When dealing with global business partners and operating in foreign lands, you don’t have to rely on country generalizations. Analyze your unique contacts for maximum effectiveness.
For stressed managers dealing with international employees and partners, a profile describing the country they’re dealing may seem like a natural thing to reach for. Brazil has a score of 34 for punctuality, Finns value quiet, serious conversation, good things to know. But think about the U.S. There are cultural differences from north to south, between rural areas and big cities, and across generations. The same is true anywhere in the world. Your contact might be a talkative Finn or a punctual Brazilian—the opposite of what their country profiles predict.
Fortunately, there’s a solution. Each person you deal with offers signs of their cultural orientation—through the way they greet others, express disagreement, present information, solve problems, and organize tasks. Learning to read these signals will give you accurate information about each individual contact, whether or not they fit a country profile. In my new book The Culture Solution, I provide tips on recognizing eight cultural dimensions likely to cause confusion and frustration and developing strategies for managing problems and communicating effectively. The following tips will get you on your way.
Analyze Your International Contacts
Check for what seems different or surprising. Suppose you vising a new partner for the first time and you notice that your contacts there line up in order of rank to receive you. They have a set seating order, again according to rank. They are formal in the way they dress and sit, and use titles plus last names, like” Director X.” There’s an organization chart on the wall, and all the managers are older men. You’re seeing signs that your partner company is “endowment” oriented—that it has a very hierarchical structure that prioritizes age and male gender and values formality and respect for rank.
Predict and Strategize
Now that you’ve identified this tendency, you can predict potential problems for your relationship and strategize for success. If your company is highly “achievement” oriented, like many U.S. companies, there may be a mismatch in your expectations of formality and attitudes towards hierarchy.
To match your new partner in style, always a good idea in intercultural relationships, you should stick with the formalities, at least at first, and move slowly towards first names and loosened ties. Be aware that your partner may feel insulted if you choose a young manager, however talented, as the negotiating partner for a seasoned executive on their side. Having an older male employee provide introductions and describe your company’s criteria for making the choice can reassure them. Your junior employees should respect your partner’s chain of command and listen more than they talk with senior managers, reserving their questions for partner contacts at their own level.
Design a Goal-Based Culture
Does this mean you should do all the accommodating? Not at all. Although modifying your style will make your interaction go smoothly, there are other things you can’t—or wouldn’t want to—change. And if your company is the customer, you may have the upper hand in the relationship. Even so, rather than expect your partner to adopt your methods, your two companies should collaborate to create a project culture based on your desired outcomes.
An effective corporate culture is one that is in alignment with the priorities and constraints of the company’s industry, competitive position, resources, and so on. When you undertake a joint project with an international partner, the collaboration will impose new priorities and constraints on both companies. The most effective way to address these new conditions is to identify common goals and priorities for your project and agree to strategies, policies, and reward systems that align with these goals—creating a goal-based project culture. This process will likely involve some changes on both sides and prevent a win/lose outcome.
The benefit of goal-based management is that it creates the potential for “cultural synergy.” Your approach and your partner’s both bring strengths to the table. If your company is “achievement” oriented, it will offer the partnership energy and drive and a commitment to delivering results. An endowment orientation that emphasizes hierarchy and formality can contribute a loyal chain of command, long-term experience and influential connections. Relying on each other’s strengths will help your collaboration perform beyond the sum of its parts. Recognizing and respecting your partners’ signals to smooth collaborations while creating goal-based project cultures will empower you to create win-win partnerships across the cultural divide.
– Deirdre Mendez is the author of The Culture Solution: How to Achieve Cultural Synergy and Get Results in the Global Workplace (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
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