Unlocking Cultural Agility with Marco Blankenburgh

Creating Belonging in Organizational Culture with Hasan Rafiq

July 19, 2022 Hasan Rafiq Season 1 Episode 11
Unlocking Cultural Agility with Marco Blankenburgh
Creating Belonging in Organizational Culture with Hasan Rafiq
Show Notes Transcript

Hasan Rafiq has worked as a senior Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) leader at some of the world's largest companies, including EY (Ernst and Young) and Facebook.

Join Hasan and Marco as they explore how to create a culture of belonging in organizations both large and small.

Currently, Hasan Rafiq is the Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging of Newsela, where he drives the company's strategies for the integration of diverse perspectives and experiences into the building of an inclusive culture, and development of equitable policies.

In this episode you will learn:
- How to build a listening organization where people feel seen, heard, and valued.
- How to be a culturally agile leader and build a global DEIB strategy for your organization.
- How belonging and the language around it look different around the world.

If you would like to start a conversation with Hasan about the incredible work that he does reach out at: coachesforinclusion@gmail.com 

Articles:
 - Defining values and value behaviors that resonate across cultures (http://kwx.fyi/values)
 - The 10 Most Common Organizational Values, An Intercultural Examination (http://kwx.fyi/10-most-common-values)
 - Four Keys for Building Trust on Teams (http://kwx.fyi/building-trust-teams)

Hasan Rafiq  0:00  
If you look at what has happened over the last two years, I think the fundamental challenge culturally that we have is we are talking but we are not listening. And we are talking louder and louder, and we are not listening. And even if we are listening, there are multiple levels of listening. But we are listening at a level where we want to debate. So, we should stop talking, and we should start listening. And that should be the underlying theme of how we build an organization. We are a listening organization, then we co create solutions with people and we co execute on those solutions. Versus we're just talking at each other louder and louder.

Marco Blankenburgh  0:49  
Welcome to the cultural agility podcast, where we explore the stories of some of the most advanced intercultural practitioners from around the world to help you become culturally agile, and succeed in today's culturally complex world. I'm your host, Marco Blankenburg, international director of knowledge works, where every day we help individuals and companies achieve relational success in that same complex world. Welcome, everyone, to this podcast episode, we have already reached beyond our first 10. And we keep on finding fascinating, interesting people to interview. And today I have the privilege to be in the studio in the virtual studio with a dear friend and incredible professional in the DI space has some Rafiq. Thank you, Hasan for joining. It's been a number of years in the making to finally have a conversation about your journey in cultural agility. So thank you for joining.

Hasan Rafiq  1:53  
Thank you so much, Marco. Well, thank you for having me. Yeah. And as

Marco Blankenburgh  1:57  
I was looking it up, actually, because we've we've been doing so many things together over the years. And I think you joined a certification already back in 2012. So 10 years, working together had the privilege of of meeting you in Dubai. And one thing that struck me from the beginning, you're an incredible keen learner. And that has accelerated you in that's what this this podcast recording is all about today, just to hear that story, because I think it's a beautiful story. But Hudson, tell us a little bit more about yourself, where you come from, and a little bit of the highlights of your journey up to this point.

Hasan Rafiq  2:40  
Sure. 2012 is the year that changed my life. So I'll come back to that. And you were instrumental in shaping the way I think today. And I have thought about things over the last 10 years. So I'll talk a little bit about that, how knowledge works as well, some of the solutions, some of the ways of thinking, unbelievable, but I'll start with one of the points that you made a keen learner. My journey starts from Pakistan. So I started working for Ernst and Young in Pakistan that was about I think, almost 1516 years ago. And at that point in time, I was a HR practitioner, and I had never ever thought about diversity or inclusion. So if I pause and go for the back, I had no link with diversity, equity inclusion throughout my childhood, or that was my perception. So within EY, there was an opportunity to go and build out the tip function in the Middle East, North Africa. And that's where one of my biggest mentors come comes in Ginny Kalia, who's the vice chair for talent for EY Americas. And she said one thing to me during an interview process that you know, you understand what the IB is, but you haven't discovered it yet. So I want you to take the leap and jump into this and come over and do this work in Middle East. And that was a leap of faith because I did not believe in myself. She believed in me more than I believed in myself. And it's very rare to find leaders like that. And as I started studying, I realize I was having the same experience in childhood. So my father was in the military. So as a child, every three years you move to a different town. And you go through the whole cycle of exclusion inclusion, new friends, new school. And the second biggest influence in my life was my father. He was very disciplined but at the same time, he would always ask me, you making new friends? What are you learning about them? So focus on them versus what's happening for me, and I am feeling excluded. So be more curious about others and you will lead them to be more curious about you. So think about a child four or five years old, six years old, every two years, moving to a different part of the country, going through that experience of exclusion. And that I realized when I connected the dots back to I can do this work. But I also need to really understand what works and what does not work. So with EY, I spent almost 13 years, every three years I was moved to a different part of the world. So I went to EMEA D IV, work Asia Pacific, lots of colleagues there, did the IB work with them, and then finally moved to the US. And almost 80% of my tip experience has been outside of us. And there are so there is so much learning that we need to do in the global space when it comes to the IB. And then from EY, I moved to Facebook and worked there for two years. Amazing experience there. And now I am with Newsela, which is an edtech company, which is a community of people who are impacting education, like it has never been impacted before. So that's a little bit about me. But the experience of exclusion and inclusion is layered throughout my life. And that's the lived experience that I bring to this conversation,

Marco Blankenburgh  6:06  
you raise a really important point in that. In Dutch we talk about being an armchair wrestler, as in you talk a good talk, but you've never experienced it yourself. And I think in in diversity work, I think being able to bring your own deep experience to your work is so incredibly important. So you already alluded to the fact that you moved around a lot as a family that being included excluded, saying goodbye to old friends having to make new friends. Are there any experiences that stand out for you that really, in retrospect, when she started to study the subject, you realize, Wow, I have gone through this multiple times in my life? Is there a story that stands out for you?

Hasan Rafiq  6:56  
I think the underlying lesson there is human beings inherently are not exclusive. We don't like wake up to exclude someone, I have a plan today that I'm going to exclude this individual. It happens and sometimes it happens unintentionally. So I was do a lot of coaching as a certified coach, I was coaching a very senior leader and his style was very, very direct. And through his style, he would unintentionally exclude people in team meetings and this we are talking about a C suite, a very senior leader who is responsible for more than $100 million in revenue has 200 people across the globe. But his style was very, very direct. So when we started talking, I realized there is a little bit of self awareness that he does not have. And there is also a little bit of personal awareness of how would that impact someone who does not think or look like this person. So building more empathy with people who are indirect, for example. And I think that's where I realized that that style that he built made him successful over the over the last 1020 years, right? Because that's what the organization valued. And he was excelling in that space. Now 1020 years ago, he had a team of four people that worked. He expanded that to 20 people. Now he's working in a global space with 200 people, multiple teams spread across the globe, that same recipe of success is not going to work. So how do you become nimble in Agile, and that is something that he needed to learn. That is something that I needed to learn as I moved from one place to another, I realized the rules for success have just changed. I can't see them because maybe they are written in sand. But I can experience them. And as I'm experiencing them, do I have the agility or flexibility to adjust and adapt to what would work here. And I think that's the biggest lesson we always think of, especially in the Western world, best practices universal, let's just apply this everywhere in the world. So we become more consistent. And you've taught many of us is best practices, always contextual, never universal. If I have something that works in New York, I need to rip it apart and put it back together for China, if I want to apply that on China, and it has to be decided or aligned with what people want in China, so lots of learnings there. I think it's more was stumbling onto something, discovering something connecting the dots and helping people see what they cannot see.

Marco Blankenburgh  9:34  
Now, Genie all those years ago challenge you to dive into the type of work. It's not guaranteed that you're actually going to embrace it that you're going to love it that it's something that is you know, for for you. Is there any moment where you said, Wow, I didn't know this world. But I want to I want to continue this for the foreseeable future in terms of my career.

Hasan Rafiq  10:00  
So this is the thing about Jenny, she's not only a mentor, she becomes the sponsor, she becomes the coach, and she's fully invested in you. So I had multiple conversations of, we're trying to do this globally, we are sitting in the Middle East. And now we move to us. Now we are doing it for global accounts, it was so interesting to see how she would come together, around you to create that space that you can experiment. So there were conversations about, well, I've done this for four years, and I think I've made an impact. Now I need to move to HR. And she would always say, know what you would do in the IB over the long run, it will be much more impactful than it is going to be in HR. So stick to it, build further solutions. And the other thing very unique about her as a leader was she gets the what I call invisible diversity. So she is very, very curious about, yes, we structured diversity in a certain way, gender differences, racial differences, other differences that we can see, which are the visible differences. But she was very, very curious. And it was also because she moved across the globe, she learned about some of this, on how people engage, how can we look at the whole person and their whole diversity in one go versus saying I need to be made more careful if I'm talking to women, or if I'm, it's a racial conversation. It's about the whole person. And I think she was the one really focusing on how do we bring all of those because that's the future and the future is already here. We are working globally with people from across the globe, we need to understand their stylistic language, cultural differences, because that makes them the whole. And I need to be curious as a leader to learn about those differences. So there were multiple occasions where they were, we would have easily said, You know what, now's a good time to switch and go into HR. But I stick to it because of the influence that Jeanne had. And I also was seeing a lot of impact of voices from the rest of the world, impacting and shaping the D IB conversation that's mostly originating from the Western world.

Marco Blankenburgh  12:08  
Right, right. And we'll come back to your innovation as a person I've seen you continuously be very innovative, but we'll come back to that. In 2012, we met and you took the plunge to join what knowledge works we call the intercultural intelligence certification. You were already in the the IP space. What motivated you to join back then? And what did it do for you? How does it impact your life?

Hasan Rafiq  12:39  
So for those of the listeners who don't know about Middle East Middle East is by far the most diverse place in the whole world. So as a tip practitioner, I'm looking at the landscape. And of course, we're getting a strategy from various parts of the Western world saying, here's how we do it. Here's how we have scaled across the globe. So in the Middle East, in some of the countries, almost 90% of the population is expat. And you have more than 200 300 nationalities represented. So a classical Western approach to separating people based on their differences, does not work, and will not work, because people don't want to be categorized that way. So that was one curiosity area that I had to think about, well, if I am the most diverse or visibly very diverse, what would work because the traditional di B strategy will not work. And we have had multiple debates of you can look at gender across the globe consistently. That's one metric that you can look at. But what about race? What about socio economic background? What about so many other differences? You cannot because you cannot collect the data. So from that perspective, I think what makes it even more interesting is what would work. And that's a tension that you're always in. If you're working for a global company, that will be attention. Because here, what we saw really work well was if you have a focus on invisible diversity, or cultural agility, or pieces of behaviors that make you who you are, and having a structured framework that helps you navigate through those behaviors and shifts your behavior to becoming more agile. So I call it agile leadership, or culturally agile leadership. But it is building those building blocks for you to play with to understand how will I navigate this behavior? This person does not look like me think like me does not even speak the same language? How do we become successful together? I think that was the enabler for us to explore cultural agility as well as the knowledge works frameworks, and I think that's what we got from a lot of the application of the work that you lead is directly linked to if an organization wants to build a globe A way of thinking about AIB, and what are the pieces that we don't focus on that are more important in certain parts of the world. So in order to be truly inclusive and having a truly global strategy, you cannot just think about the traditional metrics that you have in the AIB you need to think beyond. And when you start to think beyond, you are in a challenge of how do I pick up something that's not just academic, that will not just teach me about cultural differences, but would enable me to behaviorally shift my own behavior, to create more inclusion for others?

Marco Blankenburgh  15:34  
I think you're raising a fundamental point that that knowledge, as you know, knowledge works is really passionate about this, this idea of, of seeing a person as a as a unique cultural human being. I was talking to one of our practitioners in North America. And I asked him, so what what what was profound for you, as you went through the certification that he says, Well, I, I walked away with the undeniable conclusion that any, any moment of where ethnicity or race is at play is inherently an intercultural situation. And I thought that was there was just, you know, almost like a missing ingredient. So in terms of your own journey, seeing every human being as a unique cultural human being, what does that do to you both, as Hassan are fake, but also as a professional in the industry.

Hasan Rafiq  16:36  
So for me personally, it feeds my curiosity, because I am a lifelong learner, I want to learn about others, their lived experiences, how they were brought up, as, as deep as preferences, and I listen for those preferences. And then I try to adjust myself based on those preferences. So it feeds my inner curiosity to get to know people at a deeper level. As a practitioner, I think it is crucial, it is crucial, because if you look at what has happened over the last two years, I think the fundamental challenge culturally that we have, of course, I am based in US or in some of the Western countries is we are talking but we are not listening. And we are talking louder and louder. And we are not listening. And even if we are listening, there are multiple levels of listening. But we are listening at a level where we want to debate where we want to put our own point of view in front of others. So what I have realized over at least over the last two years, is we need to create more spaces where we are genuinely interested in listening to others. And a very simple way of doing that, that I do most of the time is when someone asks me what is your point of view, I say I haven't formulated it yet, I want to learn about other points of views in the room. I want to create the space for others to speak up. Because the reality is, and I've observed that if you are a senior leader, and you put your point of view, first, you will find a lot of alignment, which is not culturally agile enough because it does not align with people who may believe in hierarchy, or people who may be shamed by this point of view, they might just be silent. But those who are very aggressive, inactive, would be agreeing with it or debating it. So over the last two years, primarily what I've realized is we need more spaces for understanding for connecting for deeply listening, and setting aside a little bit our own point of view, to explore the other possibilities. I was I think reading a book, which you had recommended or I had recommended you I don't know, it was by Adam Kahani. And he's he focuses a lot on generated listening, what is what are the possibilities? We are here together? Do you want a from and to answer, or what is possible. And I try my best to do that. Because that opens up people to speak more, share more, and they have a deeper connection with you, they will come back to you more often than they go to others because they feel that they have been seen, heard and valued. I think that's the missing piece. We keep on hearing these three words. But very few leaders are able to create the space where people can be seen, heard and valued and naturally inclusive.

Marco Blankenburgh  19:32  
And I find that the more success we have in our career, the more senior we become, the more people expect us to have the answers and it's very tempting to continuously step into that and it shuts people down as you mentioned hierarchy. In our in our cultural map inventory. We call it directed destiny, where the leader directs people what to do and how to think and do that in the intercultural space, especially, is country productive, because it shuts down the innovation, the creativity that might be in the room, but people then say, well, the boss thinks this. So who am I to now add to it or or take an opposite few that might be risky. So it's safer to not say anything. So yeah, that idea of what Adam Adam talks about in facilitating breakthroughs. I love how he, how he articulates that Judah Fraser talks about CO creating, co creating meaning and creating solutions. In in all the work you've done. You moved from Pakistan, you moved into the Middle East, and then you moved to the US to the always mixed them up, but to the West Coast, right, California. Yes. And now you're you're in Texas. You're a lifelong learner, but you've also gone through your own cultural adjustments, maybe even a bit of culture shock here and there. What is it like for you as a family of Pakistani origin to move around? What are some of your own cultural discoveries and experiences in

Hasan Rafiq  21:19  
that? Yeah, I think the first thing is, media portrays such a negative picture about anyone and everyone, or an overly positive picture of a certain part of the world. So in between, between Middle East and us, I had two stints in Europe as well. And I think what I loved about that was a completely different experience. Now, of course, there are generalizations that people make about or if you're, if you're working in the UK, then you will see a lot of Nod, but no agreement, and people will not call you out. I was working in the UK with a team of 20 people who were from all over the world, that perception was busted big time, because people would call out and be very direct. I think the danger with that is the generalizations do not help us. Because you can take any tool and say you know what, I will be flying to Saudi Arabia and doing this meeting, can you just quickly adjust me and I literally have an example of a leader that I was coaching was moving from us to Saudi Arabia, those generalizations may give you a baseline understanding of what the culture is. But the moment you start living into a neighborhood and start to navigate the roads, the transport system, make friends, you realize the whole bottom of the iceberg, as we call it. So what do's and don'ts and generalizations would give you as the surface level, it's good if you are if your goal is to fly in first class and stay at a five star hotel, take all your meetings and come back. Great. Just take that, because you're not interacting with the with the community. But if your aim is to live there, and understand the dynamics, then you would need cultural agility. Or you would need much more deeper frameworks, like the three colors of worldview or the 12 dimensions to deeply understand what works here. And your own agility is built with that if you allow it. So I have so many examples of of coaching, where the inner preferences are so hardwired, and they are so right and wrong driven, that the person does not move from saying what would work here. And that may be outside of my comfort zone. But I would like to try what would work here. And I have found that the recipe for disaster. Because if you are so stuck with one way of thinking or the right way of thinking or the preferred way of thinking, then you're missing out almost on two thirds of what you could learn from the rest of the world. And that's a big challenge. And it's interesting,

Marco Blankenburgh  24:02  
because over the years, you know, having worked 30 years plus internationally now, in the old days, the quote unquote parachute consulting or parachute advisory still worked, you know, people would still swallow it. Nowadays, that's not the case anymore. So I think the world is moving on and the emerging market economies, they're pushing back in many ways on that level of almost arrogance, I would say, you know, saying my method is a universal method and of course you have to do it my way. So I think it's a healthy place, a healthy shift, I think in the world where people are pushing back on that, that level of arrogance. I I remember when we you shifted to California. One of the most exciting things that I saw happen there It is, is just the amount of impact that you were able to have a wide variety of projects, some of them super innovative. And you got recognized to that will shortly speak about that as well. But when you think of the projects, you are allowed to be involved with the new approaches you're able to develop, or what what would you say was one of the highlights?

Hasan Rafiq  25:26  
I think the biggest highlight was, in California, most of the clients that I was working on, or most of the teams that I was part of in building their own global mindset through cultural agility. We're global in their nature, they were truly global. So in the Middle East, I had people from all over the world, but they may not necessarily work on us on the same team. So there was more richness and diversity. But in California, we had a team that would be three 400 people spread across the globe. But the client is originating from California. So that was different. So there was a truly global nature of looking at how do we build trust globally? How do we execute with speed globally? How do we work with the shared service center really well? How do we make sure that we have practitioners spread across the globe who are enabling this mindset at every level of someone's career journey, I think that was game changing, because then you could scale a lot of what this work can do for you. Not only that, at the heart of this is human beings, right. So you can be curious about your client relationships, you can be curious about a latest pitch that you're going to do, you can be curious about how we are building our collaterals that we are going to submit in the pitch, or proposal, all of that through the lens of culture. And I think that was amazing to see. Because I have seen a number of solutions out there that do not go as deep as the three colors of worldview or the 12 dimensions would go is when you start to apply it on to the solutions that you're building. So it's good for one thing, which is awareness, but it is, this is how it will shift the language in your proposal. And the reason why you need to shift it, that's one example. This is how you will engage differently in a conversation. And here's how it will change you in that conversation. I think those practical applications were so many. So it was literally like a lab that I was learning running, where we would have experiments that we would do with different things by using the same cultural agility frameworks and build more solutions on top of it. The other part of that was the commitment, again, commitment from Jenny commitment from all these leaders to go the long journey, which was very, very different. So we were building a two year journey for each account, there were pitstops. In between that you get some more learning, you apply that learning you experiment, you build products with it. And that product space is completely missing this whole discussion around how do we build for the globe, because it has also been tied to the de IB journey. So if you're building for the globe, you just need to look for the physical, visible, visible diversity, and you should be fine. So we are still missing on the whole conversation.

Marco Blankenburgh  28:25  
And if I if I can just inject there because you're landing on something that is easy to miss. And that is that the IB work has a tendency to just be focused on the internal relationships within the organization. Very few dare to to say no, this actually has a direct impact on relationships with clients, with suppliers with major stakeholders in the market. And I always find the companies don't see that. But you definitely have done a lot of work in that space. So what would you say to that?

Hasan Rafiq  29:03  
I think it's very important for organizations to understand that just by changing pictures in your collaterals is not going to cut it. representation that way people can see through it, people can easily see through your materials as well as the conversations they're having with the people from your from your team. What we do need to do is to step back and say if we are building a product from the for the globe, for the world, what does the representation look like for people who are building it? That's number one. Is the IV going to be embedded from the first step or will it be after we are done we'll put it through a D IB review. There is not much you can do after that, because the ship has already left. And then the third piece is do you have leaders who understand the economics of this because If you're doing it just for more sales, yes, that could be a goal. But if you do it right, you will be able to see the sales that you have never seen before. And you need to take the risk to go down that path, it will take longer, it will be harder, but the return on that you will be amazed to see that return. And I think in some cases, what I'm seeing is organizations that are originating from the eastern part of the world are doing this really, really well. Because what they are doing is they are understanding what works in the biggest market of the world, at least for now, that is us. And how can we deeply understand why that works? And how do we walk backwards and build solutions that are going to work there. So I think we need to do a much better job at embedding that as part of the process versus an afterthought. And then it's not just a collateral thing. It has to be mindset investment in people building solutions, in some cases, even challenging our mission. So this is a side story. I was at one of the tech symposiums and there was a leader who was talking a lot about an open world, an open economy is better for everyone. And it serves the whole world better. And we need more clarity, more rules, which everyone can sign up to. And we just need to open up the world. That's better for everyone. So I asked the question, that is great. But did we ask the world if it wants to be opened up or not? Because you're making a big assumption here, that an open world is good for everyone who said that? Who made that conclusion. And of course, an open world in the western world is good for everyone. But we need to think about the rest of the world as an equal partner. Not that this works here. This should work there, too. And everyone should adopt it.