Expanding Global Reach with the COA – A Case Study


Today’s business world is more globalized than ever as companies increasingly expand business overseas and employees more frequently collaborate with people from different backgrounds. This means that the ability to interact and communicate with clients, partners and colleagues from different backgrounds is becoming more and more essential, and that gaining cultural competence should be a key priority for organizational leaders.

Reading about other cultures, traveling abroad and interacting with people from different backgrounds are all good ways to expand one’s cultural horizons. But the most effective way to help organizations function globally is to imbue their workforces with cultural competence through the use of the Cultural Orientations Approach. The COA is the most effective approach to helping individuals, teams and organizations navigate the complex and high-stakes world of international business.

Here is an example of how one organization – Company A – used the COA as well as its sister tool, the Cultural Navigator, to spread cultural competence among employees and leaders, allowing the company to turn around after a missed opportunity caused by cultural gaps.  

Company A, based in Chicago, was a subsidiary of a well-established global organization but was launching an initiative to create more international partnerships on its own. The problem started with the loss of a major bid to an organization based in India following a disastrous face-to-face meeting in Mumbai. Executives in Company A determined that the loss was grounded in communication style differences, poor cross-cultural negotiation skills, disconnected thinking patterns and unfamiliarity with common etiquette. Company A’s leaders knew that avoiding such mishaps and increasing their global reach meant embracing cultural competence. At an executive meeting they came up with four key points they wanted everyone in the company to understand:

  1. It is necessary to establish excellent interpersonal relations with perspective clients and partners.
  2. The presence of cultural differences can interfere with effective communication.
  3. People may be unaware of what is “correct and proper” when communicating across cultures.
  4. Great customer service differs from providing the product the customer requests; it is the approach that is used that creates a positive feeling or experience for the customer, both internally and externally.

Thus, they launched a companywide global training program that focused on helping employees gain an understanding of culture, its different levels, and how to recognize and bridge cultural gaps among employee groups and with business partners.

The Company A executives tasked the Learning & Development team with creating and implementing the training program. It partnered with TMC and purchased an enterprise license for the Cultural Navigator, granting all Company A employees – from the part-time workers to the top executives – access to the learning platform. Each member of the organization logged onto the Cultural Navigator and took their Cultural Orientations Indicator assessment. Their COI reports educated them on their personal work-style preferences and how those may impact their collaboration with others. They then used the Cultural Navigator to run team gap reports, which compared group members’ COIs and gave suggestions on how to overcome cultural gaps among themselves.

Members of Company A’s L&D team became certified in the overall Cultural Orientations Approach, with the team leader becoming master certified. They worked with TMC to put together a training course that was inclusive of the countries in which Company A did business, as well as creating individualized courses for each of Company A’s regional offices. Employees throughout the company were encouraged to access the Cultural Navigator country guides on the countries they worked with in order to gain a deeper understanding not just of the cultural norms, but also of the general business, negotiation, meeting and managing practices there.

The COA provided employees across the company with a neutral and non-judgmental vocabulary to understand each other’s cultures and work styles, and the Cultural Navigator gave them a platform for continued learning. The training courses brought tailored learning into the individual branches that helped employees learn about the way culture affects their specific situations.

After the initiative was launched, client interactions were more successful, and collaboration – not just among colleagues in different locations, but among those in the same offices – became smoother.

By learning cultural competency and leveraging the skills gained from the COI and the Cultural Navigator, Company A became a more agile organization, in which internal employees were more aware of the impact of individual and team cultures, and the organization as a whole fared better in the international business sphere.