Cultural Quick Tip: Tell Stories to Build Strong Communities

Across the globe, cave drawings thousands of years old have preserved the remnants of ancient civilizations. While the drawings may be scattered over great distances and originate from different cultures, they all have one aspect in common: they tell stories.  The drawings recount stories about successes, hunts, trials and daily life. Storytelling is at the heart of what makes us human and is a universal tool used by groups of people to explain who they are and the experiences that shaped their history. While we might not use cave drawings anymore, we still use storytelling to capture collective histories and lessons learned. On our work teams, we use stories of past successes and failures to improve our current and future work plans and also to strengthen our sense of community. As work teams become more diverse, the team’s stories will evolve to include new perspectives.

Action Step:
Share team and company stories with new employees to help them get adjusted more quickly and to feel like a welcome addition to the group.

Cultural Quick Tip: Assess Your Communication Style

The alphorn is a musical instrument that originated in the Alps and was used as a European communication system. It was developed in response to the natural geographic barriers that inhibited communication between the small villages scattered throughout the Alpine valleys and hillsides. Hundreds of years ago when it was created, the alphorn was a cutting edge innovation that fostered greater communication across longer distances. While outdated today, the Swiss still learn and play the alphorn for music and as a form of maintaining their cultural traditions. Just as technologies for communicating across distance have evolved, so have communication techniques between people. When communicating with others, particularly people from other countries, it is important to recognize when your communication style has become outdated and when it is time to upgrade to a new technique.

Action Step:
Assess which communication method would be the most effective for your intended audience before communicating.

Cultural Statistics

Percent of People Speaking Languages In Massachusetts in 2010

  • English – 78.9%
  • Spanish – 35.6%
  • Portuguese – 14.1%
  • French – 5.2%
  • Chinese – 5.2%
  • French Creole – 4.2%
  • Italian – 3.4%
  • Russian – 2.9%
  • Vietnamese – 2.7%
  • Greek – 1.9%

Source: American Community Survey

Marriage in the US:

  • In 2010 15% of all new marriages were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another
  • In 1980 6.7% of all new marriages were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another
  • Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married outside their race or ethnicity
  • Between 2008 and 2010 22% of all newlyweds in Western states married someone of a different race or ethnicity, compared with 14% in the South, 13% in the Northeast and 11% in the Midwest

Source: Pew Social Trends (www.pewsocialtrends.org)

Immigration Trends Around the World in 2010:

  • There were an estimated 216 million immigrants – people who live outside their country of origin
  • Europe had the most immigrants with approximately 70 million
  • North America was second with approximately 45 million immigrants
  • The most popular destinations for immigrants were the US, followed  by Russia and then Germany
  • Mexico had the most people who migrated to another country, with almost 12 million people leaving Mexico

Source: International Organization
for Migration (www.iom.int)

Generational Quick Tip: Working Hours

Each generation has very different views on the number of hours that should be put in at work and what the amount of time-spent working says about your work value, ethics, and productivity. Baby-Boomers invented the 60-hour workweek and many of their generation believe that working long hours and clocking time at the office is a right of passage that establishes experience, self-worth, and career fulfillment.  As baby-boomers are getting closer to the age of retirement, many of this generation are revising the attitude towards work-hours to include flexibility and work-life balance.  Generation X greatly values work-life balance and the ability to spend more time doing things outside of work. They believe that working smarter, efficiently, and with greater output means that you do not need to spend over 40-hours to achieve quality results. Generation Y also believes in flexibility and work-life balance. They believe strongly that work should be evaluated on work-product – not how, where, and when the work gets completed.

Action Step:
Try not to judge colleagues and employees based off of the amount of time they spend at their desk, but look instead at the value of their work.

Generational Quick Tip: Learning Opportunities and Training

Each generation brings different attitudes towards training and learning opportunities in the workplace. Traditionalists will engage in training if it is clear how the training contributes to the organization’s goals, even if they do not see the personal benefit to their career. Baby-Boomers also want to understand how the training will improve big picture operations at the corporation, but they need to be convinced that training will reap personal rewards, such as career advancement. As the individualists of the company, Generation X is not motivated by the benefits training will have on the company; they see training as an investment in their future and an opportunity to make personal advancements. For Generation Y, who may have only been out of college for a couple of years, training offers an exciting learning opportunity! GenYs love a classroom setting and any opportunity to learn; they are also very ambitious and are looking a competitive edge to place them above their peers. It is important to understand how each generation views training opportunities, so companies can effectively market training opportunities that appeal to employees of all ages.

Action Step:
Clearly state the benefit-case for the company, as well as the benefit-case for the individual, when informing employees about available learning opportunities.

Generational Quotes

“The competencies of both generations are valuable tools in the market place.”
-Sandra Allen O’Connor, VP/GM Boston office of Personnel International Corporation

“You can take as much as you can from the generation that has preceded you, but then it’s up to you to make something new.” -Jackson Browne, Musician

“That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.”
-Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Vice President1893-1897

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young.”
-Willa Cather

October 2: Gandhi’s Birthday, India

October 2nd is an annual celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth on Oct 2, 1869 in India. In 2007, the United Nations adopted a resolution which also declared this day as the International Day of Non-Violence.

Ghandi is considered the founder of modern day India as he was both a political and spiritual leader to the people of India. He played a key role in India gaining its independence by using a technique called non-violent agitation.  India gained its freedom from Great Britain in August 1947, just five months before Gandhi’s death on January 30, 1948.

The day is marked with ceremonies celebrating Gandhi’s life, with prayers, showing films and book readings about Gandhi and often ceremonies commemorating those who are also using non-violent ways of life.

Cultural Quick Tip: Understand Your Expertise

The average margin of victory in a Formula One race is 10 seconds, thus victory is dependent on every second spent on the track. During a pit stop when all four tires are changed, the pit crew must exercise over 50 maneuvers  in an average of 7 seconds. Many Formula One races are won or lost by the pit crew’s speed, skill, and execution. Successful collboration on the track or in an office requires a team with diverse roles and skills working in concert. Diverse teams with members from different backgrounds will offer an even greater variety of expertise and personalities. While it may take an increased amount of respect and awareness to work in concert, the team has a greater potential for victory.

Action Step:
Understand the expertise you bring to the team and commit to performing your role with confidence and skill.

Cultural Quick Tip: Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication

When new parents first bring home their baby, they are faced with many new communication challenges as they try to understand and meet the needs of their newborn. Without verbal communication parents must rely upon observable types of communication in the form of facial expressions, cries and body movements. Parents have a vested interest in learning to decode their child’s nonverbal communication, as it will help them to raise a healthy and happy baby. While your colleagues in the workplace communicate both verbally and non-verbally, understanding how to interpret their nonverbal communication can be a great advantage. Keep in mind that the meaning behind body language and facial expressions may vary from culture to culture, so it is always good to check for understanding.

Action Step:
Research communication etiquette from other cultures to aid your understanding when communicating with people from outside your country or culture.

Generational Quick Tip: Generational Motivation

Each generation is inspired by different values and incentives in the workplace that encourage them to work productively and enthusiastically. Traditionalists are motivated by being respected and told that their experience and contributions matter to the company. They are also motivated by the promise of job security.  Baby-boomers appreciate being told that they are of value to a company and that their skills are needed in order for the company to be successful. They are also motivated by the opportunity to earn high wages, raises, promotions, and benefits. Getting time off and the freedom to complete tasks and projects independently without micro-management or strenuous rules, motivates Generation X. Generation Y is inspired by training opportunities, working in dynamic groups, and flexibility in scheduling. They greatly appreciate time-off, as well as opportunities to volunteer and give back to the community. Understanding how to motivate employees from different generations is important in successfully hiring new employees, improving retention rates, and increasing overall productivity.

Action Step
If you are a manager, at your next check-in with your employees ask questions to assess their current motivation level.  Investigate if there is anything that you can adjust in order to connect the employee with a cause that motivates them and helps them to do their best work.

Significant People of a Generation: Gen X – Michael Jackson

   “Think about the generations and to say we want to make it a better world for our children and our children’s children. So that they know it’s a better world for them; and think if they can make it a better place.”  Intro lyrics to “Heal the World” from Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous

Michael Jackson is an American music icon, who rose to unbelievable fame during the 1980s. Know as the “King of Pop,” Jackson was an inspiration to people of many races and generations, but particularly to the Gen X generation, who were coming of age during the height of his career. If Generation X was the MTV generation, Michael Jackson is accredited as being the first artist to use the music video genre to break racial barriers and produce a stylized art form.

Michael Jackson was born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana. He was the eighth child out of ten children: Maureen “Rebbie,” Sigmund “Jackie,” Toriano “Tito,” Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Brandon, Michael, Steven “Randy,” and Janet. The Jacksons were a working-class family, sharing a three-bedroom house. In 1964, Michael, Marlon, Jackie, Tito and Jermaine formed a band called the “Jackson Brothers” later called the “ The Jackson 5.” Their father, Joseph, was known for using abusive and brutal tactics during rehearsals. Later in life, Jackson attributed many of his psychological issues to the abuse he received as a child, but he also argued that his father’s strict discipline contributed greatly to his success.

At the age of eight, Michael Jackson began to share the lead vocals with his brother Jermaine. In 1966, the “Jackson 5” won a major talent contest in the Mid-West and recorded several songs for the local Steeltown label in 1967, followed by a contract with Motown Records in 1968.  The group set a record when their first four singles (“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There”) all skyrocketed to number one. As lead vocalist, Michael was praised as being a prodigy and his charismatic and magnetic personality on stage made him a nationwide star.

In 1975, the Jackson 5 left Motown and Michael separated to pursue a solo career. In 1978, he partnered up with songwriter Quincy Jones, a musical collaboration that would last for the rest of Jackson’s life. Together they produced several albums that skyrocketed Michael Jackson’s into the position of pop superstar. Off the Wall, their first album recorded in 1979, included contributions from famous artists such as Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney and won Jackson three awards at the AMAs. In 1982, his album Thriller was released, and quickly became the best-selling album of all time, selling 42.3 million copies. The album included such hits as “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Thriller,” and “P.Y.T” and earned Jackson seven Grammys and eight AMAs. The music video for Thriller was the first and only music video ever to be inducted into the National Film Registry.

In 1983, Michael Jackson performed at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special. The legendary performance debuted Jackson in the iconic sequined black jacket, single rhinestone glove, and introduced his moonwalk dance move to the world.  The impact of the performance has been compared to the Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan show.  Michael Jackson was famous not only for his catchy songs and singing voice, but also for being one of the most talented dancers, choreographers, and overall performers of all time. Many considered Michael Jackson’s music videos and stage productions to be works of art.

As well as becoming a superstar during the 1980s, Michael Jackson devoted much of his influence to philanthropic causes. He donated $1.5 million to the creation of the “Michael Jackson Burn Center” in Culver City, California, after a pyrotechnics accident left him with second-degree burns on his scalp. In 1985, Jackson and Lionel Richie released “We Are the World,” a charity single created to raise awareness and money for people suffering from poverty in the U.S. and Africa.  Other songs, such as “Man in the Mirror” 1988, “Heal the World” 1991, and “Black or White” 1991 are examples of Michael Jackson’s inspirational musical contributions towards social equality and change.  In 1992, Michael Jackson founded the Heal the World Foundation, which donated millions of dollars to help children in poverty around the world. He was also one of the first major celebrities and public figure to speak about AIDs/HIV and to publicly promote charities and research in a time when the stigma surrounding the topic was very controversial.

Along with his great musical and philanthropic successes, Michael Jackson suffered many personal controversies towards the end of his career. Rumors and speculations about his bizarre private life, plastic surgery, and skin color, painted Jackson as mentally unstable. Allegations of pedophilia arose during the 90s, and reemerged in the 2003 People vs. Jackson trial, which found Jackson unanimously not-guilty on all counts. However, despite his health issues and unfavorable public image, Jackson planned on completing his final world tour This is It in 2009. The concert had record-breaking ticket sales, selling over one million tickets in less than two hours.  However, on June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died suddenly of cardiac arrest in his bed in a rented mansion in L.A.

When news of Michael Jackson’s death surfaced, the immediate response of fans and media worldwide was monumental. The overload of simultaneous website searches resulted in crashes for major media sources such as twitter, Wikipedia, TMZ, and the LA Times. News coverage lasted for weeks, tribute concerts popped up all over the world, and over 31 million people tuned in to watch Jackson’s memorial service. Posthumously in 2009, Jackson became the best-selling album artist and was the first artist to sell over 1 million song downloads in a week.

Over his career, he was awarded the World Music Award’s Best-Selling Pop Male Artist of the Millennium, 13 Grammy Awards (as well as the Grammy Legend and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards), and has earned 31 Guinness World Records. Many fans and critics believe that Jackson was a genius and one of the most influential artists of all time. For the Gen X generation that witnessed his amazing accomplishments and listened to his messages of hope, he was a beloved and mysterious icon, linked intrinsically with their coming-of-age.

Generational Quick Tip: Taking Risks

Whether or not a generation is prone to taking risks is a part of their cultural filter.  Being an “intrapreneur” means being an employee who brings an entrepreneurial spirit to a company and is not afraid to spend time working on “risky” projects: exploring uncharted territory and taking on challenging projects outside their area of expertise. But how does each of generation stack up when it comes to viewing themselves as entrepreneurs? According to a recent study, 45% of Baby-boomers believe that they have an entrepreneurial spirit are willing to take risks, while 42% of the Gen X generation feels they are entrepreneurial. However, only 32% of Gen Y identifies as being entrepreneurial.

Action Step:
To foster “intrapreneurial” drive in your company, create mentoring pairs between Baby-boomers or Gen X with a Gen Y colleague to help Gen Y increase the confidence in their entrepreneurial spirit and to bring a fresh perspective on projects.

Diversity Statistics

  • As of 2010, the most diverse communities in the US are disproportionately western, southern and coastal metropolitan areas and their principal cities and suburbs.
  • In 1900, only 1 in 8 residents of the US claimed non-European origins. Today 3 in 10 do.
    Source: 2010 Census

Growth of the Hispanic Population by County from 2000 to 2010
Top 5 Counties:
1) Stewart County, GA            1740%
2) Telfair Country, GA            842%
3) Beadle County, SD              762%
4) Adams Country, MS             687%
5) Trempealeau County, WI    594%
Source: Pew Hispanic Center analysis
of Decennial Censuses

Latinos are the nation’s biggest and youngest minority group.  They make up:

  • 16% of the total US population
  • 18% of all 16- to 25-year-olds
  • 20% of all school age children
  • 25% of newborns

Source: Pew Hispanic Center

2010 Census Demographics

  • 308.7 million US residents
  • 16% of US population Hispanic
(50.5 million)
  • Hispanic population grew by 43% from 2000 to 2010
  • White non-Hispanic population
grew by 1% from 2000 to 2010
  • 97% of people reported belonging
to only one race72% White alone (223.6 million)
  • 72% White alone
(223.6 million)
  • 13% Black or African-American alone
(38.9 million)
  • 5% Asian alone (14.7 million)
  •   0.9% American Indian and Alaska Native alone
(2.9 million)
  • 0.2% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone (500,000)

Source: US Census

Generational Quotes

“Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations. All this is put in your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children.”
-Albert Einstein

“Anyone who stops is old, whether at 20 or at 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
-Henry Ford

“If future generations are to remember
us more with gratitude than sorrow,
we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as
it was created, not just as it looked
when we got through with it.”
-Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th US President

“Use your lives wisely, my friends, and conserve these precious freedoms for future generations.”
-Ted Nugent, Musician

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them
to do the same.”
-Ronald Reagan, 40th US President

Cultural Quick Tip: Use a Mediator to Help Stalemates

A referee’s job requires them to be an impartial expert on the game, clear headed and capable of fairly applying the rules. During games, it would be impossible for coaches, players, and fans to make unbiased calls without a referee. Similarly, in high-pressure work environments, differences between colleagues may lead to disputes that make it impossible for them to see past their biases, resulting in a conflict or stalemate. In these instances, asking for the assistance of a ‘referee’ or a neutral, third party colleague, may provide the necessary insight to tease out the cause of the miscommunication, which could be rooted in cultural, generational or personality style differences.

Action Step:
Reach out to an impartial referee to help resolve communication conflicts in a productive way when an impasse occurs.