For the second installment of our “Influencer Interview” series, I couldn’t think of a better person than my long-time friend, Natasha Crundwell, who heads up People Going Global (PGG), a D.C.-based consulting firm that specializes in cross-cultural communication and building understanding in the global marketplace.
The topic of cross-cultural communication might not come up on a regular basis, but it’s a critical skill for anyone who wants to be successful both personally and professionally. Just look around you – I bet you’ll find more than a handful of friends, colleagues, clients or business partners who are from different countries or cultures.
Cross-cultural training can help you become an effective communicator and leader by understanding why other people think and do things differently, facilitating collaboration and deepening mutual understanding.
Still not convinced about why you need to take notice of the importance of cross-cultural communication? Just listen to Natasha’s story on how her company has helped its clients win multi-million dollar contracts, become effective global leaders, prevent crisis communications situations and improve employee retention. Since its founding in 2000, her firm has worked with more than 80 multinational companies and organizations, including The Dow Chemical Company, General Motors Co., PricewaterhouseCoopers, Lockheed Martin and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
1. Tell me about your background and why you decided to start People Going Global (PGG) in 2000.
Starting PGG was a natural progression of where we were in 2000. My husband Duncan and I relocated from the U.K. to Detroit in 1995. Prior to the move, we traveled and worked internationally. I worked as an interpreter at high-level negotiations, which made me realize very early on how much culture matters and how easy it is to walk into traps, give concessions or offend an opponent if we don’t have a deep appreciation of each other’s cultures.
These earlier experiences proved valuable while adjusting to our new life in the U.S. So much was different: the way people viewed relationships, consensus, time and even problem solving in the workplace!
Being newly relocated, we spent a lot of time on a daily basis sharing our experiences, observations and continuously learning. Analyzing and applying anthropological concepts for Duncan’s MBA thesis on global teamwork focused our minds on our new situation; he was running an international company, and I worked as a project manager for an IT company with half of my team coming from diverse cultural backgrounds. The company was sending expatriates on international assignments. I was lucky to work with a few to prepare them for their work and life overseas.
2. How did you get into the cross-cultural training business?
We personally realized the need for intercultural understanding in the workplace. At the time, there were very few businesses that addressed this critical need. When the University of Michigan asked me to provide cross-cultural training and coaching for international interns coming to the Ford Motor Company as part of the Department of Commerce program, I pounced on this fantastic opportunity. I was so excited! It was what I loved doing.
Looking back, I now see it as a turning point – it was the first step toward starting my own business and building an international practice. It also coincided with our move to Washington, D.C., with all its incredible cultural and international diversity
3. How did your business evolve over the years?
From the start, the endgame was to provide highly customized intercultural coaching and training combined with business expertise. I didn’t want to deliver off-the-shelf, bullet-pointed products or in-depth lectures.
We had several clients who came to us with an identified need, and that’s what got us started. However, in order to grow, we had to find a way to explain to the world what we deliver.
The timing was challenging: PGG was among the first in the field of cross-cultural business training. When I was asked, “What do you do?” and responded with “Cross-cultural business consulting and training,” I would either be met with a look of non-comprehension (“Does it mean you do language training?”). Or I would get a sort of a validation (“Oh, like not showing the sole of your foot in the Middle East. I knew that!”).
We were business practitioners, and that was our strength from the start; we were capable of explaining and applying complex anthropological concepts directly to the business environment. It’s critical to understand and integrate industry-specific requirements, for example, engineering, marketing, HR practices, financial services, hospitality, healthcare, customer expectations, etc. We customize to the specific client work context. It is after all another dimension of culture.
As I’ve said earlier, the endgame stays the same: we differentiate through high-level customization combined with a broad range of current global business expertise. We now bring 20 years of international experience and work closely with our clients to develop nuanced intercultural communication skills to build trust and credibility with international clients and peers.
4. What are some of the tangible benefits of cross-cultural and global executive training?
There are infinite benefits. Staff retention and improved communication skills that literally prevent project disasters and save millions of dollars, as well as personal burnouts, are immediate benefits that come to mind. I’ll share an example:
One of our clients, a multinational public sector manufacturer, analyzed a failed multi-billion dollar bid in the Middle East as part of an intercultural coaching strategy session with its senior staff facilitated by PGG. The company applied the lessons learned and won the following bid by applying a new approach designed as a result of our cross-cultural negotiating coaching.
Building upon this success, the same manufacturer engaged with us much earlier in the new project when bidding on an infrastructure contract in an emerging market to improve the bid effectiveness. Our collaboration contributed to the project’s overall success. They negotiated with confidence and sensitivity, able to anticipate, plan, build trust and navigate in a very complex, culturally diverse context.
5. Where do you see PGG going from here? What is the next step?
Our business evolved into a global strategy practice where we look at culture beyond country boundaries, as we all live in the interconnected world and work within multiple cultures. This is the path we will continue to explore.
We spent more time than I would have liked fixing business problems after they happen. I’d like to spend more time building on our preventative practice by being engaged earlier in the process and further extending partnership relationships with our clients.