Let’s face it, we don’t work the same way around the globe, there are differences, and even when you think cultures are similar, they really aren’t. In this piece we will explore how vastly different and how slightly different things can be.
For simplicity, we will contrast United States with the UK; Latin America/Latin based cultures, France and some Asian based cultures. This is not to say that the clustered cultures, Latin and Asian are all the same, they are not, within each culture there are significant differences, but the general gist is relatively similar in some ways, which is why we clustered them.
For in-depth knowledge of each country with-in each cluster reach out to us for further education and stay tuned for next month when we will explore a few more cultures all with-in the same theme.
The United States:
Puritan work ethic and the frontier spirit is the cornerstone of leadership, status and organization for Americans. The large land mass of America is an entrepreneur’s dream. Unlimited expanses of wilderness were seen as unlimited wealth which could be exploited, if one moved quickly enough.
This attitude produced American values: speed is of the essence, you act individually and in your own interest; the wilderness forced you to be self-reliant, tough, risk taking; one needed to be aggressive, anyone with talent and initiative could get ahead; if you suffered a setback, it was not seen as the ultimate failure, there was always more land, more opportunity; bonds broken with the past meant future orientation. One had to be optimistic about change, the past brought little reward under the yoke of the King of England and this led to a distrust of supreme authority.
American managers maintain the frontier spirit; they are assertive, aggressive, goal and action oriented, confident, vigorous, optimistic and ready for change. They are achievers who are used to hard work, instant mobility and quick decision making. They value individual freedom above the welfare of the company, with their first interest being to further their career. They are able to work well in teams and have “corporate spirit.”
Americans are reluctant to accord social status to anyone for reasons other than visible achievement. Money is seen as the yardstick of progress, and very few Americans distance themselves from the pursuit of wealth. Leadership means getting things done, improving one’s standard of living by making money for oneself, finding short cuts to prosperity and making a profit for one’s firm and its shareholders.
Status is accorded mostly on grounds of achievement and wealth, age and seniority assume less importance.
American managers are motivated by monetary based bonuses, performance payments, profit-sharing and stock options are common. New staff is challenged by their ability to get ahead. Unlike Europeans and Asians, they do need constant feedback, encouragement and praise from senior executives.
Individualism in American life is rigidly controlled in business through strict procedures. American executives are allowed to make individual decisions, especially when traveling abroad, but must operate within the framework of corporate restrictions. American executives pop in and out of offices and share information, they inspire their subordinates, and they share ideas, with great emphasis. The focus on the “bottom line.”
In America, getting hired and fired rapidly is okay. Losing one’s job often carries less stigma than elsewhere; “It just did not work out.”
In American business, “the deal” comes before personal feeling. If there is no profit, a transaction is hardly worthwhile. Business is based on being punctual, with solid figures, proven techniques, pragmatic reasoning and technical competence. Time is money, and Americans show impatience in meetings if others get bogged down in details.
Let us look at a few other cultures…
The feudal and imperial origins of status and leadership in England are still evident in some aspects of British management. The class system persists in the UK and status is derived, in some degree, from pedigree, title and family name. British managers are described as diplomatic, tactful, laid back, casual, reasonable, helpful, and willing to compromise and seek to be fair. They also consider themselves to be inventive and lateral thinkers. They see themselves as conducting business with grace, style, humor, wit, eloquence and self-possession. They have a fondness for debate and regard meetings as occasions to seek agreement rather that to issue instructions.
Problems can arise when British senior executives deal with European, American and Eastern business people. In spite of their friendliness, hospitality and desire to be fair, British managers’ adherence to tradition will sometimes result in a failure to comprehend differing values in others.
British are task-oriented and are not sticklers for punctuality, but wasting time is frowned upon. British companies and staff take pride in completing tasks thoroughly, although in their own time frame. Leaving work at 5:00 or 6:00 pm is common as well as taking work home.
Managers generally achieve a balance between short and long-term planning. Failure is not frowned on and there are few pressures to make quick money. Teamwork is encouraged and achieved, although it is understood that individual competition will prevail. It is not unusual for managers to have “direct lines” to staff members, especially those whom they favor or consider intelligent and progressive. Chains of command are not always observed.
The business cultures for Italy, Spain, Portugal and Latin America generally follow that of France, where authority is centered on the chief executive. Family name or connections may dominate the structure. More than in France, sons, nephews, cousins and close family friends will hold prominent key positions. Delegations may consist of company owner, brother, son, grandson and include women.
Status is based on age, reputation and often wealth. The management style is autocratic, particularly in Portugal, Spain and South America, where often times the family money is on the line.
Task orientation is dictated from above; strategies and success depend largely on social connections and mutual cooperation between dominant families or groups. Knowing the right people is all that matters in Latin America, as it does in Arab and Asian cultures. These societies prioritize nurturing human relationships over pragmatic, rapid implementation of transactions based on notions of opportunity, technical feasibility and profit.
French management style is autocratic, although it may not be apparent at first glance. In France the boss will use the “tu” form for addressing employees and a pat on the back is common, but don’t be fooled, this behavior is often times deceptive.
The French chief executive’s status is attributed according to family, age, education and professional qualifications, with emphasis on oratorical ability and mastery of the French language. French managers will have less specialization than US or British managers, but they generally have wider horizons and an impressive grasp of the many issues facing their company. They can handle production, organizational procedures, meetings, marketing, personnel matters and accounting systems as the occasion requires.
There is a high tolerance in a French company for management blunders, unlike mistakes made by German executives which are not easily forgiven and American managers can be fired if they cause the company to lose money. Management in France is highly personalized, and managers make decisions on a daily basis, and many of them may be incorrect.
Managers assume responsibility for their decisions, but they will not be expected to resign if their decisions backfire. If they are the right age, have the right experience and possess impeccable professional qualifications, they will not be replaced. For the French, attainment of immediate objectives is secondary to the ascribed reputation of the organization. French enterprises imply interdependence, mutual tolerance and teamwork among its members.
French mangers see themselves as valued leaders in society, and as being contributors to the well-being of their staff members. French managers will debate issues at great length with their staff members, and will examine all aspects in detail; however, the decisions are usually made alone and are not based on evidence.
Cultural values dominate the structure of organizations in the Asian cultures. Deeply rooted religious and philosophical beliefs impose strong codes of conduct. In the Chinese sphere of influence, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore as well as in Japan and Korea, Confucian principles hold the way. (Thailand is Buddhist; Indonesia and Malaysia, strongly Muslim.) The Confucian model strongly resembles the family structure. We are members of a group, not individuals.
There is emphasis on unequal relations between people. Hierarchies are that of father-son, older brother-younger brother, male-female, ruler-subject, senior friend-junior friend, etc. Loyalty to the ruler, piety to one’s father leads to harmonious social order based on strict ethical rules. Virtuous behavior, protection of the weak, moderation, calmness and thrift are also highly valued.
Qualifications are flaunted, university and professional connections rate higher than family name or wealth. Paternalistic attitudes to employees and their dependants, with top-down obligations, and bottom-up loyalty, obedience and blind faith are also observed although to a greater degree in China.
Policies are conveyed to middle managers, where ideas often originate on the work floor with other lower-level staff members. Signatures are collected among workers and middle managers as suggestions, ideas and inventions make their way up the company hierarchy, with top executives taking the final step in ratifying items that have won sufficient approval.
Families at work and at home operate with non-competitiveness as well as seeing eye-to-eye, which is highly valued. There is a collective nature about decision making with an automatic chain of command and smooth dispersal of power. Fulfillment of obligations and duties to the group, family, community, company, and friends take refuge in support and solidarity which they see as a fundamental, correct way of living and interacting within a highly developed social network. In this hierarchical, family-type environment, the manager guides subordinates and work longer hours to set an example. Immediate objectives are not clearly expressed in tasks. Long-term considerations take priority and the slow development of personal relations, both internally and with customers, often slow things down.
I end this piece with the following: “You are a foreigner everywhere, except in your own culture”. Candida Marques – Global Arrival © 2018.