I’m sharing this experience with the intention of inviting my two readers to reflect on the common misconceptions we have when our knowledge of a certain topic is not extensive. As a tourist, and even as a temporary worker, it’s easy to believe that we understand the culture of a country, when in reality, we’ve only dipped our toes into a different world. There is an additional layer of difficulty when we’re not really proficient in the local language.
Over the years, I’ve learned that a lot of people tend to think that Latin America is mostly beaches, colonial cities, and old buildings. Also, I’ve seen that people who are not familiar with other cultures tend to imagine that immigrants from the Third World are mostly refugees running away from poverty and crime. And while in a general sense, we all look for a safer and better place to live, a lot of immigrants come from a not-so-impoverished place. Latin America is huge and encompasses all these contrasting realities.
While working and studying in Canada the last 6 years, I have been exposed to several organizations, national and international large companies, as well as small local companies, and I did not find any unknown and exceptional practice, except for fairly new trends, such as recruiting using Social Media, or designing training for mobile devices.
Furthermore, in different occasions I found outdated practices and when I designed new projects, part of my inspiration frequently came from projects I did ten years ago. Of course, I realize that this contrast is due to organizational competencies and individual skills, and not because is a regional or national trend.
Latin America has a lot of industrialized cities, with large companies that have cutting-edge technology and practices. Cities that have a bigger population than Canada, for example, tend to become industrialized, have high level of competition, welcome foreign investments and are not limited to a certain type of industry. Foreign companies continue using their own global practices, perhaps adapting them to the reality of the market. I had the opportunity to see how the Japanese, North American and Mexican practices were integrated in one culture in our plant.
Professionals from industrialized third-world cities are quite similar to the first-world professionals: they tend to travel to different countries, read relevant books and other resources from global experts, and network with professionals from any number of countries. I went to Brazil in 2010 and met people from Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil that were using the same techniques than our colleagues in the US and Europe.
Additionally, it is not unusual that these professionals learn different languages, obtain Master and PhD degrees (regardless the country where they’re offered), and are open to learn, try and adapt best practices, to meet their needs.
I would like to share a reflection that my husband had when talking with someone from NASA who said that they have the “brightest minds” from India and other countries: NASA probably has the brightest minds that were willing to immigrate to the US. Often, the brightest minds will stay in their own countries, unless there is no real opportunity to grow there.
As HR/OD professionals, we need to remember that talent and innovation need to be cultivated, and both are needed to generate competitive advantages. If we hire people that we are familiar with, that watched the same movies, read the same books, went to the same schools, we’re excluding our organization from the rich and abundant experience other people have.