The Importance of Cultural and Linguistic Awareness In Building An Inclusive Workplace Environment With Ryan Hart

When building an inclusive workplace environment, one shouldn't downplay the importance of cultural and linguistic awareness. Communication and building relationships are vital in creating culture. Ryan Hart, Fractional Chief Experience Officer of Chameleon Collective, is joining us to discuss this further. Ryan is a recognized expert on the intersection of experience strategy, design, brand, and digital product innovation in the context of multinational brands and international markets. In this episode, he joins Josh Hotsenpiller to share how cultural and linguistic differences should not hinder you from letting people feel included and involved in each project. That's what embracing diversity is all about. Learn more about the topic by tuning in to this episode as Ryan shares various strategies and practices that promote inclusivity in the workplace.

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The Importance of Cultural and Linguistic Awareness In Building An Inclusive Workplace Environment With Ryan Hart

Ryan, what's up? How are you?


I'm doing well, Josh. Thank you for your time.


Thanks for your time. It has been fun to catch up quickly. I love that we are both talking about the future of work and life. Give us 30 seconds on Chameleon and why it's the future of work. I will talk a little bit about Juno and why it's the future platform. We are going to talk about what it looks like in the future to interact with one another.


I'm part of a group called the Chameleon Collective, which we are a flat organization and all virtual. We are quite senior practitioners, so CMOs or Chief Revenue Officers of companies or myself that comes from a management consulting footprint. We have senior partners of people that got tired of working with large organizations in the bureaucracy.


I was in Japan and was a Managing Director at PwC, and so much of it was administrative and trying to bring resources. I became so removed from the work and the clients that I wanted to get back at the working level. We created a model where we all have our own organization and go to market together. We all have different skillsets aside.


We created a model where we all have our own organization and we go to market together.

Whilst I lead that, I'm standing up our capability around customer experience and design. Someone else might be a copywriter, creative director or an expert on this industry, and so we will bring those people into projects, scope it with the clients, and say, "We’ve got some talented senior practitioners and stuff that drop in and get this project done."


I don't know if you know how familiar you are with the management consulting models. Generally, the partners and the managing directors will sell the work, and then some senior associates will execute it. We cut out that middle part, so the value goes directly to the client. We are not charging absurd rates, so we can pay for corner offices on Madison Avenue.


What I like about what you are doing and what we are doing is that we are reimagining the future and saying, "There's so much waste. There are many layers." The future world is not tolerant of waste layers. What we are going to talk about is about being inclusive and saying, "Who are you? What do we have in common? Let's cut the junk out." Talk to me a little about inclusivity and how important that is in the future world. Why is it important? How do you see that in the future?


As we talked a little bit before this, I spent most of my professional career overseas. I was in Japan for 12 years and 5 or 6 years in Shanghai, China, and 4 or 5 years in Singapore. A lot of people in America we are all Americans but when you are overseas, you are dealing with your colleagues who could be from all over the world. You will have multiple languages and people that have come from different backgrounds that got different educations.


The spectrum of capabilities, perspectives, and insights is so broad that in the spirit of design thinking, we want to channel all those divergent perspectives and experiences to come up with a solution to solve the world's complex problems because that's what you need. You can't have a bunch of people who all went to Harvard or are from the Northeast.


They all think the same.


They all played lacrosse together. That's not going to solve the world's problems.


Tell me something super interesting that you learned that shaped your life from working overseas. Maybe a conversation you had or a cultural aspect. Something that shaped you.


I'm lucky to be good with languages. I speak business-level Japanese, Mandarin, and Nepali. For me, learning other languages all of a sudden, it's a whole new frame of mind in terms of how you deal with people. It almost sets you down a couple of notches and being more humble and open to, "This person's first language is not English." I understand, for example, that Japanese sentences always end in a verb.


That's why it's difficult for them to process what it is that I'm saying because it's very much a planned sequential language. The mindset and being able to understand how people think and how they communicate and do things based on language, for me, has been a real eye-opener in terms of speaking slower or rethinking. Just because I know something doesn't mean it's correct. I'm thinking about the different perspectives, and that's a big step in terms of being more inclusive and helping people feel welcomed and valued.


It's funny, I have two boys, and a few years ago, we were talking to somebody that had broken English, and my son said, "He doesn't speak very good English," and I don't know if he was Latino or what he was but I said, "How's your Spanish, buddy? His English is a lot better than your Spanish." It's that perspective. You could tell from him. He was a kid and didn't know. He was, "Now, I get it."


A huge part of inclusivity is that oftentimes, folks like to look at what they are good at and compare it to somebody else. You are like, "Part of being inclusive is seeing the holistic dynamic of another human being and going, I may have you on this but you are excelling at that." As a society, there are always these, "This is how we do it," so then we all get judged against that but to see that broader picture of the person's story allows us to start with that inclusive spirit in mind.


“This is how we do it.” If you think about the US, it's so diverse, and they've got all these people in here but everyone forces people, "Speak English. You are in America." I lived in Singapore, which is one of the most diverse countries in the world. You walk down the street and may hear 6 or 7 languages before you even get to the coffee shop or something like that. People are more respectful, and they value people from other cultures. They say they are a melting pot but you've probably seen yourself that there are a lot of other countries that are diverse as well.


It's some of the greatest perspectives I've had. One of the biggest ones that I ever had was going to Jerusalem and seeing this moment where 5 or 6 core religions are descending on each other. Every one of them is equally passionate about their belief. You are walking through this corridor of Jerusalem, and there are the Muslims, Christians, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. You are going through all of it and going, "This is mind-bending." You come home and see somebody with a binary way of thinking and you go, "You got to get out and see that the world is very dynamic."


I have been fortunate to travel to Israel and that part of the world as well. It's amazing. I have been deep in Jordan and Lebanon. You meet these people that got so much information and are knowledgeable about the US, and it blows your mind. They are like, "This happened in 1984. The US did this," and I'm like, "I got schooled."


One of the things we are talking about is building an inclusive community, even online. We've talked a little bit about the importance and value of being inclusive. You have perspective and other people's talent. Let's get this a little bit next level. We spend so much of our life online. How can people be more inclusive digitally? How do we use digital tools to increase our inclusivity?


It's accelerated it a lot. The pandemic has forced people online and new ways of collab collaboration. I have been lucky to be a part of a couple of organizations and worked with teams that are at the forefront of building these platforms. Things like Figma, Miro, and all these things that designers get together. Something working in Singapore or Asia, you've got people from all over the world that are on the call and collaborating and things like that. Offering those opportunities for people to be heard, giving them time to share their opinions, and being open to that way of working is half the battle.


If you can make people feel like, "I'm going to jump on this call." People are going to ask me questions and want to hear what I have to say goes a long way. That's when people feel valued and included. That's what it comes down to. People want to feel valued, and being included feels like, "I bring value to the conversation. I bring value to the project." That should be at the forefront of the mind of anyone mind that's working with diverse teams.


It's interesting to think about the power of believing that somebody else has value. It sounds obvious, but many people love to hear themselves talk and make sure they are heard. That's because they don't know if they are being heard or valued. I was with my CFO working on something. I was going through this slide that I had put together. He scanned it, and I was starting to explain it. He was like, "I get it." I told him, "I'm super appreciative that you cut me off because you got it."


I told him how often you are going through something, and somebody won't stop talking. You are like, "I got it." The reminder is that people talk until they feel heard, valued, and seen. The more you can go, "I know you've got something incredibly important to share," you instill that confidence in them so that they are not having to create the confidence in real-time. It's a great step toward inclusivity.


You will see a lot of junior consultants that want to go through the slides and explain to them because they were probably up late last night creating the deck and stuff. They want to make sure they are going through every piece. It's like, "We trust that you know this stuff. We got it, and give me the gist of what you are saying." That is a senior thing. I thought it was a disrespectful thing to do, but now, I'm on the other side. I say, "Let's make more efficient use of all of our time. I totally value that. That's why we are having this conversation but let's move forward."


What are some ways that your company is creating more of an inclusive culture? The horizontal footprint is amazing but what are some practical ways you exercise and think about inclusivity?


We make it a practice of when we have company meetings, we all have breakouts. We are always having breakouts with new people. People that are not as outspoken or maybe have different ideas. We are making sure that everyone has an opportunity to work with different people. We will give them maybe a task. "Why don't you guys work through this idea or a new challenge we have?" Everyone can come together and share back. Certainly, I do it, and I make a practice of other people on the team. I try to lead by example.


When they share back with someone who's not the person who's usually loud-spoken, give them opportunities to talk and share and say, "Josh, we haven't heard your ideas. Why don't you tell us about what your team talked about?" Those are some small tactical things that we do but we always try to try to encourage people to work with people that they haven't worked with before as well. When I'm looking for it to put people on projects or have a project where I need help, I will either look for people that I haven't worked with or give other people opportunities to contribute as well.

Cultural Awareness: We always try to encourage people to work with people that they haven't worked with before


We got a blast at Juno, whether it's different people on projects. As you said, I've worked on a project with three people that worked with us that I had never met. A) We were remote, and, B) Our worlds weren't colliding. One individual I met, she's a phenomenal contributor. She came onboard and blew my mind. I probably would've not met her except for the project that we were launching that I was piloting. I was like, "Can you guys assign me a team?" I got a team, and I didn't even know them. It has been incredible that now there's a relationship there.


The other thing we do is randomize chats. It's like, "You are going to chat with these three random people after our all-hands team. You meet folks you never met before.” It's like, "Good to meet you. This is so cool." Allowing the opportunity for new exchanges goes a long way. The things I've learned, they learn. It's so huge.


That's a good point. Something that's a revelation that I've had is that when you are working on a project and they say, "That person doesn't talk a lot," I used to think about, "Why are they not talking? Why are they not contributing? Maybe they don't know their material or something," but now, I've certainly felt like it's on me, “Either I'm not giving them the right environment so that they can contribute so they can feel comfortable or maybe my instructions, or the instructions of the activity, or the project are not clear enough. It's on me. Why didn't I do a better job of empowering them to speak up?”


I always think to myself, "Is this person that I’m getting the same person that they are if they were with their two best friends?"


That's a good one. I like that.


I was thinking, I'm like, "I wonder if Jill, Tom, or whoever was hanging out with their buds. Are they this bashful? Are they this reserved? Are they fun and vulnerable?” I always think about it like, "Is this person being who they would be with their buds?" I want to create a safe place for them to be that person.


That's a great perspective or tool to use.


I love what you guys are doing. Juno and Chameleon are brands that are continuing to push the value of a human voice and human skill. We are equal as long as we are being equal. I always say that too, "You got to show up." I'm sure at Chameleon, "It's a horizontal deal but everybody has got to show up. We are all here to help each other." The more that we can get the best out of people, honor people, hold people accountable too, and bring that together, you can get some great outcomes with groups and people.


A little bit of magic that comes with our model is that everyone has their own company, personal LLC or S corp. Unlike a big organization where you can hide out. It's like, "If you don't want to be involved in the meeting or don't want to contribute, it's on you. You got to probably figure out a simple way to bring home the bacon." Everyone's motivated by that to at least bring their A-game every time they are on the call.


A little bit of magic that comes with our model is that everyone has their own company, their own personal LLC or S corp.

I would encourage anybody reading this to make that your life perspective. If I can't show up here and bring my A-game and treat this like my own gig, go for somewhere that you can because life is short, and you are not promised tomorrow. You got to make sure, "I enjoyed and gave my best." That's a great word.


I admire that you've done a lot of great stuff, and it seems like you are in a good place. Juno is a great platform, and it seems purpose-driven, which is good. We need more organizations that are out there to solve the world's problems. Kudos to you for that.


Thank you, man. I appreciate your time very much.


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About Ryan Hart

Ryan Hart is a recognized expert on the intersection of experience strategy, design, brand, and digital product innovation in the context of multinational brands and international markets.

Ryan has broad consulting experience spanning over 23 years as a practitioner, consultant and analyst at HSBC, MUFG, UBS, SapientNitro, DBS, Forrester and PwC. Currently, he is fractional Chief Experience Officer for several clients and the Experience Practice Leader at Chameleon Collective.

Previously, Ryan was Managing Director of PwC Japan’s Tokyo Experience Center, where he led diverse customer strategy and experience design teams to achieve differentiated product and service experience advantages for some of the world’s largest multinational banking, insurance, pharma, airlines, telco, travel, government and manufacturing organizations.

Ryan has been featured on CNBC, WSJ, CMO (Australia), Forbes, Bloomberg, Destination CRM, Ad Age, Medium, My Customer (UK), Campaign Asia, Marketing Mag (ANZ), Strategy+Business and other media. He is a regular guest on the Be Customer Led, Oh Ship, Business Karaoke and IECX podcasts where he shares global CX best practices and thought leadership.