, perhaps it’d be great. For the listeners, if you took us through, if you like the, your incredibly interesting background and the winding and fascinating path that you’ve taken to get you to where you are now.

Fons Trompenaars (03:35): Yeah, Sean, I often start by saying I was born out of a French mother and a Dutch father. And I’m saying that obviously with a purpose, because, it made me sensitive to cultural differences, especially if you look back to it. And, after my economics degree, which in the Netherlands is quite broad. You can choose between general economics and macro microeconomics, but also organizational behavior, which is more the MBA type of, which I chose.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (04:06): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (04:06): And immediately thereafter, I got a PhD at Wharton, which was a fantastic experience, but already, and this was between 79 and 82. I looked at what is the effect of national culture on corporate culture. And I did it by comparing 10 refineries of Shell, and then joined Shell for about eight years in HR, where I could apply my theories into practice.

Fons Trompenaars (04:36): And I must say Shell has been a great sponsor both financially, but also intellectually. It’s a, in that sense, a fantastic company to really do experiments in this nature. And by the time it was the largest, international firm in terms of the number of expatriates that had 8,000 full-time expatriates.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (04:58): Wow.

Fons Trompenaars (04:58): So it will was a great way of learning. Then I started my own consulting firm first in training, and this was in the late eighties. And, gradually, thought that training is nice, but can we not add consulting to it? We were bought twice by KPMG and decided that perhaps it was not always the best marriage. So, started again as a, an independent consultant firm, which we are now as well. So that is a bit the backbone of my history.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (05:40): Absolutely fascinating. I love the idea of being bought twice by a KPMG. Extraordinary.

Fons Trompenaars (05:46): Yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (05:46): Now, just in terms of, going through all of the, or certainly a number of the really fascinating viewpoints you have, just to take back to start somewhere now a few months ago, Speakers Associates, who are naturally, are obviously are the fantastic bureau behind, The Speaker Show. They ran The Recovery Summit, which has probably been, either the, or certainly one of the major summits throughout this extraordinary year. I think there were 8,000 people on the day, viewing the various, or to the sort to the five days of speeches, 8,000 people listening in and viewing those. And it’s been downloaded many, many more times since now. You spoke about Recovery through Reconciling COVID19 Dilemmas. So perhaps, passing to start there, just talk us through the sort of things that you were talking about at The Recovery Summit, and the lessons, therefore, for say for organizations and business.

Fons Trompenaars (06:46): Alright. Now, Sean, a bit practically. I certainly realized that the combination of flying and doing public events, keynote speeches. If you combine the two your work goes from a hundred percent to zero, overnight. Within a month everything was canceled. So then you’re sitting at home, which is fun, but certainly you have an agenda that is completely open. So I decided to do some work on COVID19. Why? Because I’ve never heard the word dilemma or paradox so often created by the pandemic. So it is very often in our work of cross-cultural understanding that we say, gee, you can understand the difference, but it creates dilemmas if you wanna work together. And so we apply that to the pandemic. And, we, by just thinking about it, reading the newspaper, we found that there were 22 dilemmas created by the pandemic, just by thinking about it. Let me give you some examples.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (07:52): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (07:52): The meta dilemma was health versus economy. Obviously. Now the beauty of a dilemma is that it’s very often two things you like, or two things you don’t like, the dilemma is not a thing you like versus a thing you don’t like, because you just go for the thing you like.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:14): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (08:14): But a real dilemma is that you all want to be healthy and you all want an economy that is thriving. But if you only go for the economy, it’s very often done at the cost of health. And if you go for health, it might be at the cost of the economy. So two positives fighting, we call a dilemma. Now the difference between a paradox. And, but this is a matter of definition because they’re really brothers and sisters.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (08:44): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (08:46): They’re the paradox very often is it irreconcilable dilemma. While a dilemma is reconcilable. So it is by asking the question, what can I do with health that gives us a better economy and what can I do with the economy that gives us better health?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (09:04): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (09:06): And now let me give you some more examples of the dilemmas we found. Do you comply to the rules of government versus do you like to be flexible? Now, I have good news for you. Both are positives.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (09:22): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (09:23): But if you comply very often, it’s seen at the cost of flexibility and when you are flexible, it’s done at the cost of compliance. So the question again is what can I do with flexibility that increases my compliant behavior and what kind of compliant behavior should I develop to make myself more flexible? Another one is individual freedom and group solidarity.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (09:55): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (09:56): One is top down leadership versus bottom up leadership, et cetera, et cetera. So we had 20, we had 22 and then we did some research by interviewing people. And we came up with the seven most quoted ones.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (10:12): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (10:12): And we developed an app, which by the way, is still available. It’s called the COVID19 Resilience app, where we, in a very quick way, got the significant results of 22 countries, looking at how they combined these opposites on two levels, you as an individual. And what you think your society is doing around you. And now I’ll give you the results on those seven dilemmas.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (10:47): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (10:47): All seven correlated negatively with the number of deaths. So that’s a negative correlation that is very often, seen as a positive namely, the better you combine the opposites of flexibility versus compliance, individual creativity and freedom versus group solidarity. The more you thought your society was combining these opposites, the less number of deaths you had. Now, there were obviously a lot of difficulties in measuring, you know, because societies didn’t measure in the same way. And so we went to excess death compared to the year before, blah, blah, blah. But let me not bother you with the, let’s say methodological problems. But it’s the first time we could really show the fundamental nature of thinking and approaching dilemmas effectively with a great result, namely, that you kill less people.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (11:54): Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Wow.

Fons Trompenaars (11:56): And that’s what we have said for many things. Now, the top two, by the way, the top two Sean, in what we found the highest correlation. So the biggest effect is number two was leadership ,and we call that servant leadership. It’s a type of leadership that combines top down, namely giving direction and listening to people. Yeah. Servant leadership is defined as enabling other people to perform better.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (12:26): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (12:26): Like a good father and mother does. A correlation of 0.5, which is tremendously high. The high correlation was what does your society learn from other societies and combines it with what you learn within your society. And we call that the locus of control in other words, learning out outside to connect with learning insight and

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (12:58): Yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (12:59): That were the two highest correlations. Now what does it mean in practice is not giving solutions, but is asking the right questions. What can I do with one side that helps us with the other side? And that is something that we have done in a, yeah. Pretty, inviting way of doing, research in that way.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (13:27): Oh, absolutely. Absolutely fascinating. I mean, quite extraordinary. And just in terms of, perhaps unpacking those in more detail, so in terms of this issue of learning from others, just, just talk more in detail about that you talk about, you know, the locus of control and, you know, the outside in approach to, so yeah, just perhaps just some, some more information about your approach there, and the sort of, organizations that you’ve been talking with this about and consulting and indeed, and your writings on the subject.

Fons Trompenaars (14:04): Yeah. Now let’s take a very popular topic at the moment. I was quite impressed by the development of a vaccine. Now what you have seen development of a vaccine and it’s quite hidden, although there are articles written about it, it’s the exchange of within company knowledge to other competitors.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (14:30): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (14:30): Even now it is known that if pharmaceutical firms will not be able to do develop a vaccine themselves, is that they will open up for other companies to make production of their vaccine available in the company. Now that’s an example, a micro example of why we were able, we humanity to develop a vaccine within a year. Now let’s hope it’s there, but we don’t know yet, but suppose it would happen. It’s only because companies were open to exchange information amongst each other and combine it with their own knowledge. Now that’s a wonderful way of saying, Hey, for example, let’s take Europe as a metaphor. How much are we able to combine the strength of our nation with the strength of other nations and how open are we to it? And I unfortunately see recently that we’re closing more and more boundaries. Brexit, but not only Brexit, it is, you know, Orban in Hungary closing their borders, Spain and Italy complaining about, you know, now the latest Polish and Hungarian stuff. You see that we go back to the nation state while problems are far beyond them.

Fons Trompenaars (16:02): And so we need those combinations.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (16:09): Can I ask, on that point, we were talking earlier on about, again sort of, you know, max macro almost, you know, certainly sort of existential issues of our time. And with regards to that, point about, politics and global issues. I mean, as we record this, we have an extraordinary situation with regards to the person, the white house refusing to leave the room. And we talked about, so that the, as you put it, the pathology of bipolar thinking. So, yeah, perhaps just, talk a bit about that in terms of, your,

Fons Trompenaars (16:42): Well, very good, Sean. It’s in the core of, I think what we try to bring to the audiences that is, there are two major problems at the moment and they collide one issue is that the diversity around us is increasing every day, not in much of quantity, but the experience of it. Now I live in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, 53% of the people living in Amsterdam don’t have Dutch parents.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (17:12): Wow. Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (17:12): I was in Miami and there was a sign in Miami. We speak English here.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (17:20): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (17:22): Now, the world is getting more diverse, not only in terms of nationality and language, in terms of gender, in terms of generation, we’re much more in interaction with diverse environments.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (17:34): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (17:34): Now that means that we need models that are beyond culture. Now, the problem with models, let’s take leadership models. They’re all culturally biased. If you read the literature written by an American, you smell America in what they write.

Speaker 3 (17:52): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (17:52): Namely they say the opposite five years and later, and that’s called the revised edition.

Speaker 3 (18:00): Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (18:01): So, it was a good leader has courage now it’s caution. A good leader 10 years ago had vision, now they say, oh, people with a vision need to go to the eye doctor. Now it’s about execution, right? Now that’s the American literature in a nutshell, obviously I’m the cynic.

Speaker 3 (18:21): Yeah. Yeah. Nutshell.

Fons Trompenaars (18:22): If you take a same cynical approach to the French literature on leadership, it’s le homme pa homme, namely, are you male born in Paris?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (18:32): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (18:32): Did you go to the called polytechnic? Oh God, pa homme. Now an American don’t understand that, you know, if you take the leadership literature in most of Asia, China, it’s about martial arts, yin yang, mao pao tao. And why I’m saying that we know this, you know, but now you have a Chinese and American, Brit, a Swedish person in one room. What leadership model would you apply to them? And we’re struggling with that, you know, in national leaders, some say they need to be top down. No, they need to be bottom up. I have good news for you. Servant leadership is a type of leadership that works in any culture, because they reconcile, have meta dilemma, serving and leading, but inside out, outside in, individual creativity group, solidarity, you know. Servant leaders are guiding that process. So that’s one comment and the bipolar models, don’t work. Now, that’s the other handicap, most models are bipolar. And I said, what the hell do you mean with that? Now the best example I think is Myers Briggs. And Myers Briggs, if you go through the MBTI questionnaire, the original one.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (19:59): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (20:00): Are you thinking, or are you feeling? So if you score high on thinking by definition, you score low on feeling, right?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (20:07): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (20:08): Now obviously a good French manager, a good Italian manager needs to score higher on feeling than on thinking while the Swedish one needs to score higher on thinking than on feeling. But if you go international, what is a good leader? It’s a leader that frames their feeling by thinking and combines the thinking with feeling. Because if you only think you are a robot, and if you only feel you are a neurotic,

Fons Trompenaars (20:46): The combination allows you not to, let’s say, go into a pathology. So the icons of bipolar thinking are MBAs, say in the Netherlands better known as mediocre, but arrogant. I told you earlier, I have one. So I know it from the inside. They are completely educated in bipolar models. So now I’m teaching MBAs and I’m asking an MBA, why would an organization centralize? And why would an organization decentralize? Now they come with lists. I very often say cynically before you, and the question, their lists already, you centralize for economies of scale control, consistency, and you decentralize for uniqueness, flexibility, and being close to the customer. Yeah?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (21:40): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (21:40): And I say now the same question, but first think, and most MBAs get nervous because normally that’s not part of their education. Now, if you think about the question, there is only one answer that I would like to give to you because, very often it takes too long in a podcast to, you know, ask for 10, 10 minutes of deep thought. But the answer is that the only reason for centralization is decentralization. Cause if you’re not decentralized, there’s nothing to centralized, right?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:20): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (22:21): And you can only decentralize something that is centralized. So, and this comes to non bipolar thinking and it not a word gay, you know, if you take our human body, our human body is at centralized or decentralized. And we all know the answer is yes. We have centralized certain functions to allow for more decentralization.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:46): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (22:46): So for example, very abstracter we have centralized the information of an activity that is decentral.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (22:54): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (22:55): Now our models don’t allow us, you know, I do a lot of research on corporate culture, organizational culture and the basic questionnaires amongst other things, obviously look at the degree of centralization. And if you score high on centralization, you score low on decentralization. Now

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (23:17): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (23:18): Bloody nonsense. The best companies are both centralized and decentralized at the same time.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (23:25): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (23:26): And that’s why we’re talking now about purpose driven organization. You centralize the purpose in order to allow for more decentralization about this stuff.

Fons Trompenaars (23:37): Right? And that is so counterintuitive. So if I, because I talk a lot, Sean, but sometimes I’ll give you a summary that might be helpful. So what I’m trying to say, the world is getting more diverse, our models suck because they are and cultural biased, and bipolar. And what we need is models, approaches that are reconciling the dilemmas, in the COVID 19 environment between coaches of diversity and what have you. And the way leaders do it is called servant leadership because they reconcile all kinds of dilemmas, like a good father and a good mother does in the family.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (24:24): Yeah. Yep. Can I ask on that point, in terms of, you know, you mentioned there that you you’ve like the parental, sort of, the angle. I mean, again, there’s been a lot of talk, obviously the years about things like spiral dynamics, individuals and organizations and, you know, moving from, you know, basic survivals through security, then going up through, you know, communities up to a, sort of more holistic way of being now. I read something that you put out recently that was absolutely fascinating. You were talking about, this from the perspective of how much control leaders have over the risks facing their businesses. Now in a year when yeah. I think it’s, again, I mean, we’ve just seen over the last few days, the latest reports or forecast for next year, coming out wide had just put out the world in 2021 as has the economist.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (25:17): if we go back to the, their reports, this time, last year, along with, you know, any amount of research agencies and trend agencies, I think we can all agree that COVID wouldn’t have appeared in any of them. So, you know, it’s fascinating how, you know, all the forecasters, with very few exceptions missed even mentioning the potential of this. So when you are talking with your clients, either on a consulting basis or indeed when you’re giving your about risk, what sort of things are you talking about now from the point of view of, as you wrote recently about how to actually deal with and prepare for businesses and organizations to make them more resilient with regards to potential future shocks?

Fons Trompenaars (26:06): Right. Sean, what a wonderful question. May I start with a bit of context and the context is that our approach to risk is the risk of culture. Very often ignored, you know, I’ve seen a lot of surveys on risk management and they go a bit like, you know, likert scales, strongly agree, strongly disagree, or always one extreme, never on the other one is, let me give you an example. In my organization, when a new rule is dictated that we need to comply to we do this, and then you have a scale always never. And if you say always, ah, great risk management, right? So risk management very often should not be mistaken like most of the surveys tend to do is risk avoidance, right?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (27:08): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (27:09): So let me apply this risk way of thinking to the same example, namely, and I’ll do it by an anecdote.

Fons Trompenaars (27:20): I was doing some work for a big bank in the US and they were a Dutch bank and they were giving a lot of mortgages, loans to agricultural sector. And they said, Mr. Trompenaars here are the risk managers. Could you please help them? Because we’re losing a lot of clients because the rules of The Netherlands that we apply in our American subsidiary, are stronger even fiercer than in America and clients say, what is this another rule? And no, we’ll go to our competitor. So we had a workshop on, what we call the, The Dilemmas of Risk. And this one was one, namely. Yeah, we do comply, but it’s only one side of the spectrum. Risk management is the dance between the other extreme, namely to show flexibility toward the client because risk avoidance is easy.

Fons Trompenaars (28:25): You just comply, you don’t have any risk. And at the end, no client either.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (28:29): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (28:31): So, or you stay in bed the whole day. So the risk is minimized. That’s one risk management. Risk management is reconciling the dilemma between on the one hand compliance on the other hand flexibility toward the client. Now we worked on that dilemma with that client and the end result, this was two, three years ago, was applied. And within a year they had their 20% back and even grew. And what they did is ask the question, how can we use the flexibility of our client to have better rules to comply to? And how can we use compliance to be more flexible toward the client? And they, you know, all kinds of creative juices came out because normally we don’t think like that. Now the reports were very simple. You know what we need to do. We need to do town halls to our clients and explain them why these rules are not to tease them, but that these rules are there to protect the client.

Fons Trompenaars (29:44): And what made a huge difference is asking the client, the question, if this is our philosophy to protect you, how can we improve the quality of the rules you need to comply to?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (29:58): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (29:58): And by that dialogue, that’s risk management, not with avoidance.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (30:04): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (30:05): It all worked perfectly. Now, if I translate that to a broader, real, because this is just one example. I need to give you my definition of organizational culture. Organizational culture is the end result of competing values fighting for preference. If one value dominates its opposite, you run a risk.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (30:33): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (30:33): So a simple example, any organization has a fight between long term vision and short term results. If one dominates the opposite, you run a risk.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (30:47): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (30:47): Okay. So risk management is about the process of reconciling opposite. I gave examples earlier in this podcast about learning from the outside, learning from the inside. If you only go for the outside, you run a risk that you have nothing to offer yourself. If you only look at the inside your enable staring, right. And now a healthy corporate culture. And that’s what we do with our clients. We are great in measuring, where are you? This fight between opposites, which others would call an organizational culture scan. And then we take out those three, but we have 12 segments to look at. So six meta dilemmas. And then within the biggest, let’s say problematic area where, one looking outside marketing driven organization, having nothing inside, oh, you run a risk. Why don’t we help you reconcile that dilemma?

Fons Trompenaars (31:57): Right. And yeah, I hope that’s a clear picture about risk management. We developed an app that measures this, you know, within 10 minutes you get the biggest risks in terms of the culture you are part of.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (32:16): Absolutely. Fantastic. And then what about, moving that, or looking at that sort of issue through a different, but linked frame from the point of view of yourself as an individual, as a consultant. So, you know, one of the dilemmas, I think Martin Solo mentioned years ago from the point of view of consultants, and consultancies is that they spend so much time consulting that they actually can often, you know, lose the ability to have the time to refresh all their own thinking. So in terms of yourself, and I think the financial times referred to this in terms of, building personal resilience is actually saying, one has to be anti fragile, which was really interesting way of putting it. Yeah. So in terms of yourself, so where do you get your inspiration from?

Fons Trompenaars (33:07): Oh, wonderful. Wonderful. Now, first of all, I have the enormous delight of being partner with Charles Hampden Turner and Peter Williams, two British guys. I’m so sorry. Amazing by the way. They have been in different ways, enormous sources of inspiration. And so we have written over 20 books together. And writing books, you know, if you have enough time in between give so much juices to, you know, review at your work, although, you know, it’s a bit the dilemma and I can immediately see what the financial times is warning us of, namely that if it’s always wine in new packages.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (33:59): Yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (34:03): Yeah. It’s old wine in new packages, but what you hope like if it’s a Goku class say that, that the wine gets better.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (34:12): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (34:12): And I feel that we have grown over the years. So at the moment, for example, Sean, I’m writing a book with our partners on tax across cultures and it’s, it was, you know, inspired by my times at KPMG, where the head of taxes at funds, we feel we need harmonization of taxes, but people underestimate how taxas perceives completely different by different cultures.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (34:46): Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (34:48): And by the way, shall I give one thing away of the book?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (34:51): Please do.

Fons Trompenaars (34:52): The highest correlation we found. And I’m giving that as an example, how working with colleagues inspires you to get new insights, and it’s such a counterintuitive title, namely, the title is Pay Taxes, Be Happy, the highest correlation. The highest correlation we found is between the happiness index.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (35:17): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (35:18): And the amount of taxes you pay.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (35:21): Wow.

Fons Trompenaars (35:21): So in Northern, we pay an enormous amount of tax.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (35:26): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (35:27): And people tend to be the happiest. Now always interesting are the exceptions. So for example, we found France that pays enormous amount of taxes is a complete unhappy society. According to both indexes, right? The tax index and its direct tax accumulated with indirect tax and deductibles. And I know literally what is given to the state or any other institution that is not in your control.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (36:01): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (36:01): And France, you know, breaks this logic. So they there needs to be an intervening variable. And indeed we found one and by the way, the OECD gives all these numbers and we were able to correlate the hell out of the stuff. And that is how much do you trust the societies that, or the institutions that collect the tax?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (36:25): Wow. Yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (36:26): In France, there’s a very low confidence trust in the institutions that collect tax. Yeah. While in Northern Europe, Sweden, the Netherlands, Scandinavia in general, that’s very high confidence.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (36:40): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (36:41): Now I’m, this is an example of how I at least try to get into new topics with the stability of cultural insights and dilemma reconciliation. Yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (36:56): Yep.

Fons Trompenaars (36:57): And so the stability is in the backbone. Or the skeleton is always the same, but we put new flesh around the bones.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:06): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (37:07): And, yeah. And clients are obviously an enormous source of inspiration.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:12): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (37:13): So I hope that answer your question, but, yeah,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:17): Yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (37:18): It’s so much fun to get into a new topic in the beginning. It’s hard you say, what the hell am I doing? I don’t know anything about tax and suddenly an emerging property comes up and you say, wow, what an interesting topic.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:33): Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I know it’s the oldest thing in the world of sort of, journalism that people always say that if you really want to learn about something write about it.

Fons Trompenaars (37:43): Yeah. Yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:44): I’m just not doing that.

Fons Trompenaars (37:45): Very much so.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (37:47): And then what about the, you mentioned right at the beginning of this conversation, which has been fascinating. Thank you so much for this. What about, so talking about how interesting Shell was, or is as an organization. Okay. So what about, elsewhere? So talking about organizations, businesses or whatever. Those that are getting culture, right. Who would you point to as being good examples? And indeed bad examples perhaps of say organizations and businesses that are yeah, yeah, yeah. Showing us how it should or perhaps shouldn’t be done.

Fons Trompenaars (38:25): Yeah. Now let me give you some examples of companies that are have, you know, are still in my memory as well. And some of them disappeared, you know, let me give you an example, Motorola, at the time of Bob Galvin and I’m talking about the mid nineties, there were on the top just before Nokia.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (38:48): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (38:49): And Bob Galvin already, I would say he would have my age 67, at the time and his son was getting ready to take over. And they had so much good initiatives. I was impressed. So let me give you one example of Motorola. And I’m still using it as something, every company could, could start with tomorrow. And it was a program that his son really applied, after Bob Galvin and it was called individual dignity and entitlement

Fons Trompenaars (39:28): And individual dignity and entitlement was that every boss, four times a year had a discussion with their subordinates around four or five. No, let me, I think it’s five basic questions and the answers should be yes or no. So for example, is the work you’re doing for Motorola meaningful to you? Yes or no. Now if it was a yes. You go to the next question. So if it was all, yes, you were done in two minutes, but if it was a no, like, do you have enough resources to do the tasks set to you properly at Motorola? Yes or no? No. Then it was the responsibility of the boss to make it a yes to next quarter.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (40:16): Wow.

Fons Trompenaars (40:17): Yeah. Now that’s a way to introduce servant leadership.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (40:21): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (40:22): Because if the responsibility is with the boss to make the yes. The boss better be a servant leader, right? Now,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (40:30): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (40:31): That doesn’t mean that it’s all on the shoulder of the boss. He or she will have a discussion with the subordinate, how to do it and blah, blah, blah. What do you mean good resources? Are you getting what have you, but you had a good dialogue. Yeah. Now another thing at Motorola they did for the first one I know is Motorola University. It was the first company in the world that had their own university. Wow. Now that’s one example. Another example I was very impressed with and they are all attached to very often the top leader in Shell, the top leader was not so known. Shell, it was its culture. But the examples I give very often attached to a great CEO. And I was called on a day by the head of HR of the BOC,

Fons Trompenaars (41:30): Oxygen. It was the gas company in the UK bought by Linda Argay. Bought about 40,000 people and the head of HR said, oh my God, we as a British company are bought by German funds, help us help us. So now we were allowed by Dr. Heisler, the CEO of Linda, because they were the buying party to do a lot of work in that company. And we were allowed to look at the dilemmas between Germany that was very centralized, close to Munich and BOC very decentralized, et cetera, et cetera, all kinds of dilemmas, but because of the quality of writer and his management team, we were allowed all over the world to do workshops and had the dialogue between the two parties on equal hour to reconcile those dilemmas. But also writer said, no, this is not a dilemma. Here we are better. Or they are better. We just follow them. But you know, like the management style, that’s where we introduce servant leadership, the Germans very top down and the British corporate culture, very bottom up, very empowerment. Now servant leadership is a way to reconcile. Now that was another example, attached to the quality of the CEO. I said, wow, what a company?

Fons Trompenaars (43:07): Another example was Goldman Sachs,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (43:14): Giant squid.

Fons Trompenaars (43:15): Oh my God. And what, let me give you an anecdote, you know, we made some videos and the videos is to explain corporate culture and national culture and what have you. And the head of it, leadership developments at Fons, wonderful videos, but can you all put them on fast forward?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (43:40): Yes.

Fons Trompenaars (43:40): With Goldman cannot wait to listen to a video of 10 minutes. Are you kidding? You know, put it on fast forward. And it showed a bit that I’ve never seen a company where you do a dilemma workshop where they come out with the solution in that very workshop and implemented.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (43:58): Wow.

Fons Trompenaars (43:58): And if, and they had a tripod CEO, they really had an office of CEOs. And if there was a dilemma where they needed the agreement of the CEO, they called them and the CEO in New York came in and solved the dilemma at the spot.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (44:21): Wow.

Fons Trompenaars (44:21): Impressive. Impressive.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (44:24): Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (44:24): But there are companies that are really impressive in terms of, but very often either by their corporate culture or by their top management.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (44:36): Yeah. Yeah. Fascinating. I have to say by the way, in terms of your analogy about top down and bottom up style a while ago, talking with some comedy writers there saying that point of view of culture, for instance, the Germans laugh downwards, whereas the English laugh upwards. So one of those,

Fons Trompenaars (44:53): They would’ve a great time in America right now. Yeah,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (44:57): Indeed. Could I ask about, so talking about reconciling dilemmas, what about one of the probably, you know, the major dilemmas or issues affecting businesses or around the world. This year and that is working from home.

Fons Trompenaars (45:16): Oh yeah.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (45:17): Working in a manner whereby the employees, staff of organizations may very well not be meeting face to face for not only would it initially appeared to be weeks, which then stretched into months, which has stretched into some organizations saying, you know, what, if you wanna work from home forever, then do so. How do I, it’s a huge question, but what sort of things are you talking about with businesses and when they’re going well, just from the point of view of company culture, let alone, if you like sort of a culture culture, how do we retain or strengthen or adapt our corporate culture from the perspective of people not actually meeting physically?

Fons Trompenaars (46:00): Yeah. In fact, the COVID 19 resilience app was really looking at the individual level and societal level. We have added to that, and it’s now called the COVID 19 Recovery app. Exactly, what are the dilemmas that the pandemic has created in the workspace? Previously we called it new ways of working. And obviously one of the major dilemmas is what we call high tech versus high touch.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (46:30): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (46:31): We obviously were used to a high touch environment, we’re sitting at desk. We know each other, cubicles were kind of a compromise or not too much high touch. Behind the little wall. But now certainly we were forced to go high tech and digitization was not new. I mean, there were many, many digital products in the evolvement of things zoom existed before Corona, et cetera. And they had an amplification, but now with the amplification, we perhaps go from one pathology, everything high touch into everything high tech and we are realizing now that it’s indeed a dilemma because the awareness of the fact that it’s a dilemma, that doesn’t mean that everything that is zoom and digital is bad, although we feel a bit we’re sick and tired of it. Yeah. Getting into podcasting. So all this nonsense

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (47:34): Exactly.

Fons Trompenaars (47:35): Now, the, what we are finding out is that the high tech, high touch dilemma is a dilemma where we find that there are wonderful ways to reconcile again, by asking the question, and I’ll give you some examples in a second, how can we buy, being in a high touch environment, like in financial services, for example, where we know our clients, but we’re eaten up by a digital provider. You remember Charles Schwab? They deployed the market of Merrill Lynch. True. Obviously. Yeah, because they were the first ones at the end of the 1990s, that were into digital. And with every click, the price went up and they said, oh, this is great. So we did a workshop with Merrill Lynch. Merrill Lynch said, you know, our strengths is that we know our clients, that we are having an intimate, an intimate relationship with our client. And now this digital bastard is eating us up alive.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (48:57): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (48:58): Right? Now, if they would not treat it as a dilemma, they would say, oh, we need to go high, high tech. And I would tell you, Merrill Lynch would be dead because Charles Schwab had three, four years more of experience. They would eat them alive. Right?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (49:13): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (49:13): Now what did they say? What can we do with our intimate relationships, high touch in order to have our clients working on the digital means more effectively? And they did some things where they combine high tech with high touch. Okay. In training or in consulting, it’s called the blended approach. But that’s where we need to go. Now, what we offer to our clients in the new ways of working is first of all, the scan of their dilemmas, because it’s not only digital versus, analog.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (49:59): Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (50:00): It is also following the rules versus flexibility, you know? Yeah. It is also about being, having a lot of space, but at the same time being compact. It is also about what do we learn from the outside inside. So the things that are true for society, we’re now translating into what does it mean for business? We offer the app for free so that people can go to the app, which is found on our website. They get a free analysis of their dilemmas. And what we do then is run workshops, blend it. But if a company say, no, it needs to be fully digital, find it’s fully digital, but jewel, or if it’s fully face to face, we’ll do it face to face, depending on what have you. And what we’re then doing is giving the client a methodology to involve their people, to reconcile the dilemma themselves, who are we to tell them, this is how you do it. It depends on are you in fashion, or are you in high tech or are you in manufacturing? You need different solutions, but the dilemmas are the same.

Fons Trompenaars (51:18): Well, so that is a bit what we’re doing at the moment.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (51:22): Yeah. Yeah, absolutely fantastic.

Fons Trompenaars (51:25): Sean, what I would love to tell you in that ballpark is that I love referenda, but never have a referendum where you have to say yes or no on a dilemma. Right?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (51:39): Absolutely.

Fons Trompenaars (51:41): Because all the referenda end in 4951 in civil wars.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (51:47): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (51:48): So I have an alternative, which is applying dilemma, thinking on a referendum because the referendum is always about a dilemma and the most stupid stupid thing you can do is say yes or no on a dilemma, because when you are choosing between two goods. Yeah,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (52:07): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (52:07): So Brexit was a yes or no on staying with Europe, right?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (52:13): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (52:13): Now, if we would do the following six, how many voters do you have in the UK? That a lot.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (52:21): Yeah. But so a lot, perhaps not enough, not enough thinking ones, but, yes, certainly many.

Fons Trompenaars (52:29): But let’s say 20 million, right?

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (52:31): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (52:32): I’m just saying no, I don’t know. But let’s say. Now you ask the question by the internet or by even by pencil and paper, but let’s say you do it digitally. You ask the question, give one buzz word, one keyword that gives your emotion around staying in Europe and give one keyword in leaving in Europe. And it could be positive or negative by way, put a positive and it’s positive and put a minus sign when it’s negative. Right. The only thing I ask now, 20 million people let’s say, autonomy, plus, whatever trade plus.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (53:23): Yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (53:24): or minus be very clear if it’s about staying or leaving.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (53:31): Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (53:32): Then you have 20 million statements. You have artificial intelligence on it and you get the dilemma on the one hand, we want to be autonomous. On the other hand, we need trade with other countries. Right. And I have good news for you. If you choose for one or the other, you are in trouble. That’s what Brexit does, right.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (53:55): Yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (53:56): So then you take step number two, namely, what area is the biggest challenge in autonomy versus trade. Oh, it is about VAT, it’s about taxes it’s well, whatever. Yeah,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (54:19): Sure. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (54:20): Artificial intelligence on it. Now what I’m saying, we have six steps of dilemma reconciliation, And obviously it ends in, what can I do with our autonomy that gives us more trade and what can we do with trade that gives us more autonomy? Okay.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (54:37): Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (54:39): And then you have solutions that will come out of your ears, where you involve the population. It could even be an input for the government where you say here, it’s getting too complex. It needs to be, the democrat, the democracy of our air constitution. Let the government work it out, but that much better than a referendum.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (55:03): Wow. Couldn’t agree more if only you’d been there a couple of years ago, Fons, advising the government on this, we would all have saved a huge amount of heartache.

Fons Trompenaars (55:11): We are still having people who believe in referenda on dilemmas. Are you kidding? Yeah,

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (55:16): Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Fons Trompenaars (55:17): But anyway, it was a foot note, but saw it. Let’s not forget it.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (55:21): Yeah, absolutely. Well, absolutely. Well, Fons we’re nearly, at the end of our times, I know you are a very busy individual to put it mildly. So in that case, perhaps I’ll just ask you last sort of a couple of questions. So in terms of key takeaway points that you’d like the listeners to be aware of that really sums up your approach and your feeling at the moment. Yeah. Perhaps just go through those.

Fons Trompenaars (55:45): Yeah. I think in corporate life, organizational life is work on new ways of working. We’re there for free to give you a lot of analysis power. That’s one, I love to install this in education because it’s very important that we train people to think in not either or, but not even and then but what I call through through how can I value X get more of value Y and vice versa. So education and my personal dream is that we license a lot of people, professionals, organizations, educators, to do this because, Sean, the fun of doing this is so enormous. And the beauty also, if you do Myers Briggs, don’t worry. You can enrich Myers Briggs by starting with what you did and that’s about preference. But on top of that said, but how can I combine thinking with feeling and feeling with thinking, and that is something that we very often, feel as, oh, but this Trompenaars is threatening us, we’re doing the wrong things. No, you enrich yourself with the opposite. That’s managing change. It’s not replace yourself. If you are push, link it to pull, if you are very introvert, link it with extrovert. And so it is not about replacing yourself. It’s about enriching yourself with the opposite.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (57:35): Yeah. Yeah. Fantastic. Okay. And then ’cause the last point then Fons just in, just to make it utterly, crystal clear about where the listeners can track you down. So perhaps just remind us where, you are on social media and the name of this, of your corporate site,

Fons Trompenaars (57:50): Right? It is ww3. Or without the three works as well, THTConsulting.com.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (58:01): Fantastic. Well Fons, thank you so much. It’s been absolutely superb, it really, really wide ranging and deeply interesting conversations. So to the organizational theorist and cross-cultural communications expert, Fons Tronpenaars, who’s recognized around the world for his work as a consultant trainer, motivational speaker and author of numerous books on all subjects of culture and business. Thank you very much, indeed.

Fons Trompenaars (58:32): You’re very welcome, Sean. And it was a pleasure to be interviewed by you. I learned a lot by your questions. Thank you.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey (58:40): Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Speakers Show podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also it’d be great if you could subscribe to the podcast itself. You’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.

Podcast host

Sean Pillot de Chenecey speaker

Sean Pillot de Chenecey

Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.

Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.

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