Note: The following article was included in our Jan. 2016 intercultures e-newsletter. Email the Editor to receive our next bi-monthly edition in your inbox well in advance of website postings. We offer fresh, intercultural information and insights for working better globally.
- After every client interview that intercultures has the honor to earn, it’s then a matter of “reading”—or interpreting—meaning from what was said so that the resulting article captures our clients’ intent and effectively communicates intercultures’ accompanying message. HÜBNER was the client with whom we had the pleasure to interview most recently. We spoke with Ms. Alexandra Macha, Head of Marketing/ Public Relations, and Mr. Marco Knobel, Head of Human Resource Development. Apparently, we were already connected before we met. “Whenever you travel by bus, train or car; fly on holiday or visit the doctor, you will find HÜBNER products—worldwide,” shared Alexandra. HÜBNER is a comprehensive system supplier, manufacturing key components for the transportation industry as well as products for photonics, terahertz, high-frequency and medical technology. In the space of our conversation, we discussed the company’s approach to reading meaning from their own internationally-spread employee base and clientele—and had fun doing it!
Three interpretations of HÜBNER’s international reach arose for our interviewees:
- Working with cultural differences is a productive challenge;
- International cross-pollination promotes innovation; and,
- Valuing the company’s German origins must be made relative to geographies where their business interests lie.
If you think that the word “challenge” is a positive spin on a situation that is undeniably demanding, try using the even more optimistic language, “new experiences”! Certainly, even for veterans in our global business world, working across cultures can be a new experience. An experienced HR professional himself, Marco spoke to the growth of HÜBNER’s approach to training for global skills:
“In the past, it took place spontaneously from our point of view. It’s not like we had prepared to go abroad and were offering cultural awareness training. We had a chance to start our business there and…let’s go! Especially in India, we had a lot of new experiences where we learned a lot and realized that it’s important to be well prepared before we start business in other countries.”
With the grounding assumption that language reflects mindset, this perspective on the part of an HR professional who might otherwise be looking to manage and mitigate risk for his company, communicated an orientation toward opportunity over risk. Like communicating across cultures, when we anticipate the possibility of constructive difference, it may more readily be realized.
Even in the countries where the German-born and headquartered company has been present for decades, productive challenge is anticipated and met at a time when the company has been experiencing accelerated growth. In Brazil, for example, understanding the evolving local culture, behavior and business remains a priority that cannot be taken for granted, said Alexandra. “Even in Brazil where HÜBNER was founded 36 years ago by Mr. Reinhard Hübner himself, we face big challenges with regard to cultural differences.” As a Marketing executive, Alexandra received Brazil-specific global skills training herself, to which she testified, “This training was so important for me and it helped a lot” both when she was in direct contact with Brazilian customers at various exhibitions, as well as during her stay at a HÜBNER location in Caçapava for few months. Even in “familiar” territory that has been operative for more than three decades, HÜBNER invests in the practice of working across cultures as they strive to achieve their bottom-line, market-driven need to innovate.
Like a bumblebee that fertilizes plant life, the ecosystem of innovation at HÜBNER is cultivated by various teams of employees who transfer knowledge and collaborate on learning from country to country. “I think this is a good way to become [one] common company,” said Marco. In the past, one may send a German engineer to a country and the German engineer would tell the people how business works…I think here at HÜBNER this [current, cross-national knowledge transfer process] is in a special way very innovative and helps us become innovative, too.” True to the archetype of the country within which they work, Alexandra added that, “Of course, there is some further potential for optimization.” For her, improving the innovation process means adding structure to the one thing Marco thought was missing in how they innovate: Consistently preparing people with global skills training as they collaborate between Brazil, China, Germany, Hungary and India, among other of their 13 locations worldwide.
“It’s important,” said Marco, “that we show that every country, every culture is different [relative to others]…We are different people so we try to use this diversity to get the best of every idea.” He explicitly stated the assumption that, “Germany is not the center of the world, especially if you look at our business,” adding that not only are people using HÜBNER products all over the world, but that the company has a mission to “improve mobility and well-being with [their] products” for everyone worldwide. This orientation signifies an engagement orientation over an outreach orientation—the former being a mutual exchange among peers, and the latter being a more one-directional “give” from a powerful performer to another less powerful party. The assumptions that we make about who gives and receives knowledge—and for whose benefit—foretells of the quality of global work processes and results.
United by Passion
In a seemingly natural compliment to the brain-powered tech savvy of their product portfolio, the HÜBNER motto is heart-driven. “United by passion” is the rallying call at HÜBNER globally. “It is an emotional way of being connected,” said Marco. “As a global player, we see both that local content requirements are very important, and that we must also improve our global processes.” As far as we have experienced in our relationship with HÜBNER, the management of that global process necessarily involves those things that can be sensed and not seen: the familiarity with the story of their CEO; those friendships created when teams visit to collaborate across countries; and the progressive meaning made from their global reach. May their passion continue to power how HÜBNER works better globally.
intercultures looks forward to our continued relationship with HÜBNER. We thank Mr. Marco Knobel and Ms. Alexandra Macha for making this article possible.