INTOUCH : managers abroad

Don Foster, management consultant, people diversity. Chapter leader for KEA, France.

What prompted you to seek work out of New Zealand?
Initially, my wife’s professional career took us abroad. Wherever we were posted I adapted to the local job market and continued with career in electronics and telecommunications.

Can you provide sketch of your current role?
My current role is that of freelance consultant in diversity consulting and advisor to start-up businesses. I’m venture mentor group member in the Kea Global Talent Network. I left career in telecoms last year and am now studying and reorienting to different work which is based partly on my practical management experience.

How does it fit into your career path?
The work I’m heading for now lies in the sphere of my innate talents. It is different from my old career path but the work now comes much more from my heart. Energy is consequently much higher and my general work performance has progressed to new level.

What are its main challenges?
Keeping home and income together while I build up new job.
Introducing my work to potential customer and how it applies to the workplace and the surrounding community. Establishing credibility in the diversity consulting role in France and therefore opening new opportunities for work.

What are the learnings you will take from it?
I have been able to see how people of different countries and cultures work together and also how they differ greatly in personal philosophy, politics and religion. The way forward in settling conflicts and allowing people to grow as group is to find out what motivates them, what’s dear to them, find set of values that are common to all and which link them together either on project or to an organisation. There is much to learn. I keep up with developments in organisational psychology, (The New Zealand I/O psychologist internet community has been an excellent source of knowledge), and neuroscience. I also participate in groups associated with SoL (Society of Organisational Learning).

How do you view New Zealand both as country and economic/business entity from where you stand now?
New Zealand is peculiar combination of remoteness and dynamism. There is no doubt that Kiwis make quite an impact on the world in various ways, from sport to industrial innovation to R&D in many fields. New Zealanders are open and approachable people. In everyday business relations the main thing I see lacking is regular communication. Being “strong silent type” and just getting on with it earnestly may be fine locally. But it’s no way to work with overseas contacts, be they consultants, branch companies, start-up operations or partners.

What sort of ongoing contribution can you/would you like to make to New Zealand’s economic/social welfare?
I would like to come back and work in people diversity consulting, change management, or staff management which requires cross-communication with different departments or culturally diverse teams – finding the common threads which help people come together and grow in an organisation. The export industry is obviously candidate.

What would induce/encourage you to return?
A good job offer in management or consulting where I can use my experience and talents. The ability to travel to and from New Zealand on regular basis, always.

What is the most useful piece of advice you could give young executives who are contemplating career stretch offshore?
Be aware that the Kiwi “directness” in communication may not work in other cultures. People in Europe for example do not necessarily “call spade spade”. They may point out problem or an error in an argument rather than address person directly. Disagreements or differences in point of view can be much nuanced. Avoid taking offence personally. Take good general knowledge of New Zealand and its different cultures with you if you can. Be able to talk about number of different positive characteristics, not simply the most popular sports and pastimes. New Zealanders have very good reputation worldwide. Another danger is thinking that local success will translate easily overseas. It may not. Be prepared to change your approach.

Don Foster is member of KEA, New Zealand’s global talent community – www.keanewzealand.com

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