Unlocking Cultural Agility with Marco Blankenburgh

Intercultural Consulting with George Kesselaar

August 23, 2022 KnowledgeWorkx Season 1 Episode 12
Intercultural Consulting with George Kesselaar
Unlocking Cultural Agility with Marco Blankenburgh
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Unlocking Cultural Agility with Marco Blankenburgh
Intercultural Consulting with George Kesselaar
Aug 23, 2022 Season 1 Episode 12
KnowledgeWorkx

Join George Kesselaar and Marco as they explore the complexities of intercultural consulting and how to successfully facilitate positive behavior change in people in this global world.

George Kesselaar is a seasoned corporate transformation specialist with 25 years of executive level experience in Big 4 consulting firms and deep experience in managing strategic change, human resources transformation, high-performance learning journeys, and executive compensation in Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Southern Africa.

Currently, he is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Cape Town, investigating antecedents to change supportive behavior during large-scale organizational change interventions through worldviews.

You can get in touch with George Kesselaar at: georgekesselaar@gmail.com.

In this episode you will learn -- 

  • How to build a community where people 'can find one another'
  • How to use culturally agile consulting to frame solutions in a way that allows those solutions to succeed in different environments
  • How deep worldview structures impact change management processes and how an inter-cultural intelligence framework gives a neutral language to deepen conversations about cultural landscapes


 | Articles: 

-- Culture Made Practical: Self-Cultural Analysis (http://kwx.fyi/self-cultural-analysis)
-- Creating Messaging that Resonates Across Cultures (http://kwx.fyi/messaging-across-cultures)
-- Better Conversations, Smarter Questions, and More Listening (http://kwx.fyi/better-conversations)

Psst... Listen all the way to the end for a special easter egg.

-- Brought to you by KnowledgeWorkx.com

Show Notes Transcript

Join George Kesselaar and Marco as they explore the complexities of intercultural consulting and how to successfully facilitate positive behavior change in people in this global world.

George Kesselaar is a seasoned corporate transformation specialist with 25 years of executive level experience in Big 4 consulting firms and deep experience in managing strategic change, human resources transformation, high-performance learning journeys, and executive compensation in Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Southern Africa.

Currently, he is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Cape Town, investigating antecedents to change supportive behavior during large-scale organizational change interventions through worldviews.

You can get in touch with George Kesselaar at: georgekesselaar@gmail.com.

In this episode you will learn -- 

  • How to build a community where people 'can find one another'
  • How to use culturally agile consulting to frame solutions in a way that allows those solutions to succeed in different environments
  • How deep worldview structures impact change management processes and how an inter-cultural intelligence framework gives a neutral language to deepen conversations about cultural landscapes


 | Articles: 

-- Culture Made Practical: Self-Cultural Analysis (http://kwx.fyi/self-cultural-analysis)
-- Creating Messaging that Resonates Across Cultures (http://kwx.fyi/messaging-across-cultures)
-- Better Conversations, Smarter Questions, and More Listening (http://kwx.fyi/better-conversations)

Psst... Listen all the way to the end for a special easter egg.

-- Brought to you by KnowledgeWorkx.com

George Kesselaar:

Sometimes the differences that we have what we often refer to as you know, as intercultural differences are often just misunderstandings. These are a layers that we've placed over ourselves in our understanding of one another, that are often incorrect, that are often misunderstood. And if we can peel off those layers, and really get to what is at the bottom of who we really are, we start discovering that we all very similar

Marco Blankenburgh:

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 to today's podcast, today is a special recording because with a friend, colleague, fellow consultant, fellow facilitator, and we've had the chance to work together on and off for the last more than 20 years. I think it is George, I don't remember exactly when we first met, but it's over 20 years ago. Now. Indeed, in these hours, it's wonderful to have you on this episode, to talk about the world of consulting the world of global consulting, intercultural consulting. I think it's a fascinating subject. And there's so many lessons that you have learned that I believe is worthy of passing on to our audience today. So thank you for joining.

George Kesselaar:

It is a pleasure. It is a pleasure. Thank you, Marco. I've been looking forward to this opportunity to spend some time with you this afternoon. Yes.

Marco Blankenburgh:

So George, you originally hail from South Africa, we met for the first time in the UAE and Dubai. But I don't want to put words in your mouth. So be great if you can introduce yourself to our listeners today.

George Kesselaar:

Thanks, Marco. Yeah, that's this is always an interesting one to introduce yourself in a few seconds, which is a tough one. But I'll try. As you mentioned, maka, we met in the UAE, which was an important step in my life journey. As I originally come from South Africa, currently living in Cape Town, and I spent my formative years in Johannesburg, in the military, then had the opportunity to move out to the Middle East, and engage with knowledge works, get involved in some academia, be involved in the consulting industry. And I think over the years, I've been very much flowing in between the two. So having the opportunity to invest in individuals from an academic point of view, but then also to contribute to organizations and their success as a management consultant. So yeah, so for the last 25 years, you know, being involved in that flow, and coming off a strong base of, of having spent about eight years in the military as well in the Navy. So I'm an ex naval officer. And, and that's, that's also, interestingly enough, it was the launching pad, for me as an organizational consultant, particularly given many of the changes that the South African military was experiencing in the 90s that I was part of. So yeah, in a nutshell, that's, that's where I'm from and what I've done so far,

Marco Blankenburgh:

coming from South Africa, some people call it the rainbow nation. Other people question that label. But being born and raised in South Africa, what what were some of your earliest intercultural experiences growing up there?

George Kesselaar:

Well, I think for the for every South African that is different. It really depends on which area you're from whether you grew up in a more rural context or whether it was in a more urban city life kind of environment. I had the opportunity of being involved in both, but I think probably my most important formative years were in my my later teens, early adulthood, being involved as a university student in, you know, in the change that was taking place in South Africa in the early 90s. I had the privilege of being involved In the youth movement of one of the, one of the the unique political parties at the time, called the independent party. And I remember being part of a first youth group that had a trip down to Cape Town, at the time, at the time, I was studying at Randolph County University, which was a very traditional national socialist, almost educational platform, and failing to cope down and working with other youth, young adults, and to start to think about what would the new South Africa look like? And what role can we play as young South Africans in that in that you said, Africa, and that was followed by a time in the military. And I think this is where my, my intercultural experience really started growing, in that, at the time, I happen to get involved into a process of integration of different armed forces, as you would know, from the past, that a South Africa has, in the past was a deeply divided society, and sometimes, unfortunately, still is. So to answer your question about the rainbow nation, I think we would like to be, and I think many of us try and be, but often they are, you know, severe obstacles that needs to be surmounted. And we work hard to do so. And at that time, I think was a good example where you had different armed forces, what was known in the past as a South African Defence Force, and controversies were that many might have heard of the Pan African National Congress, these were what we in those days would call non statutory forces, or what many would have called that those days, terrorist organizations and actually now integrate with various in very different cultures, different political agendas, highly racially fragmented and polarized. And, you know, I was involved in a time where individuals that were literally a few months earlier, were facing one another over a barrel of a gun at you now suddenly started working together, sitting next to one another in the same office. And I think, you know, following on from my experience at university, this was really a time where I had to start thinking about, well, in this place where there are so many people that are so different. And but yes, so similar, strangely enough, and the similarity started coming out, when I was involved in a program that was called the psychological integration program. So there is a very early form of ici development, and that was taking place in South Africa. And the purpose of that program was to try and find common ground amongst all of these, you know, culturally diverse individuals. And what we were trying to do, using various psychological techniques was to create a platform where people could communicate. And it was so interesting, it was a week long program, and during that week, you know, you would visit different military bases. And, you know, in some cases, they were in a some of those those military bases were located in in highly volatile areas. I can think of one example, not too far from where I live, we ran a program in the collegia area, where the traditional what was called the colored cops were located. I think, if I remember correctly, the 15th Infantry Division. And at this, during this program, you know, you had all sergeant majors that were either from controversies were or from the old ACDS, sitting across on another table, and literally wanting to tear one another's eyes out, you know, in this conversation. And what was interesting enough, traditionally, in the military, on a Wednesday afternoon, at least in the South African military, there's an opportunity for people to come together to play sports to step away from the office. And we use that Wednesday afternoon on the course, to watch a copy of the recording of the 1995 World Cup was just recently played. And of course, wasted Africa won the final, which was a great event for bringing people together. And, and during this this, this afternoon, it just seemed that all these differences, all this tension started disappearing. People started having a good time, and I started talking to one another, obviously, you know, infused by the excitement of having won the World Cup and being world champions. And I remember so vividly. I'm sitting in that room, opposite a guy who was recently the head of a or the cheeseless South African Navy, at that stage lieutenant and him saying to me, Georgia, have actually I don't know what all this you know what all distinction, we're all this unhappiness is all about it we're experiencing. Because he says, you know, you and I are very similar. And I said, Yeah, I agree, but you told me what do you why do you say so? And he says, he said to me, Well, you know, George, why are we here, you know, we are here to earn a living, we're here to care for our families, we are here to have some purpose, God, and all of this other stuff is just political rhetoric. And it was during those types of conversations, that I think, you know, the penny dropped for me that, you know, sometimes the, the differences that we have, what we often refer to, as, you know, as intercultural differences are often just misunderstandings. These are a layers that we've placed over ourselves in our understanding of one another, and that are often incorrect, that are often misunderstood. And if we can peel off those layers, and really get to what is at the bottom of who we really are, we start discovering that we all very similar. And from that, you know, that that's that pace of similarity, of shared interests of, of shared purpose really, one can then start building something that is unique, and it's something that leads to, you know, people being able to work together productively in harmony and in peace. And that really is, you know, I would say that was the start of my intercultural journey. And what I've just seen growing from, you know, from from strength to strength since then,

Marco Blankenburgh:

that in and of itself is worth an episode or maybe even a

George Kesselaar:

book. Amen.

Marco Blankenburgh:

So, from there read this fast tracking, you went into the GCC, the Gulf region, into the UAE. And that's where we eventually met. You had the opportunity to be part of some of the earliest groups of where we certify people on intercultural intelligence or to become more culturally agile and train and coach others to do the same. What drew you into that? You know, the stories you just told, obviously, that's in the background, creating the groundswell but what drew you into ici intercultural intelligence?

George Kesselaar:

You know, Miko I've always been one that, that, you know, that believes in message. And I believe in like old King Solomon said, there's nothing new under the sun. And we do have methodology for things in life and it helps us make things easier. And I think what drew me into the whole in those days, the ICI cultural agility, as we spoke about cultural agility in those days, arena was, you know, the idea of having something that I can use, just to try and explain to others what I experienced when I was in Khayelitsha, right, and to put some form around that, and to apply psychometrics and other useful tools, methodology to make that applicable to others for others to learn, and to be able to apply it in their everyday lives, whether that is in a normal relationship, or whether it is in trying to make an organizational practice work. So I think that that's what drew me to the ICI model, or the ICI practice was, here is something that you were describing to me that was just immediately, you know, just just landed on me that resonated with what I felt in my in my heart and in my soul as being as being a real. And when I then overlaid that on my experience as a young South African in the military and in the Middle East. And it just makes so much sense, you know, the concept of, of being able to accurately identify what you seen around you in terms of others, to be able to interpret that correctly, and then to be able to adapt to it. That's what I saw in Khayelitsha. And when you started explaining, and describing ici to me, I think it just made perfect sense. And that's when I got excited, I thought, well, this is something if I can learn this, and learn to apply this broadly, that would really empower my journey of wanting to help others, you know, see this light that I think was starting to shine in all aspects of my life but also that I really knew and could understand what's necessary in so many other contexts that I got involved in.

Marco Blankenburgh:

As fascinating how you you draw those two together. On the one hand, there's the method but there is also your own life experience. And you know with hunting So as practitioners around the world, they have gone through the same experience of, hey, here's a methodology that makes culture accessible. And it helps with sense making, but also, it makes my own story come alive, it creates a lot of answers, especially the why answers, I think, of what we've gone through and why something worked and why something didn't work. But you already mentioned that it impacts relationships, how did it impact you? What what did it do for you personally?

George Kesselaar:

Well, I think Marco, what you probably having, you know, being being marriages that African as well, you know, that we can be quite stuck in our ways, you know, we are, you know, Afrikaner Buddha means, as they say, and, and what I, what I experienced in starting to develop as a culturally agile individual, as a, as a cultural learner, as we would put in those days, was that I was able to start shining some light on to different parts of my life, and in my behavior that I could identify still being stuck in a kind of a negative paradox, right. And, and through applying some of this methodology, some of these spots that we had been playing around with at that time, I, myself, could really step back and say, Hey, I'm George, you know, you're talking about being intellectually intelligent, you're talking about being someone that others can work with. But you know, in this specific area of your life, is this something that really supports that? Or is it something that that you need to be thinking about? And, and really interpreting correctly yourself in terms of how you're behaving? Before you can impose yourself on others? Because as you probably know, from working with me, Mater, I can be a bit of a control freak sometimes.

Marco Blankenburgh:

Yeah, yeah, it's, it's really interesting, that idea of you can you can teach a method, but if that method doesn't come alive, for you from the inside out, that you almost, you know, lose your credibility.

George Kesselaar:

Yeah, I think this is very important in the sense that and maybe, if we got get the opportunity later, to talk a little bit about this consulting practice, in general, I think it really comes to the really heart of how do we make consulting practice work? Because I think there are so many methods and so many consulting solutions out there and, and coming and having spent many years within the large, you know, big four consulting firms who have exposure to the strategy firms and boutique firms, you know, there are so many solutions. And so many of those solutions, we try and implement, you know, as is within a new context, such as the Malays, for example, GCC, and then we step away and think, Oh, why doesn't this work? But I think, and this is really, something that I learned, as I started to get involved with you from an ici perspective is that, you know, it's almost as if we tried to put a square peg in a round peg in a round hole, in that, you know, the, the round hole of the way in which maybe an individual operates within, you know, I'm gonna show him environment, you know, forced into a square peg of a guilt innocence consulting solution, it just creates friction, as opposed to, you know, lasting lasting solutions and lasting value to clients.

Marco Blankenburgh:

Yeah. And it seems you're raising, in essence to two issues here. One is, does true global best practice really exist? Because there's lots of square pegs in round holes, where there's, you know, universally applicable best practice. And then the other thing is, you know, how, how can you consultants move in and out of different cultural contexts work with people from very different backgrounds? You know, wouldn't they get lost if they don't have just one method to work with? So what's, what's the classical consulting, we've cooked up a methodology and we, we saw that methodology all around the world versus a more culturally agile consultant, how would you describe the difference?

George Kesselaar:

I think the difference is very much one of what is, you know, what is the purpose of what you're trying to do? You know, I remember us often having this conversation as colleagues and you asking me well, Georgia and to watch and to watch, are we doing this? And, and I think that is crucial in a consulting in your consulting approach is, why are you doing this? Are you doing this to merely implement some methodology that was published somewhere, or are you doing this to really help someone to make you know, a LASIK change. And while I do believe that there is definitely a wide body of established, recognized, and very valuable solutions out there, that you know, a interculturally, or culturally agile consultant really is one that is able to take that, put it in his in his or her back pocket, and then say, alright, I'm looking at the situation in front of me, what is it that I'm trying to achieve? And why am I trying to achieve this? So starting with the second question, why am I trying to achieve this? The answer needs to be in order to help the person that I'm dealing with, in order to solve their problem as best or in the best way that they can possibly do so themselves. answering the first question of how am I going to do this? Well, I need to bring this established solution that has been a validated and replicated elsewhere. And I need to save ask myself, well, how can I now put this into place so that it actually helped this helps this client of mine to implement the solution effectively? And this is where I think cultural agility and intercultural intelligence comes in. So how do I, how do I help this individual, for example, and probably the best way to explain this is through a story, we were involved in a large implementation of a new strategy for the the electricity generated in Kazakhstan a few years ago. And what we were trying to do was to support the corporatization process, that this electricity generator to Gog, I think it was called, at the time, was trying to realize and the purpose was for them to then engage fully in supplying energy to the EU, etc. So it was both a major corporatization process but also a major, gotta change process. And at the time, because Exxon was still moving out of the old Soviet era, and a lot of the mindsets was thought in all Soviet, large scale, institutional, very slow, moving very traditional mindsets, and we had, you know, markets that these guys now started at having to compete with an engaging that we're, you know, there's been not only ambitious, but we're also very innovative and adaptable and agile. So changing the the, you know, the corporate environment within Qigong in order to play with on this in this new market was quite a challenge. And I remember, often, at the time, I was leading the change management workstream on this large initiative as part of one of the big four firms. And I remember often going to the board meetings where we now had to present some of our solutions that we were developing. And part of our purpose was to support the CEO at the time, because he was ultimately responsible for making this work. Right. And I don't know why, but probably because, you know, I realized that in this environment, creating community was important. And I often when I started my part of the presentation, I started off with a joke. And so we did a number of these board meetings. And at the penultimate board meeting, I, you know, I made my presentation, and it didn't go so well that day. So the CEO afterwards asked me, he said to me, what's your what happened to the joke? And so I said to you, well, oh, my apologies. Mr. I think his name was Alexandra. I apologize. I, I just, you know, we were so caught up in the work, I forgot about a joke. He said, no joke, George. But the joke was really important. Because what you were telling them was really, you know, it was very different to what they were used to, right. And diving into that solution, even though to you, it was straightforward, and you know, and you had all the best practice and, you know, benchmarking all that stuff ready. And a really good explanation of how to make this work for them. These guys, you know, just were not in the frame of mind to be able to absorb and accept what you were telling them. But by adding in this little piece of joke in the front, what you did is you when he recognized you, we're starting to develop some community, because we've done this before. So they now expected Joseph is going to come up, he's going to tell a bit of a joke, and then he's gonna go get into all this change management stuff, which is important for us, you know, right? Without the joke. And it's a very simple thing. But without a joke, it was a lot more difficult for them to understand what I was going to try and tell them by telling the joke up front, what I was doing as I was starting to building in as to build some community. And in that community, we could find one another in many of the the tensions of who's who in the zoo, as far as the meeting is concerned, or who's right and who's wrong. All that kind of moved away a little bit. During the time while we were laughing about this ridiculous no joke that I might have inserted in my presentation. But very important, because I did that, you know, it allowed for this methodology to work. And I think there are many other examples that I go into. But I mean, it's just one small way. I think that you as a, as a culture, we live in an agile consultant can add things into the way in which you introduce best practice, to make best practice work, even though you're not changing the practice at all, you're just changing the way in which you are delivering that practice.

Marco Blankenburgh:

And what you're alluding to is really that idea that intercultural consulting is both 100% relational and 100%. Transactional, it's not just about the method, and the packaging is very much to do with how the people will respond to it. The very often they they quote, unquote, by you as a person first before they're willing to embrace your method. And knowing how to do that, in multiple contexts is so incredibly important, and also really hard to do. Because the lessons never stop, right.

George Kesselaar:

Yeah, yep. And yeah, as you know, probably better than I do, you know, using the approach that I've just explained, doesn't work in all contexts, right? Exactly. I've been in in other contexts, you know, with organizations in Europe, for example, where that would have been seen as as highly inappropriate. But then again, they weren't, there are other methods that one can use. To make that work.

Marco Blankenburgh:

You're instrumental in in getting our consulting our intercultural consulting methodology, documented, and we are still using that today, it has grown even after you moved on to bigger playing field. And it was in the beginning, I was like, okay, is this you know, where's this going? And now looking back more than 20 years, I'm still forever grateful that you started that process, but to our audience, explain the for Dummies version, so to speak, what is an intercultural intelligence consulting methodology? What how is it different from, you know, run of the mill, regular consulting, so to speak?

George Kesselaar:

Michael, I think what one needs, the way is, you know, the, probably the easiest way to think about this is, if you think about an ice cream, you know, an ice cream cone, you have this nice, sugary Kern in this nice big blob of gelato on top of it, that's consulting, right. And it's really attractive to many of our clients, especially when they're in trouble. Because, you know, here we come, we bring something that hopefully will be tasty that their employees and their shareholders etc, will eat up, and then we'll help them to solve and, you know, some form of problem that they have, I think what interculturally intelligent consulting is, is really that, you know, that sugar cone with a nice big blob of chocolate covering over it, right. And, and what we do is, if you take, let's take, for example, a standard big for consulting process, right, where you know, you're going into a situation, you'll do some form of pre analysis, understand the current state, then applying some benchmarking, in order to conduct a gap analysis, then develop a number of solutions, proposed solutions, whether those are solutions in terms of process, in terms of structure in terms of technology, these days, very often technology because of the whole development in an agile technology, etc, etc. And, and then some form of an implementation plan. And hopefully, if you're lucky, you can walk away before the implementation starts, because then it's not your problem if it doesn't work, right. So that's the traditional kind of four stage process that that consultants typically use. I think what makes the the, the ICI way of doing it differently is, if that's the ice cream and the ice cream cone, the chocolate is taking a step back and during each of those different phases, applying a different lens and then to say right As we do the current state analysis, but what do we need to understand not only about the organization, but also about the people within that organization, how they view the world, you know, how they engage with life, culturally. But what do we need to understand about that, so that both, we can both understand what they're all about. And very importantly, when we communicate to them, what we found that we communicate that in a way that you know, that they can understand themselves. And when I say that, I mean, not, you know, conceptually, but at a heart level, because often the issue is not knowing what I'm saying, it's feeling what I'm saying, it doesn't resonate with me what you're trying to explain to me that it's not a case of does it make sense that something can make sense perfectly. But if it doesn't resonate with you, it's not going to be something that you can implement or use? Right? So I would say, that's the major difference. And it sounds a superficial, very easy thing to do, but it's not. And I think, you know, some of the methodology that we've developed over the years, really allows you to take a step back, apply that lens, and then apply best practices in a way that resonates with the heart, and therefore is, you know, easier to implement.

Marco Blankenburgh:

Now, in our network, we have a number of people that makes it Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. We have a number of people in our network who have actually said, I joined the ICI network, because in some of the firms, I'm not relationally allowed to get involved the client, because everything the chocolate on top of the ice cream is really very relational. Right. So it is, it almost is a little bit counterculture within the consulting world.

George Kesselaar:

It is lacO it is. And, you know, I've also often set in in many not only meetings in planning, and large scale, accounting engagements, where we need to put strategies together to either win work, or make large engagements successful. But even, you know, being involved over many years, in the training of consultants, with some of the big four firms, I had the privilege of running, what we would call the, you know, the basic consulting training courses or manager training courses. And even in those courses being told, Look, we are here to deliver methodology to deliver solutions, they are clients, that methodology is key, right? So we are not here to adapt, we are here to bring these individuals or these organizations, really find solutions that work. But then throughout the conversation, as you start talking about experiences that that many of my colleagues have had, then it always comes out that you know, what, actually, I had to completely redesign and re reimagine this solution that was given to me from our method set, because it had to, you know, did not wasn't applicable to my client. And, and then I always sit back and I say to me, myself, you know, this is so sad. Because as a firm, you know, the big four, the strategy houses, they spend millions on developing methodology. And there is nothing wrong with that methodology. My my take on this situation is that you don't have to adjust the methodology, you've got to be able to have the methodology resonate with the clients. All right. There's, let's take something classic, like for example, the balanced scorecard, right? There's nothing wrong with the balanced scorecard. How can us though, talk about the balanced scorecard, to make sure that that resonates with someone that is looking at it from a, you know, what we would call a guilt innocence point of view, or mindset, which, which probably is easier because you've got all these different categories? These buckets are things that you measure, and you either measure up to it or you don't, right. More importantly, how how, how do you make it resonate to someone that doesn't look at the world in terms of, you know, buckets of things that I mentioned, that I measure up to or not, but rather, that looks at the world in terms of groups of people that I relate to, that I need to, you know, that I need to either satisfy or honor. It's a completely different approach. So it's not about changing the methodology. It's about how do you take that methodology and talk that methodology through in a way that can resonate in the hearts of the clients and I know this probably sounds very, you know, touchy feely to many of the hardcore consulting types, but it has to resonate, you know, we always talk about resonating, but resonate with the heart of the client. So yep,

Marco Blankenburgh:

which also is linked to, you know, having an impact that lasts. Because if that doesn't happen, I've seen time and time again, you walk away, you think you've had a successful project. But if you had the chance to revisit or hear, you know, what has happened three 612 months later, then it all has fizzled out. It wasn't, it wasn't really taken to heart by the client. Now, you had a chance to get into academia in in the Gulf region, actually, we had the chance as KnowledgeWorks to train over five and a half 1000 Gulf nationals on cultural agility, which was fantastic opportunity, you were embedded in the system, and was inspired. In that way, you had the chance to work with people who were who come from a very different context. So how, as a as a lecturer, as a researcher, were you able to use cultural agility to connect with your students, with their families, etc?

George Kesselaar:

Well, I think, um, let me use a really interesting story to tell you in this regard. A few years ago, a number of years ago, you would be aware of the study, we were, there was something called the glow project. Right? So this was a study done many years ago, looking at something called authentic leadership, and what does that look like, you know, in different parts of the world. So at the time, I was teaching leadership at the Dubai Men's College, and I thought, Well, what a wonderful opportunity to expose my students to, you know, different ways of thinking about leadership. And, unfortunately, there was a gap in the study in that one of the, you know, the countries that were not for the regions that were not fully represented, was the, you know, the GCC, and I suggested to my students, let's do a study, where we look at the different ways in which Emiratis describe and understand leadership. And, and I knew that they were different tribes within the, you know, the Federation. And I thought it would be really interesting to see, you know, we use the same methodology use the same question, etc. And they had to go out and speak to their families, and then find out now how do how do Mr. T's view leadership? What does authentic leadership mean to them? And that I discovered was the biggest mistake ever. Because the first thing that happened during the conversation was not talking about, you know, what is authentic leadership mean. But immediately the conversation was about who is Emirati? It was so funny, because, you know, you had different as you know, yourself different tribes. And those tribes were, obviously from different parts of the country, and have been there for longer periods. And they were big arguments about Now, which of these tribes are really in our Emirati tribes are not Emirati tribes. So scoping your, your sample here was was really difficult because they couldn't agree who was in scope and who was not. But behind that story, lies, I think, to me one of the most important opportunities to apply to cultural intelligence, because in that conversation, that started becoming highly, highly emotive, which you can imagine. It almost reminded me of the time in the military when I was involved in the integration in South Africa, where I now had these tribes sitting in front of me in the classroom, you know, starting to almost wanting to get into fisticuffs about, you know, other guys from Elaine, are they really where it is, or the guys from Dubai or the guy from Abu Dhabi, and having to step back and use the process of intercultural intelligence that we've learned to ask to get these guys to stop? Alright, step back. Right. So let's start and think about ourselves as participants in the slaughtered who are we, in a how do we behave and like to behave? How do we present ourselves? Who are we now dealing with infrastructure, guys that are coming from some of those tribes in our lane, or some of these tribes and on the wrong side of the highway in Dubai, as you would know, right? And how do we learn about one another, so that we can have a very, you know, peaceful and productive conversation about what is authentic leadership in an Emirati context? And it was really interesting because it took a while it took about three weeks of you know, of sessions. get to that point where guys could really start trusting one another in order to talk about this very, very emotive topic, so that we get to a solution in terms of you know, what, what is authentic leadership look like in the Emirati context? And and what can we learn about, then how can we use that for the future for them in their careers, as well as they practice their own leadership within the government to other organizations that they would be working on. So you know, that's just one example of, you know, so it's not only about in the traditional sense, getting students to learn better, but it's also getting them to want to be wanting to really at a deep level, engage with one another, in order to, you know, to learn and to grow as as young men and woman.

Marco Blankenburgh:

And I think the intercultural intelligence framework in two ways allows that to happen. You illustrated beautifully, that on the one hand, we are deeply connected to families, tribes, nations, are also unique, we have our own unique cultural story, or own unique cultural journey. And connecting with that. And the second thing is to actually have a neutral language to talk about it. So the language of the three colors, a worldview, is in and of itself, a neutral language, there is no good or bad in it. The same with the 12 dimensions of culture. It's not that one, one way of doing things is better than another way of doing things. So that neutrality of the language really deepens the conversation reminds me of a project we ran in South Africa with where coaching across ethnic groups was incredibly difficult, especially in the early days. And, you know, a coaching conversation between let's say, a Caucasian, white, South African and a, let's say, a Zulu, South African, would would stop halfway, or we would never really reach the level of depth you need for coaching. But then, bringing the intercultural intelligence framework in all of a sudden, the conversations started to last longer, they went deeper, the coaches landed on on profound ways that they wanted to move forward, because of the neutrality of the language that we use. Now, for you to continue after your even academia, you got headhunted, once again, into the, into the big four space. When you think about the world of consulting, you, you now have a unique opportunity, really, in your PhD work to develop a method, right? But a more culturally Agile method. So talk to us about that.

George Kesselaar:

Thank you, Marco. Yes, yeah, at a fairly late stage in my life, I decided to really go back into academia. And, and I think, you know, in many of the conversations that even you and I, I think Mark, over the last few years have had with clients, we've realized that it's really important to put that, you know, the academics and the practice together. And I in talking to so many of my academic colleagues, you know, one of the challenges that we have in academia, is to really try and bring, you know, the word, the ivory tower of academia, and the, the, you know, the dirty roadside practice of doing things in real life together. And that's not always that easy. Now, there are very good examples of where that is currently being done very, very well. But I think often the, the issue is that some of these theoretical or the theories that are being put into place or being developed in an ivory tower, in an environment where maybe the sample sizes are our only other students available at the university, or we're looking at very specific case studies that are not you know, generalizable, etc, etc. And specifically, in an area where I am very interested in in that is bringing about change. And I think something that is core to what knowledge works does is this idea of positive behavioral change in people, right, whatever that means for the person that is involved in the process. So change management has always been really important to me. And what we are trying to do at the moment and I had the privilege of being allowed on to the doctoral program at the University of Capetown for Graduate School of Business is we are trying to have a look at if we think about the ways in which people support a change, right. So typically, in a in an environment where we engage in a planned change and very often And, you know, you will know, with many of the clients that you work with as well, changes often planned, right? So, you know, we now need to adopt a new strategy, or implement a new technology, or there's something that needs to be done. And then we work out, you know, this this plan change intervention as a start and an end date, and a huge budget assigned to it. And, and unfortunately, what you know, the current research tells us is that as many as one in three of those large interventions failed dismally. And more importantly, almost 25% of the value of this intervention gets lost even before implementation starts. So it is significant significant is significant. Yeah. So a lot of work has been done to try and find out now what can we do to make these change interventions more successful. So there's a lot of a lot of work that has been done in the past to start thinking about what is what is being referred to as the deepest structures underneath or that underlying change management. So instead of just looking at the standard change process of formulating the change, communicating the change, and then training people to be able to implement what is being changed, and then following on in terms of whether it's been done correctly. Now, what what is underneath that? Because obviously, that in itself, seems and sounds really simple, but it doesn't seem to do the job. And I think what we've started to discover is something that I think acknowledge works. And we've, we've ici we ran across many years ago, and that is that people look at the world in different ways, right? So people have different views of the world. So when I run this straightforward change process, in a specific context, I need to understand what are some of these deep worldview structures of those individuals involved in the in the change process, and that's what we're working on at the moment. So it's not not so much changing, you know, evidence based practice, as far as Change management is concerned, a recent study that was done in 2019, you know, identified a significant amount of really well designed best practices that really do work. But unfortunately, they don't work always. And they don't work everywhere. So what we're hoping to do, is by shining the spotlight of cultural worldview, over the whole change management process, is to identify whether one of these deep structures and worldview has been identified as one of those deep fractures, whether that influences the way people change, and whether it's something that if we keep it into account, we can use to help people change more successfully and direct really is the, you know, the foundation of my study.

Marco Blankenburgh:

And it's an opportune time as well, because if you look at the amount of change that humanities has to go through right now it has escalated, or, you know, evolved rapidly. So it's exciting, I look forward to seeing the results of that flow into the world around us. Thank you. It's been really good to, to go back into history a bit with you, George, there's so much to talk about, but also, time is, is always with us. So in closing, of course, you know, you talk about change management, a significant part of consulting practice, change management is always almost always part of any consulting initiative in some way or another. But when you if you were to summarize what you think, a globally functioning consultant in today's world, what would you say to them? What do they need? What should they pursue in terms of personal development in terms of how they can be better at doing their job in a global interculturally? complex world?

George Kesselaar:

Right? Like, I would think I would, I would refer back to an old model, I think that you and I spoke about very often in the past, where we talked about handset, and hotset and mindset, right? And I think if I had to advise, and I do, even now when I work with other consultants, or in the past, when I was training consultants, I often say to them, it starts with what is in your heart, right? So it's really about looking forward and asking yourself, Why am I a consultant? Or what am I trying to achieve? Both for myself in my career, but also for my clients in executing my career when I might for them to watch right. So, if I if I as a consult and are engaging in this career as someone that wants to help others change positively, then I'm on the right track, right, so having the right heart set, secondly, having the right mindset. And I think from a mindset point of view, I talk about being able to put yourself in the, in the shoes of a client. And really, using a very old definition of what we were working with in the past, really being able to identify what your client is all about, being able to interpret what you see correctly, and then being able to adapt to what you see, that needs to be your mindset. Right. So I'm doing this because I really want to help my clients. And the way in which I'm going to help my client is really understand my client, to interpret what I believe I understand correctly, and then to adjust according, right. And then lastly, when we talk about handset now handset to me as methodology. So, you know, one can, one can be, you know, going into this, this consulting career with the best intentions, right, with a willingness to be agile. But if you do not have methodology, then you know, better than a, you know, a second car salesman that, you know that that's down the street, you do need to understand the methodology. So I would recommend that as you know, if you want to grow as an intercultural consultant, and don't just say, Well, you know, we need to understand the people, and then that'll solve all the problems, you need to understand methodology methodology. And fortunately, it's published in the top journals. So you need to read those journals. Sometimes they're difficult to read, because they are written in highly academic language, that they've got some really important nuggets, that I hope through our practice at the University of Capetown, and other very important schools, and we will in the future be able to make a lot more digestible. But with that methodology, and overlaid on top of that, a mindset of wanting to help clients through understanding where they're coming from understanding they will views etc. And then having the right heart, I want to help them to improve, I think you can't go wrong. The rest is in the Big Four training manuals already. So I don't tend to go into all of that. But those are, in my mind the three secrets to success,

Marco Blankenburgh:

hard set mindset and skill set. Absolutely. I think that pushes us beyond just method and professionalism into a bit of artistry as well, indeed, in the as you're explaining it, I'm thinking of a painter's palette, indeed, painting some beautiful work there. Well, thank you, George, anybody who wants to connect with George directly, as always with our podcasts, his contact details are in the notes of this recording. So feel free to reach out to George and start a conversation with him. He's part of our global network and one of our partners, and he will love to take this conversation further with you. Absolutely. And thank you, George, for for joining during this session. It's been my

George Kesselaar:

pleasure. Thank you, Marco, it's lovely to judge you.

Marco Blankenburgh:

If you've listened to this podcast before, you may have heard us talk about the intercultural intelligence certification program. It's an amazing 15 week journey, and the next one launches in September, you will join a small cohort for weekly sessions and learn to use tools like the three colors of worldview and the cultural mapping inventory. After finishing your join our network for over 600 practitioners in 70 countries to equip the world with cultural agility to sign up, look for the link in the show notes. And I really hope you can join us in September. Now you thought we were done. We're not done yet. George George has agreed to some rapid fire questions. So get to know George a little bit better in the next just 10 minutes or so we'll have eight questions. So it might be might be quicker than 10 minutes. But some quick questions. Keep it short. George. Quick answers short answers. You ready? I'm ready. So what's your favorite thing to do to recharge?

George Kesselaar:

Oh man, I love I love to walk my dogs on the beach. Especially now living in Simon Stan. There's nothing more rewarding to do.

Marco Blankenburgh:

That's great. Who is the most inspirational person in your life?

George Kesselaar:

Other than you Mako? No, no, I would, I would say probably. And it's a bit of a cliche sometimes especially for the African But somebody like Nelson Mandela, is really somebody that has stirred me. So there are many, many inspirational people in my life, I can think of my good wife, Sandra, who really is always next to me. But in terms of, you know, in the broader sense, somebody like Nelson Mandela, someone like Desmond Tutu passed recently, very sadly, who really, you know, could step out there and show others what intercultural intelligence really looks like, you know, not just talk about it, but really, you know, put the rubber to the road, as you say.

Marco Blankenburgh:

Yeah, yeah. That's one of the most interesting places you've visited.

George Kesselaar:

Ah, okay. Yeah, actually, I've been to and I've had the privilege of going to end Arctica. And it's a it's an arctic and Africa. Yeah. And it's a really good place to see into cultural intelligence in place in play, and you think, well, there's nobody there. But if you look at Antarctica, you think it's white, right? But actually, it is a million different shades of grey. It is amazing in terms of, you know, the different sediment in the ice. And it just makes me think of us as people. You know, it's just such a beautiful tapestry of, of different differences, but actually very, very similar ELO colors, it actually comes together something that's really beautiful. Right?

Marco Blankenburgh:

Fascinating. Fascinating. What are you currently reading?

George Kesselaar:

Oh, I'm reading 110 academic papers.

Marco Blankenburgh:

That's not really inspirational. For me, at least. Let's say, let's say, let's say a book that that is that you think I'm happy I picked up that book.

George Kesselaar:

Yeah. No, actually. It's a book that I'm rereading at the moment, in fact, and I think it's still in the back of my on my wall, if I can, I can find it. But it's a text on leadership within the military. And it's called it's your ship. So I think you've maybe seen it. So it's a life lessons from the best damn ship in the Navy. It's called and what the what the guy is really talking about is taking ownership of what it is that you are responsible for. And how do you lead that process of taking ownership and, and also inspiring others to take ownership of the in what we in the Navy would call in the past? You're part of ship? So yeah, it's your ship? The the story of the best damn ship in the Navy, I think it's called Yeah, I can definitely recommend that my

Marco Blankenburgh:

brilliant right? Now, something totally different. So if you were to change your career to become a professional athlete, right, what sport would you choose?

George Kesselaar:

Well, you know, I've always been interested in martial arts, and I would definitely become one of the or would like to become one of the best Aikido players in the world.

Marco Blankenburgh:

Aikido.

George Kesselaar:

Yeah, and you know, what Marco, I think, other than the fact that it's a very beautiful sport. What is amazing to me is if one, if one really takes the some of those, those Gaitan practices, and really perfects them, effortless, it is right? To use both your own energy and the energy of your opponent to achieve some objective, right? So the whole idea of Aikido is not really to use your own strength, but you use, you know, the weight in the movement, the velocity, whatever of your of your opponent in order to achieve whatever it is that you're trying to achieve. And that really fascinates me is how do we that fluid movement, almost a Tai Chi type of flow between two people? It's amazing. Yeah. So that really stirs me. It's beautiful to watch. Absolutely. It is. It is.

Marco Blankenburgh:

What's your favorite food? Or

George Kesselaar:

maca? You know that right? I think I'm I unfortunately, and I apologize to the vegans out there. I am a red meat enthusiasts and especially a good piece of steak. My wife is trying to get me off that but I'm afraid she's failing in that one.

Marco Blankenburgh:

Nothing like a good South African boy. Absolutely. Now I asked you about professional sports. But when you think about if you had the chance to start over and do something totally different, what path would you choose? What would it look like?

George Kesselaar:

If I had to start over in a mock of my name George it means farmer. And I do believe there is there is a you know there is value in once and lots of meaning in that. So I I've often thought it would be nice to be a farmer, right? I don't know whether I'll be a farmer in the full sense of the word, but something like a gentleman farmer in the old in the old days, so I could do a little bit of consulting on the side. But yeah, having a little piece of land maybe here on the, you know, in the, in the south coast of Cape Town, and having a few hits his head of cattle, that would be that'd be quite rewarding. And I think, you know, the whole idea of, of just taking something that, you know, that God has given us and just stewarding that, as I think we should, with our relationships with people in the business context, I think that just something that says me, and it suits my name, right.

Marco Blankenburgh:

Wonderful. Well, I'm glad we added these few minutes to get to know you a little bit better. Thank you for doing this. Really appreciate it. And it's my pleasure. Thank you, everyone, for listening to this episode. See you again next time. Bye, bye. Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the cultural agility podcast. If you enjoyed today's episode, share it with someone. Best way to help us out is by leaving a review on your favorite podcast, app or channel or forward and recommend this podcast people around you. As always, if any of the topics we discussed today intrigue you, you will find links to articles discussing them in greater depth in the podcast notes. If you would like to learn more about intercultural intelligence and how you can become more culturally agile, you can find more information and hundreds of articles at knowledge works.com Special thanks to Jason Carter for composing the music on this podcast and to the whole knowledge works team for making this podcast a success. Thank you Anita Rodriquez, Ara this backyard, Reggie Suraj and thanks to VIP and George for audio production, Rosalind Raj for scheduling, and Caleb Strauss for marketing and helping produce this podcast