Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The British at Work...

Reserved and Repressed or Resourceful and Released?

It is a fascinating challenge to introduce newly-arrived employees from abroad to what they might expect to encounter in the workplace during their stay in Britain. Many have a stereotyped view of the British at work, perhaps based on films or John Cleese training videos. Whilst operating in a wide range of work cultures and environments, they will be in a better position to anticipate and understand the behaviour of their fellow workers if they can appreciate some of the major changes that have taken place here in the last five to ten years.

Change is continuous
The only constant likely to be common to all their employers is continuous change, and a drive towards reduced costs and increased profits to satisfy the stock market. Mergers, takeovers, management buy-outs and flotations will have meant new strategies, restructuring, re-engineering, decentralisation and a variety of performance-enhancing methodologies. These will often have led to downsizing, outsourcing, lean and mean management structures and many new books to describe it all! For some this will have meant genuine empowerment and a release of their skills and inhibitions. For others it will have produced fear, stress and new behavioural patterns, creating new words such as 'presenteeism'.

Winners & losers
Winners in this tough change environment will probably welcome the new arrival from overseas, be keen to learn from them and prepared to develop a real relationship. Losers though could feel threatened and jealous, resulting in obstructive behaviour and thinly disguised anger. New arrivals may be surprised to discover how these fundamental changes in the workplace have affected the famous British reserve, with open expressions of enthusiasm, passion and real anger as employees react to new incentives, environments and continuing pressures. It might be less of a shock to them if they can understand some of these major workplace changes, and also reflect on why so many people apparently dropped their emotional masks after the death of Princess Diana.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Exporting to the USA

Love it, or hate it, the USA should not be ignored. The economy is larger than the whole of Western Europe. Individual states have economies larger than many countries. California equates to the UK or Italian economy in size. New York State equates to China and Brazil.
Since 1948, the USA has been one of our top five export markets. It is our largest single market for both visible, and invisible exports. The UK and the US is each the largest investor in the other.
The biggest mistakes that new exporters to the USA make are:
  • Underestimation of the sheer size of the country.
  • Insufficient dedication of adequate management time/resources.

To succeed, concentrate management resources to win.
This requires planning and research. It is best to choose one state where there is a potential concentration of business, and then expand in gentle concentric circles. It takes time to enter the most competitive market in the world. Think in terms of ten years and plan for five.

Suggested methodology:

  • The home page of the US Small Business Administration ( gives access to good pro-forma business plans (see Starting, Expanding, Marketing buttons).
  • Use the gaps identified as a basis for your research.
  • Define your potential target organisation closely.
  • Identify the US Trade Association to which they belong. Obtain the directory.
  • In which state are the membership concentrated?
  • Is there a trade show(s)/convention that the Association sponsors?
  • Amongst the associate members, are there candidates for distributorships, or consultants that could provide in-depth industry research?
  • Is there a trade press issue that is a gazetteer of the industry?

Some useful do's and don'ts:

  • Use US legal advisers for your GTS, distributorship, other agreements.
  • The US is litigious. Their legal system and language is different.
  • Obtain adequate product liability coverage.
  • Can you sell your product in seven words? Americans have a short attention span.
  • Everyone targets the US. Buyers are only interested in cheaper supply, a better technology, but demand commitment to the market.
  • Quote only in US dollars, c.i.f. to their doorstep.
  • Metric measurements are alien to most Americans.
  • In all communications, avoid English colloquialisms. They will not be understood.

To be successful you will need three essentials, the right product, sufficient financial capital and adequate management resources. If you are missing one, my advice is don't attempt the market. If you have them, go for it!

Bob Smeaton is an occasional lecturer at Farnham Castle International Briefing Centre. He is also an Export Promoter, i.e., an external commercial adviser, for the North America desk of Trade Partners UK, the export branch of the Department of Trade and Industry with more than 30 years of direct experience with the USA and Canada including working and living in California, Texas and New York. May 2002.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Learning a new language

I am one of those fortunate people who speaks a foreign language well – English is my native language, but I also speak Russian fluently. People I meet often say, "How clever you must be to speak Russian". But I am almost embarrassed to say that learning Russian was not hard at all. So am I "gifted" at languages? I answer emphatically, "No, I'm not". I did French, German and Latin at school, and my second language at University was Czech. German and Czech are completely alien to me (except where the Czech and Russian overlap, which they do occasionally), and I can struggle through in basic French. I really had a hard time at languages at school, and did not take to Czech at all later on. I will freely admit that my Russian was helped by extensive time in country, although I have also lived in Czech Republic and visited France frequently.

I strongly believe that there is no such thing as "being good at languages". The vast majority of people acquire their first language fairly easily from parents and siblings, and later on at school, and although there are some factors around the written language that cause some problems, the spoken language is learned at an instinctive level – in my view this shows that we have the ability to learn language. Whether we learn a new language as a child, or later on in life as an adult, my belief that there are two overriding factors that influence our success: methodology and motivation.


The single most important factor is your desire to learn. Learning purely for academic purposes is hard, because you cannot necessarily see the end result. If however you have an end goal (a successful business negotiation or you cannot shop locally for example) you have a good reason that can inspire you. It is not a surprise that unaccompanied expats often find it much easier to acquire a good standard of the local language – chatting someone up is much easier if you can understand each other, and those who are romantically attached to a native speaker can have an advantage, although, in my experience, the first language you speak to someone tends to be the one you continue in – so if you start speaking English on the first date, you will almost certainly continue speaking English.


However motivation is not enough – I have a really important meeting with a Japanese client in three months, huge bonuses await, I've got a Japanese girlfriend, but the language is going nowhere. The second most important element is the way you learn, and there are several parts of that:


You have to make time (not TAKE time, but MAKE time) to devote to study. Language learning requires full concentration, constant repetition and practice, and it is an active skill that you can lose if you don't keep using it. Drip-feed tuition (i.e one or two hour lessons a couple of times a week) is one way to learn, but it is hugely inefficient – you spend a lot of time at the beginning of each lesson revisiting the previous lesson, and unless you are very disciplined in keeping up with the practice between lessons, progress is slow and can be demotivating. Much better, although much harder to fit in to most people's schedules is an intensive course – one-to-one tuition or at most a group of two learners to one tutor is the best way to learn a language, when you have a specific short term goal and can form a great basis for doing a drip-feed course later on. You spend each day practising the skills you have learned at the same time as moving on to the next. There is very little knowledge loss, because you are immersed in the language, and have no other distractions


It goes without saying that you need a good teacher with whom you can develop a close rapport. But the style of learning has to suit you as well. A lot of research has been done into learning styles, and language learning is a very personal form of learning that takes you out of your comfort zone, it is essential to take your learning style into account when deciding how you will be taught.


As mentioned earlier, you need to practice a new language, as much as any new skill. Using a language socially will have much greater benefit that continuing lessons, because you utilise the language you need for communication. In my view teaching of Latin is doomed because one of the first phrases you learn is "Davus servus est" (Davus is a slave). I will never ever ever need that phrase, even if I study old texts. In communicating socially you are talking about thing s you want to talk about and are interested in, but more importantly the focus is on communication not necessarily on grammatical accuracy, and after all that is what language is all about!


Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Why is Intercultural Training for expats so important?

Because it is! OK, so I'm expected to say that aren't I? If I was working in the mobile phone industry, I'd probably be saying that you can't live without the newest handset.

But in this case there are serious objective reasons why preparing expats in advance of a move abroad is important. There is plenty of research available, some of it quite recent that gives the return on investment, and the statistics showing that expats who have been prepared are more efficient, settle better, and improve the company's image in the host country – but again, we are in a generation that doesn't tend to believe statistics. I also agree that not all pre-departure training is the same, and that I am speaking with experience of one (and of course in my opinion the best!) provider – Farnham Castle

So let's try and look at some of the issues involved in relocating a family to a new country and how a good pre-departure training session can help.

Culture Shock

"Culture shock is a term used to describe the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) felt by an individual caused by coming into contact with an entirely different environment, such as a different country. It often relates to the inability to assimilate the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not. Often this is combined with strong disgust (moral or aesthetical) about certain aspects of the foreign culture. "

Anxiety and stress are suffered by 1 in 5 UK employees ( ). It is one of the biggest causes of sick leave, and is an element in relationship breakdowns. UK employers are obliged by law to take steps to alleviate workplace stress. Reread the definition of culture shock above – it has much in common with stress, and it is an element of stress that can be removed. The surprise and confusion elements can be almost entirely removed by preparing employees for the different culture they will be encountering. If you know in advance that Brazil is a very hierarchical country and that time is more flexible, then you are not going to be overly concerned that your boss constantly keeps you waiting, and is quite distant. As a Brit I expect to have quite a friendly relationship with my line manager at work, and that if we arrange a meeting for 3pm, s/he will make every effort to be there on time, and won't be late back from lunch.

A genuine example at a very basic level. A Brit was hugely frustrated by his US boss: he had emailed a suggestion to him before an important strategy meeting. He had taken a lot of time and effort into researching figures and predictions, and was confident that, although radical, there was a lot of potential. His US boss emailed back "I think we'll table that proposal". Leaving aside the level of context provided, if you are more used to UK English, you will understand that the Brit was hugely disappointed that his proposal was not even mentioned at the strategy meeting, and in fact in this instance he assumed that his boss had stolen the idea and presented it as his own in a private meeting with senior management. Those more familiar with US English will be astounded that the Brit was so upset – he had been told quite clearly that his proposal had been set aside.

I will freely admit that even the most detailed cultural training programme will not give you a list of every single nuance in vocabulary (in UK English, "to table" means to put something on the agenda; in the US it means to leave off the agenda), however every decent cultural awareness session will help you to question and to look for reasons behind unexpected reactions. The session will show you the essential values of the host culture (i.e whether relationships are more important, what level of detail you are expected to provide in a proposal, fluidity of time etc) and will help you to create a personal and business strategy to cope with the major points of difference.

In any workplace your family life will have an effect on your productivity, and yet when someone is relocated to a foreign country we move the whole family (including partner and children) away from their social support networks, possibly from work and schools and insert them into a completely new environment. Add to that a possible new language as well and you're leaving a partner with no friends, no job and huge difficulty talking to neighbours or even going shopping for essentials. Boredom can become a huge factor and that leads to niggling about all the differences, a constant unfavourable comparison with "back home". More importantly is the availability of a wonderful scapegoat for all the normal problems of life – "this wouldn't have happened if you hadn't taken this job!"

Cultural training not only prepares the family for some of the issues, it can provide you with introductions to expat networks, give you advice on where to find essential items, and much more. However one of the main benefits is that the sponsoring company is showing its willingness to involve the family in the relocation. Possibly for the first time, "trailing spouses" are involved in their partners' careers – the training includes (or should include) elements for the whole family. It also raises some of the issues that will be faced, suggests options for fighting off boredom and can help finding ways of making friends outside the expat community.


Any organisation that offers pre-departure training will give you the benefits of it, but in my view you should be asking several evaluating questions:

Do the trainers have personal experience of the country?

Have they recently lived in the country as expats? (Although locals have insider information, living as an expat is VERY different from living as a native)

Does the training cover the practical as well as cultural aspects?


One final tip for expats in conclusion:

Even before you arrive in your new country you will probably be planning a return trip home quite quickly, to visit friends and relatives. My advice is to make the trip back to your "home" country the second trip you make. I would always advise going on a short holiday to a third country, preferably one you have never visited before. The reason is fairly simple: when you come back from holiday, you go "home". In order to settle properly in your host country it must feel like home, but if you only visit relatives in your "home" country, going back will in fact will be just "going away" again.


Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Business Culture in the Central Asian States

The former Soviet republics of Central Asia - namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tadjikistan - have come a long way in liberalising their economies since becoming independent countries at the start of the 1990s. While for much of the twentieth century, these countries were largely closed-off to trade and commerce with the outside world during their time under central authority directed from Moscow, in the 1990s they have become increasingly open to foreign businessmen.

The massive task of re-constructing their planned Soviet economies to ones based on market institutions, has called for voluminous capital injection into these states and resulted in their governments actively seeking to co-operate with the international business community. Many vital sectors of their economies, including oil and gas, mining, agriculture, telecommunications, power, steel works, and tobacco, have been officially open to foreign businessmen for much of the past decade, resulting in an increasingly cosmopolitan business environment emerging in a number of these countries. While their economies were previously monopolised by government enterprise, they have become highly diversified in recent years, still consisting of many state-owned companies, but also catering to a thriving private sector, numerous foreign investors and representatives of foreign companies, as well as joint-ventures between the foreigners and locals.

However, despite this new-found economic cosmopolitism, doing business in Central Asia's former Soviet republics remains a substantially more challenging experience than one may expect in the mature market economies of Europe, North America and other parts of Asia. In particular, from the perspective of business culture, one should appreciate that these are culturally very different societies to those in which we have developed our business acumen. Much of the population of the Central Asian countries hails from a Muslim civilisation that, while containing many of the personality traits from the Middle Eastern and South Asian Islamic societies, has been absorbed by the social values and the business practices which prevailed under the Soviet Union. The resulting business culture in Central Asia is therefore an interesting hybrid of Soviet formalities and protocol (very similar to that encountered in Russia or Ukraine for example), and Central-Asian Islamic cultural practices - conservative social values, respect for seniority, strong clans and family networks in business, as well as genuine hospitality and often a highly social attitude towards the conduct of business (i.e. relentless wining and dining as a means of developing the business relationship). Or, to put it in other words, a strong blend of the post-Soviet secular modernism mixed with the deeply entrenched cultural traditions of the Central Asian states. The business experience awaiting the foreigner in these countries can therefore be just as rewarding socially, as it can be challenging from the cross-cultural aspects of doing business itself.

In the first encounter with Central Asian business counterparts, one is likely to experience a relatively formal welcome, from either Slav or Asiatic men or women donning Western style business attire, eagerly handing out their business cards (and expecting you to do the same) and generally trying to present themselves as modern corporate citizens. The opening moments of the first encounter are likely to be filled with long-winded comments of welcome from the senior Central Asian business official, giving some background about their enterprise, before coming to the main issues of the their potential business cooperation with the foreign company. They are generally likely to conduct their dialogue in Russian, speaking through a capable English language interpreter. They will then expect you to reciprocate, telling them about your enterprise abroad and about how you can potentially work with them to develop a mutual joint venture, symbiotic for both parties. The officials are just as likely to be women as they may be men, since, despite the region's conservative heritage, urban women are an emancipated (and vital) member of the region's workforce and have been omnipresent in economic life for much of the past century.

It is rather important for the foreign businessman to develop a good relationship with their potential Central Asian partners during this first meeting, as it will set the standard for much of the subsequent meetings to come and will make the locals feel more comfortable in dealing with the visitors. Important points to note for the first encounter are to make the locals feel that they have your respect, particularly by maintaining good eye contact, being open-minded and courteous in the manner you construct business related comments, responding to their humour when necessary and (despite the fact that you are most likely coming from a more advanced country economically) avoiding pompous, or "imperialist", behavior. You will find that the local business population does not like to be talked at, as opposed to engaged in a dialogue between business partners perceived as equals, and promoting such a course of action will quickly lead to a rather burdensome business experience for the foreigner in Central Asia.

There are two further points of business culture to consider in this brief introduction to the topic. The first is that the foreigner should learn to exercise a good degree of patience with the locals. When travelling to countries like Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan for example, one will quickly see that the local workforce and business community has little experience with modern business practices equivalent to those long taken for granted in the advanced market economies. This means that the locals are likely to have far less experience in effectively managing a foreign investor's business that one would generally like. However, given their eagerness to learn, and all round good work ethic, its will be far more effective for the long run to persevere with local employees and show patience, rather than getting frustrated when things don't always go as planned. The other point is that much of the local Muslim population in these countries, is quite emotional in character and, as a workforce, can demand a lot of attention both in and out of the workplace. They may expect you to spend time with them on weekends, meet their families, and take up other offers of their - generally very sincere - hospitality. While this can at times seem exhaustive, it is generally recommended to accept such invitations where possible (despite one's desire to maximise their business input time), particularly if they come from the elderly or from people of seniority in business or society. Such gestures on the part of the foreigner will be taken as a sign of "paying your respect", and are often a vital ingredient in developing a harmonious business relationship in Central Asia.

Marat Terterov was born in Odessa, Ukraine in 1968 and is an Australian citizen resident in the United Kingdom since 1995. He has published a book entitled Doing Business in Kazakhstan and is presently completing similar business titles on Russia, Egypt and the Republic of Georgia. He has substantial experience relevant to business practice in the former Soviet Union, particularly in the Central Asian Republics, having lived and worked in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, as well as in Georgia and the Russian Federation.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Home visits

Great article at

Well worth looking at

"‘We care locally.’
That three-word profundity comes from a weblog written by Joe Posnanski, a sports writer whose work I enjoy.
Joe has just returned to the USA from Japan after covering Japanese baseball’s version of the World Series. He made the comment in reference to the deeply uninterested reactions he received when he tried to convey to his associates the wonders he’d witnessed in Japan. He actually was there to see the unprecedented phenomenon of two pitchers combining to throw a perfect game, and it --
Let’s stop right there: thanks for reading this far, but you don’t really care about Joe, or the Japanese World Series, or what I think about either of them, do you? You didn't follow those links. You’re wishing already that I move on to some more interesting and relevant topic.
Well, that’s just the point: for most of us, our range of interests is relatively narrow, and we’re far more interested in the places we live, or at least have visited, than we are in even the most exotic place we’ve never seen.
This can be an unpleasant lesson for expatriates to learn......"

Full article at

Raise your virtual hand if you know the answer...

This is the brave new world of the integrated global e-economy. Widespread access to the web will solve all our business and learning needs. The fact of the matter is that key decision-makers including, of course, the readers of this article, were educated in a traditional manner and their interpersonal and management skills have come from human experience, not from any virtual world.

The message is that we need to remember the human amongst the glare of technology in this increasingly virtual world. We need to find the right balance between the silicon chip and human behaviour.

At the start and end of every communication and transaction - from a handshake or smile to an email or contract - is a person. That person is a unique creation of their culture and environment and far more sophisticated than any machine or software. That person is our client or partner or manager and we need to make at least as much effort to understand that human being as any technology with which we communicate.

Like it or not, we are in an increasingly borderless world and new cultures and new ways of thinking are coming our way. Today you might work for a national company and tomorrow find yourself part of a multinational group. Your clients and colleagues might be next door today and half way round the world tomorrow. To effectively work with these people from different backgrounds we all need to learn about the cultural psyche that drives these people. What are you going to do to survive?

The answer is to learn, and learn well.

The next logical questions therefore concern where and how to learn? Will new electronic learning replace traditional methods? Does the Internet really offer a better solution than plain old-fashioned hands-on experience? Is the internet some kind of new magic solution that means we can forget that human relations are both essential and hard work?

Let's look at a few answers to these questions.

With its vast content of electronic data, the web seems set to replace face-to-face education and training, we are told. Time will tell, but in the meantime the demand for old-fashioned non-virtual education services, offered by specialist training centres and universities the world over, continues to grow rapidly.

Also, it is hard to deny that using technology to learn is exciting compared with the idea of squeaking chalk on a blackboard and the repetitive chanting of simple mathematical formulae or simply doing some hard work in personal learning and development.

The idea of video conferencing with the latest high speed connection and digital imaging seems much more modern than travelling and sitting down with your business partners.

The internet has allowed humans to get access to data and to enter into discussions and interact without the need to actually meet anyone or make friendships and relationships. I would again draw a cautionary note from the past about such attempts to ignore the hard work needed to build and understand human relations.

What history, wisdom and common sense tell us is that we need a blended learning solution and the potentially vast data from the internet must be supplemented with human interaction. Success with applying factual data about a foreign market comes from a deep understanding of local culture and providing for its needs and wants.

Just the data alone will not make any of us successful. Without interpretation and guidance the mere words alone are not enough. We can all download a recipe from the internet but does that make us master chefs? The human input into the interpretation of some written words and an assembly of ingredients is the difference between haute cuisine and a dog's dinner.

When we think back to earlier years we can all remember an individual such as a teacher, relative, colleague or friend who changed our understanding and shaped our lives as a result. Anyone had this experience from a web page or a CD ROM recently? I doubt it.

We are all the product of a blend of experiences and ideas. The person who has an imbalance in the blend is easy to see. Knowing these basic human realities, who can doubt the need for a human in the key input of education?

Can we risk relying on just a virtual education? Do we want a virtual hug or a virtual family or a virtual customer? No, we all want a real one and that comes from real experience and real learning in a real world with real people.

Real people? Maybe even real foreign people? That sounds like real hard work and expensive to learn. After all, other people are so unlike us. I am sure many of us find the habits of those people in the next street different enough from us and goodness only knows about those from another town or even another country.

Maybe we can all try to save money and effort and hide behind our screens and text messages like sulky teenagers with no social and intercultural skills. Well, there is only one thing more expensive than being trained and prepared, and that is being untrained and unprepared.
Most individuals' experience of business is that people want to do the best they can and have the best they can get.

We know that in the foundation of any success in business there are three key things we need to work at and these are 1) relationships, 2) relationships and 3) relationships. I wonder how we will manage these by the internet?

So should we give up on IT as just a gimmick or fashion accessory? By no means.
We need to find a blend of the new and old and take the best of these to succeed in a global marketplace.

If you can understand all the ideas in this article you owe thanks to many human beings. If you can adopt and implement the suggestions in the article then you can understand and teach and lead other human beings.

That's a real skill and nothing on the web comes close.

Master the technology alone and ignore the person and their culture and you will fail.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The Role of Culture in Effective Global Management

'One of the most important rules to remember when working within a multi-national organisation is that there is not necessarily one right way of doing things,'says Professor Geert Hofstede

With developing globalisation of business, the ability of employees to work effectively together across borders has become increasingly critical to business success. Cross-cultural understanding by individuals and the organisation as a whole serves to eliminate misunderstandings that could harm the business and maximise the best attributes each nationality has to offer.
Effective international operators are those with the wisdom to seek competitive edge through intercultural training, thus gaining insightful understanding of their global markets and mobilising the motivation triggers of their staff.

"One of the most important rules to remember when working within a multi-national organisation is that there is not necessarily one right way of doing things," says Professor Geert Hofstede.

Characteristics of National Cultures
Professor Hofstede has undertaken in-depth research on the characteristics of national cultures, providing a wealth of information and insight into how people in different societies function and suggestions as to what benefits those differences can bring to a multi-national organisation.
Each nationality has its own characteristics, which combine to contribute to the strength of the organisation. For example, in countries such as Britain and the US with a culture of small power distance between top management and general staff, organisations benefit from an environment of empowerment and acceptance of responsibility. In countries where management maintains a large power distance, staff will follow a much tighter regime of discipline.

Likewise, in countries in which there is a culture of strong avoidance of uncertainty, such as Japan, people will be more inclined towards detail and precision. Britain and the US are countries which demonstrate the opposite characteristics, with their culture of weak uncertainty avoidance providing more freedom to innovate.

An understanding of what drives and motivates people of different cultures within an organisation can contribute to the development of an organisation's own country- specific internal culture. If a British or American company with a culture of individualistic achievement and empowerment imposes the same values on its staff in an office in the Far East where collectivism and unquestioning respect for authority are valued, it will certainly experience difficulties.

In the same way expatriate managers moving to work in a developing office abroad, need to understand and accept the culture and values of the people with whom they are working. Management practices used in the home country will not necessarily be effective in international business both internally and externally.

An attempt to impose home country values and beliefs will often lead to frustration and an inability to achieve target goals. For example, strict timekeeping is likely to be impossible to implement in Latin countries. Direct criticism of staff in front of others in Asian countries will cause the recipient embarrassing loss of face. And the use of indirect language to soften the impact of what is being said will be met with annoyance by Germanic people who prefer to be direct.

On the surface, an overseas office with an expatriate manager may run smoothly until such time as things go wrong and suppressed local staff discontent begins to simmer.

Similarly, for external business dealings, the importance of understanding the local culture cannot be stressed enough. Examples abound of US and Northern European companies that have not fully appreciated the necessity of forming personal relationships in the Middle East and Asia before entering a business relationship. In these countries a strong network of contacts is indispensable and trust can only be established over time.

What's right - what's wrong?
Other problems can arise through a cultural gulf between the perceptions of what is right and what is wrong. What may be seen through the eyes of a Western European business as bribery and corruption, may be seen by counterparts in the Middle East as a genuine giving of gifts which is a normal part of establishing the personal business relationship.

As important is an understanding of the temperament and the values which local people hold highly. In the Far East, for example, great weight is placed on the maintenance of harmony and humility. The opposite extreme is the assertive, energetic individualism favoured in the United States.

These general differences between personalities of people shaped by their culture are very important in terms of recruiting the right person for an overseas appointment.

Professor Hofstede proposes five personality traits which should be used to create a profile of the type of people who would be successful working in a particular culture.

The three basic characteristics which should be the criteria for selection of expatriate personnel regardless of where they are going are emotional stability, openness and agreeableness. The weight given to the two remaining dimensions of conscientiousness and extraversion depends entirely on the position, country and culture for which the person is being selected.

Organisations - their support & training role
While the matching of the correct personalities to the country and culture contributes significantly to business success abroad, the support and training given by the organisation also plays an important role in the effectiveness of an expatriate assignment.
According to Diane van Ruitenbeek, who presented her initial research findings into expatriate expectations, lack of organisational support, language problems and a poor understanding of the local culture were major factors influencing poor performance.

One quarter of the expatriates who took part in Diane van Ruitenbeek's study indicated that they had been let down by their organisation. Their pre-departure expectations of the job, working and living conditions had not been met and they indicated that their job satisfaction, commitment and performance had correspondingly suffered. These people reported that they were more likely to quit the assignment early.

With the significant expense to a company of sending a person abroad and the cost of a failed assignment, simple investments can be made to avoid such situations. The respondents in the survey indicated that a company should not make any promises it cannot meet and provide a realistic picture of the job and living conditions.

High demand for cross-cultural & language training
Cross-cultural and language training prior to departure featured high on the respondents' list of actions a company could take to assist their adjustment on arrival in the new environment and their on-the-job effectiveness.

The confusion that can arise from being unprepared to deal with the attitudes and behaviour of people of another country can be summed up in the words of one respondent to Diane van Ruitenbeek's research:
"There seems to be a completely different logic to doing things here."

This feeling of utter confusion and helplessness experienced by the expatriate illustrates how a simple investment in improving an understanding of the culture through specialist country-specific training could make the difference between a successful, profitable overseas assignment and an ineffective, long term struggle.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Focus on Poland

Three reasons make Poland a different market from other post-Soviet block states. To start with, Poles were able to travel to the Western countries during the Soviet regime. Small businesses and private ownership were allowed to exist after 1945. And finally, around 19m people outside Poland claim Polish background and maintain contact with Poland. These factors made a significant contribution to the latest rapid growth of the economy.

Firstly, those who travelled abroad (250-500,000 people per year) brought back not only hard currency earned "moonlighting" in Germany or the UK but also ideas and Western notions of quality. Sums were significant, this was quickly recognised by the regime, which legalised foreign currency accounts in the early 70's.

As soon as democracy was re-established in Poland, many expatriates or second generation Poles were willing to return and bring contacts, knowledge of Western technology and business practices back to Poland. Businesses, large and small, were set up using cash, credit or expertise supplied from Chicago, London or Sydney. The Polish SME Sector received an enormous boost, unprecedented in Eastern Europe, and quickly became an important contributor to the economic recovery.

The Polish market is relatively large and promises good growth in the years to come. Entry barriers to many market segments are still low. Its geographical location is ideal for entering the post Soviet markets. However, Polish corporate and social cultures are different from those in the West, so a number of issues should be remembered:

Emotions play a very serious role in Polish business and politics.

Organisations have rigid structures and hierarchies. Task delegation is poor.

Bureaucracy is still ripe and so is corruption and nepotism.

In negotiations, small talk is important, as are personal relationships with partners.

Corporate hierarchy is often based on age and on university degrees. It is unwise to send a young technician to negotiate with an experienced Commercial Director with a PhD or MSc to his credit.

Poles are macho-oriented, easy to offend, intolerant and racist.

Poles are also hospitable, emotional and optimistic. Most of them tend to make promises, which they hope to be able to deliver "somehow".

Gadgets, mobile phones, cars and computers play a significant part in creating a corporate image.

Business ethics are dubious and working relations bear marks of the past era.

When searching for a partner, look outside Warsaw. Provincial towns offer lower costs and staff are easier to keep.

Friday, 26 October 2007

How culturally aware are you?

One of our leading intercultural trainers, Philippe Nitzer, has devised this short quiz for you to test your knowledge...
1 In Spain, the main purpose of a business meeting would usually be to:
a) make decisions by discussing in length the pro's and con's of an option
b) reach agreements by consensus between everyone concerned
c) brief their team about something already decided by specific decision makers

2 You are asking a question of your junior Japanese colleague and he/she looks down and answers you after a few seconds. You think the chances are that he/she:
a) has something to hide and is looking for an answer that would boost him/her in your eyes
b) is paying respect to your position and your question
c) hasn't got a clue what the answer is and feels ashamed

3 In Italy, the majority of people think that a good manager should:
a) have at hand precise answers to most questions his/her subordinates may raise about their work
b)be able to direct his/her subordinates to those who may have the right answers to most of the questions they may raise
c) be critical of his/her subordinates for asking him/her questions as he/she considers that, if they are in the right position, they should know the answers themselves

4 In Germany, performance review is usually perceived:
a) very well, as a way to give a chance to everyone to develop their own competences
b) very badly, as it may be seen as a way to challenge their skills and knowledge
c) as an opportunity to impress their colleagues and superiors

5 Do you think that, to be effective in a multicultural organisation, a successful competency framework should:
a) be designed in such a way it could be implemented by everyone, irrespective of their cultural background
b) take into account the cultural diversity of an organisation and be designed accordingly
c) stick to the one which has proved successful at home

6 You hear your German colleague saying about your latest proposal: "don't take it personally, but this idea is stupid". You think that:
a) he/she is very blunt and rude and these are not proper business manners
b) he/she is expressing politely and clearly his/her view about your proposal
c) he/she is purposely trying to undermine your proposal for political reasons

7 You are making a presentation in Tokyo in front of a group of Japanese executives and two of them are sitting with folded arms, their head down and their eyes closed. You think that:
a) they are very rude to be sleeping during your presentation (after all, you should be the jet-lagged one)
b) they are deliberately pretending they are sleeping to show that they are not supporting your proposal
c) they are listening attentively to your presentation

8 Your Mexican potential client has arranged to meet you in a cafe at 10 a.m. in Mexico. You are there on time but he arrives 30 minutes later and says "Sorry, I'm a little late". It may very well be that:
a) he arrived late intentionally to show you indirectly that, being the potential buyer, he is in a position of power
b) he arrived late intentionally to let you have the time to settle in and enjoy the atmosphere
c) he arrived late, as all Mexicans would, because it is well-known that business is taken very lightly over there and besides, he didn't give you any good reason for his delay

9 You email your Dutch fellow team member in these terms: "Let's meet ASAP to discuss this project.". The reply comes: "Who is Asap?". You think:
a) your colleague has a sense of humour that you didn't expect
b) your colleague probably did not understand the expression ASAP
c) your colleague doesn't seem to be co-operative as you think he/she may have meant "why ASAP?"

10 You make a request to your Norwegian junior colleague in these terms: "I wonder if you would be kind enough to do that for me when you have time". Two days later, you are still waiting. The chances are that:
a) your colleague is sulking because in his/her culture, this way of expressing a request would be considered as an order and might be offended
b) your colleague does not know how to do what you requested and does not dare to ask as it would show that he/she hasn't got the right skills for the job
c) your colleague thought that you gave him/her the choice to do it now or later and decided that he/she didn't have the time right now

The Answers

1. In Spain, the main purpose of a business meeting would usually be to: make decisions by discussing in length the pro's and con's of an option

2. You are asking a question of your junior Japanese colleague and he/she looks down and answers you after a few seconds. You think the chances are that he/she: is paying respect to your position and your question

3. In Italy, the majority of people think that a good manager should: have at hand precise answers to most questions his/her subordinates may raise about their work

4. In Germany, performance review is usually perceived very badly, as it may be seen as a way to challenge their skills and knowledge

5. Do you think that, to be effective in a multicultural organisation, a successful competency framework should: be designed in such a way it could be implemented by everyone, irrespective of their cultural background (answer b is probably also acceptable here)

6. You hear your German colleague saying about your latest proposal :"don't take it personally, but this idea is stupid". You think that: he/she is expressing politely and clearly his/her view about your proposal

7. You are making a presentation in Tokyo in front of a group of Japanese executives and two of them are sitting with folded arms, their head down and their eyes closed. You think that: they are listening attentively to your presentation

8. Your Mexican potential client has arranged to meet you in a cafe at 10.00am in Mexico. You are there on time but he arrives 30 minutes later and says "sorry I'm a little late". It may very well be that: he arrived late, as all Mexicans would, because it is well-known that business is taken very lightly over there and besides, he didn't give you any good reason for his delay

9. You e mail your Dutch fellow team member in these terms: "Let's meet ASAP to discuss this project". The reply comes: "Who is ASAP?". You think: Your colleague probably did not understand the expression ASAP

10. You make a request to your Norwegian junior colleague in these terms: "I wonder if you would be kind enough to do that for me when you have time". Two days later, you are still waiting. The chances are that: your colleague thought that you gave him/her the choice to do it now or later and decided that he/she didn't have the time right now

Intercultural Training: The British at Work and Play

Intercultural Training: The British at Work and Play

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Cultural misunderstanding, or just being rude?

How can you tell if you have just made some huge intercultural faux pas, or if the person you are talking to is just being rude?

When I think about my fellow Brits, I see that some of them I instinctively like, some I’m fairly neutral about, and there are a very few with whom, for no particular reason, I can find no common ground and it is an effort to be civil to them. There are one or two others who are deliberately and obviously rude (and not just to me). If I have to do business with people you find rude, it is important to find out as quickly as possible whether you are making some horrible cultural mistake that is offending them, and that everyone is too embarrassed to tell you about, or whether there is a personal dislike – I suppose the latter is much rare, but is potentially more damaging to a business relationship.

My advice is simple

  • Ask: either colleagues you trust or friends;
  • Look: how other people react to this person;
  • Listen: even if conversations are in a different language, you can probably tell if this person’s answers are more abrupt than conversations between other people, or you can tell by his/her tone and intonation that there is some other issue.

The most common situation is that there is some cultural issue, which is exacerbated by personality blocking full communication. As an example, an anecdote from an anonymous client recently: a large business services company employed a Saudi manager who had a huge reputation, was highly recommended for his client care and had been marked for accelerated promotion. However within his first month at the company he had lost a very important client. A quick phone call to the client established that he had gone into a meeting room, and asked the woman seated at the table to bring him a cup of coffee, and then sent her back to bring some more sugar. You can probably guess that the woman concerned was the decision maker for the project and was very upset at being treated this way. It is a stereotype (but nonetheless true) that a lot of Saudi’s are uncomfortable dealing with women in business, and those from wealthy families may be used to treating women as servants in a business environment. HOWEVER it is standard business practice (and common sense) to establish to whom you are talking, before you make assumptions, even more so when visiting a client’s office. It is a matter of politeness not to assume that anyone who might be in the room is there to provide you with drinks, and especially when not in your home country you should be more circumspect and more polite in dealing with people you don’t know.

It is also true that excessive politeness can cause embarrassment to both parties, but I would suggest that the embarrassment is significantly less damaging than causing even a small amount of offence to a potential or existing client. The above anecdote also shows how even a tiny amount of preparation can help. IF the Saudi had found out in advance the gender of the person he was meeting; IF he had been a little more culturally aware; IF he had been prepared to work in a different culture; then perhaps…

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Culture shock

What’s the difference between culture shock, homesickness and a bad case of nostalgia?

On a simplistic level, the symptoms of all three can be the same: varying levels of depression, increased stress, tiredness, flu-like symptoms, to name but a few. However I think it’s not true to say that they are gradations of the same problem.

Taking them in reverse order – nostalgia.

“Nostalgia comes from Greek nostos "homeward journey, return home" and algos "pain" - with the word nostos originally referring to the journey of Odysseus and the heroes from Troy. And if you have a yen, well, you will be surprised about the history of the word. It is from in-yan, the Chinese expression for "craving for opium" and yen first meant "craving of an addict for a drug". This became yan and, eventually, yen for a "powerful craving." (

Interestingly in modern English it’s meaning has developed to include attachment for a specific TIME rather than PLACE – we are nostalgic about a childhood summer, or student days, and less about our homes. This is especially true for “serial-expats” who may have difficulty saying where home actually is. Whole industries have developed around exploiting nostalgic feelings – museums, historically themed parks, the online “family history” sites, even to some extent social networking sites - let’s be honest, who doesn’t look up past flames on facebook/my space/friends reunited!

“An important feature of nostalgia then is the relationship between past and present; indeed it may be seen as a barometer of the present.”

Homesickness, I think we can agree, is a much more specific longing for a place or person (places/people).
“Homesickness is the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from the specific home environment or attachment objects”
Interestingly the above definition suggests that the anticipation as much as the actual distance from home is a real issue for some people. I attended a boarding school from the age of 11, and was one of the lucky ones who didn’t suffer homesickness, but I can imagine the distress and consequent academic influence for those who did suffer. But adults suffer it too! More importantly, it is completely irrational, and it is rare that the promise of a return next week/month will alleviate the symtoms.

In my view Culture Shock incorporates elements of both nostalgia and homesickness, but is forward looking. With nostalgia and homesickness we are looking back – either in time, or physically – and making a mental step that what is behind us is better, more fun, more comfortable. Culture Shock looks around and forward and says “I can’t cope/don’t want to cope with this”. In other words you blame your current environment for the symptoms rather than idealising the past. In many ways this makes culture shock much harder to deal with. We can be nostalgic in a positive way and remember the past with a smile. Homesickness will pass – either after a visit home, or by getting used to it (this is not to undervalue the real pain it causes though). If you don’t deal with culture shock as an expatriate it will affect home and work life, and possibly quite severely – just because it is so easy to blame “the natives” for everything that is wrong. People who have experienced culture shock testify to the fact that culture shock comes in waves – you have good days and bad days. This is why culture shock is often described as a rollercoaster. You can have really good moments – the peaks – when you are enjoying everything new around you and suddenly hit a really big trough where the slightest misunderstanding is exaggerated beyond proportion.

I’m not going to discuss here how to deal with culture shock (I may return to the theme later on) but I do want to stress how important it is to be prepared for the effects and symptoms of it.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Doing Business in Central and South Latin America

Nowadays, international business executives recognise the complexities of the main factors influencing the business entry process in Central and South American countries. The region as a whole bears all the characteristics of geopolitical, economic, social, religious and ethnic legacy resulting from Hispanic-American processes. From the Spanish conquest, the wars of independence, the aftermath of independence, the search for political stability, the acute disparities of wealth, the periodic armed revolts by dissidents, the coup d'Ðtat, military dictatorships, all have been a regular feature in Central and South America. Also the relationships with the United States and Europe, have contributed to shaping the "psyche" and culture of the "national" personality in each country.

Clearly it would difficult to suggest that there is a standard "Latin American Business Cultural Model". Latin American business executives tend to be extrovert, impatient, talkative, and inquisitive. But of course, in Central America, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, they are more extrovert than in Chile, Bolivia or Peru.

When preparing your trip, remember that many countries require a business visa to conduct business transactions. Avoid Christmas and the holiday season as everything slows down. Check the climate conditions particularly in countries such as Peru and Bolivia; altitude, rain, heat, etc. may affect your health. Documents such as letters, promotional literature, and presentation materials should be translated into Spanish. If you receive a reply from a Latin company in English, however, you may begin using English in correspondence.

Prior appointments are always preferred, preferably at least one week in advance, making sure you always check the appointment on the day of the meeting. Punctuality is expected and you must take into account the traffic congestion-especially in most of the Capital cities, such as Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Lima, Caracas etc- this can be difficult, and you must plan ahead to ensure you have plenty of time to get to your destination.

Latin Americans, tend to be people oriented, they argue emotionally, and instead of giving strict orders, they prefer to do things by seeking favours. In contrast with the "individualist" Anglo-Saxon culture, the "collective" is above everything, as a result interpersonal skills such as the ability to "fit in" and maintain cordial relations with the group, are often considered more important than professional competence and experience.

It is in this context that the "Family" has a broader "collective" connotation as it embraces blood relations, distant family, friends, or even work colleagues. In fact do not be surprised to see Latin business executives intermixing their work environment with their "social-family life". In this culture, nepotism is easily accepted as common practice; family members and relatives are preferred when recruiting staff. To that extent the individual member must take full responsibility for his or her decisions and how they affect the group or family structure.
In recent times there have been an interesting dual development in the business culture, on the one hand, the older generation continues doing business by often placing a greater emphasis on "trust" and "loyalty" by getting to know you personally, as for them, completing a human transaction is the best way they can invest their time. On the opposite side, the younger generation, especially those educated in the USA and Europe, are chiefly preoccupied with business concerns.

In family-owned businesses, senior family members usually make the final decision. In most other organizations, however, senior management makes decisions. Moreover, individuals with professional experience, who have a special understanding of the implications of the proposal, will often have input into the decision-making process .

Times, like truth are relative concepts. Latins are not very interested in schedules or punctuality - they pretend to observe them if being asked or insisted. This creates conflict and irritation with Anglo-Saxon cultures Why they don't arrive in time? Why they don't work to deadline? Why they don't follow a plan? In response, Latin people think they get more done their way!
The pace of negotiations is slower in Latin America than in Europe, as is customary, some preliminary conversation is considered necessary before each meeting, since it allows the participants to become personally acquainted. The best policy is to wait for your Latin counterparts to initiate any "small talk" and follow their lead in establishing rapport.
Meeting formalities must be followed; the two senior executives should sit facing each other. In general, Latin business executives prefer to be the ones "in control", you should try to avoid monopolising conversations or putting pressure of any kind on your colleagues. Be sensitive to the fact that Latins tend to stand and sit extremely close to others. The best policy is to respect this practice and accept that it is the cultural norm. Moreover, attempting to move away will be perceived only as a cold rejection.

A manager's status is attributed on grounds of family, age, educational and professional qualifications. They tend to have less specialisation than European or USA managers. Latins follow a top-down decision making process, where employees follow a trusting subservience to their superior as task orientation is dictated from above.

Opinions of experienced middle-mangers and technical staff do not always carry the weight that they would do in the UK, but as meritocracy slowly grows, their influence grows too. Latin managers are paternalistic and emotionally involved. Managers or heads of departments tend to concern themselves with the personal and private problems of their staff.

Business and corporate social life follow "old world" formalities; etiquette, manners and physical presence are measure of breeding and status symbols. It's considered very important to maintain good posture at all times, even in more informal situations. A firm, assured, handshake is the customary greeting on all occasions. During the handshake, state your full name; your Latin counterpart will then reciprocate by doing the same. You will have to speak not only at a closer distance, but also maintain eye contact as an assurance of your genuine interest.
Local business people tend to be very status-conscious and will often be impressed by these displays. First impression is everlasting in the mind of a Latin. In general the Latin executives are highly conservative and traditional in their dress code. Men wear dark, conservative suits for all formal occasions.

For the Latin, pleasure is before business, and they use entertainment as a way of building a personal relationship with his/her potential business partner. Much leisure time is spent socialising with family, friends and colleagues, mostly at weekends. Business dinners, in particular, are usually purely social occasions, and as such you should refrain from discussing work-related matters unless your Latin contact brings up the subject. Ensure that you write a thank-you note following any social gathering where you were a guest. Thank-you letters can be very helpful in solidifying rapport.

Women, legally enjoy all the same rights as men in most of Central and South American countries. Depending on the degree of economic growth, urbanization, industrialization, education, and expanded opportunities in their respective country, women have better or worse positions in society. Practically the representation of women in the private sector's upper and middle management is growing slowly, but remains fairly small. One can rarely mention a name, which can be easily identified with a women business leader.

Latin women tend to be meticulous dressers who closely follow European fashion. Female visitors are advised to bring conservative, stylish business clothes of the highest quality, including a cocktail dress. Often, women greet each other by quickly touching cheek to cheek and kissing the air.

For middle-class woman who want to combine job and family careers support provided by the extended family and the availability of maids is a pre-requisite. Latin businesswomen are going through the same dilemmas as business women in more other countries - in being mother, lover, wife, professional, and entrepreneur!

When doing business in Latin America, your always must make all the necessary preparations to leave a lasting impression about; your company, your products, yourself, your value systems and your attitude to business. In the final instance Latin American business people are asking themselves; Can I trust this person to do business with? Is our relationship sufficiently solid?
If the answer is YES , and trust has been acknowledge by both parties, then the business flows accordingly, and the chances of securing contracts and agreements are much greater.

© Farnham Castle/ Carlos Gonzalez Carrasco
Carlos Gonzalez Carrasco is a Latin America Business Development Consultant and Adviser to International companies entering into the Latin American market. He is a regular Commentator on Latin America Economic, Financial and Political risk issues for Bloomberg TV Financial Markets and Commodity News. He currently works as Latin American business analyst and consultant for Euromonitor Plc. He has an MBA from University of Westminster Business School and a BA in Business Studies from Chile.

Friday, 21 September 2007

So what’s the big deal with culture shock?

Why do expats go on and on about culture shock? Surely it can’t be that bad? Isn’t homesickness for kids?

Research has shown that symptoms of culture shock can include:

  • Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
  • Preoccupation with health
  • Aches, pains, and allergies
  • Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little
  • Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless
  • Anger, irritability, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others
  • Identifying with the old culture or idealizing the old country
  • Loss of identity
  • Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country
  • Unable to solve simple problems
  • Lack of confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity
  • Developing stereotypes about the new culture
  • Developing obsessions such as over-cleanliness
  • Longing for family
  • Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused

If you look at the list these are the things you need least of all when you arrive in a new country – most expats are sent by their companies to do an important job, and as a leader of the local staff. If you’re suffering from even one of the conditions from the list you’re not going to be able to do your job properly.

Princeton university ( ) defines culture shock as
“…a condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes…”

We also know that almost a third of expatriate assignments fail because the family is not happy, or cannot settle (again, look at the list above!).
It’s just a shame that it appears pre-departure training is such a low priority for most companies!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Getting the job done - with the Germans

Dr Brian Bloch explains why, even between members of the European Union, an understanding of German culture, and in particular business culture and practices, is crucial to commercial success

Germany is a major market for many European trading partners and it so it will remain. The current low growth rate and high employment impacts little on the massive business potential, much of which remains untapped.

Although many German companies conduct business in English and business people often have high levels of competence in the language, ensuring optimal success requires a substantial package of cross-cultural skills.

These range from knowing the latest economic, political and trade union developments, to impressing people with your knowledge of German literature, theatre and film.

Getting it right

Everyone knows that Germans are punctual and precise, but what exactly does that imply for a negotiation process and the subsequent deal? If you are a seller, keeping to delivery dates and agreed product specifications is clearly essential. But there is a lot more involved in really getting it right.

To expand on the language issue, although one can frequently "get by" in English, this cannot be taken for granted, so it is important to establish just how well your partners understand you. They may sound more fluent than they really are. Any sales or information brochures should already be translated into German so as to be understood fully and to send the right signals about commitment.

Germans dress carefully and generally quite fashionably too. Turning up in creased trousers and an old-fashioned tie with a suspicious stain on it may convey potential inefficiency and unreliability.

Shaking hands is surprisingly important. Germans go though this ritual meticulously the first time they see each other in the morning - every day. And business meetings are ended with a comprehensive round of handshaking.

There is a whole host of other issues relating to meetings, negotiating, socialising, and even body language, which can ensure that your German business partners are suitably impressed with you and keen to do business.

Moving beyond these fundamental do's and don'ts, as in the case of any international business, it is important not only to impress the Germans with some name and fact dropping, but also to do things right in terms of the German economy and society.

Crucial issues include the structure of industry, location and the vast differences which still prevail between West and East. Productivity, and real - as opposed to perceived - efficiency, are significant dimensions.

Furthermore, the expanding European Union is fundamental to Germany. The pending membership of Poland and Hungary, for instance, indirectly creates much potential for trade, enabling Germany to be used as a "springboard to the East".

Discover the differences

Ownership and organisation are not the same as in the UK and other European countries. Controversial corporate governance issues impact on doing business in Germany or with Germans, and it is important to be aware of the implications for your activities.

Each industry sector has its own peculiarities. Retailing works one way, and the insurance industry quite differently. The machine tool industry is also a distinct and, in many ways, unique sector.

Knowing precisely how each sector is performing at a particular time, and thus its current requirements, is essential to the planning and execution of business activities. Similarly, what kind of mood prevails amongst buyers, consumers and sellers and what opportunities or threats does this create right now?

From politics to pleasure

Networking in Germany is extremely important. Despite the emphasis on quality and the right person for the job, knowing the right people is surprisingly important. For outsiders, this is a challenge, but also a source of competitive advantage.

Sadly, integrity and honesty cannot always be assumed. Although Germany does not figure badly on international corruption indices, the country has been rocked by a number of horrendous scandals.

Politicians such as Helmut Kohl, have seriously tarnished reputations, and bribery and corruption have been exposed in the financial, construction, food and various other industries. This is not without its implications for British business people dealing with Germany. In short, care and open eyes are required.

Having said that, however, most Germans are a pleasure to deal with. They are solid, reliable partners and they get the job done.

Furthermore, the county is extremely wealthy. The prevailing problems do not detract from the massive wealth that has been accumulated during and since the "economic miracle" years of the fifties and sixties.

Germany's massive economy, its established power and increasing interconnections East and elsewhere, offer unlimited potential for trade partners.

Information and knowledge, especially specific to a particular deal or industry, combined with a sound level of cross-cultural expertise, can make all the difference between success and failure.

Dr Brian Bloch is Associate Professor, Department of Marketing, University of Mêenster, Germany. Previously Senior Lecturer in International Business, University of Auckland. Visiting researcher at the University of Linz, Austria. Extensive published articles on International Business and cross-cultural issues. He is a contributor to intercultural programmes at Farnham Castle.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Learning styles and culture

How do people from different cultures learn? Are learning styles affected by culture?

We already know from extensive research that male and female are significantly different in approaches to learning and processing information, and it seems logical to assume that people of different cultures will also learn in different ways (see for example

“Ways of learning are derived from ways of life and how adults and other people, including peers, in the immediate context 'teach'. These ways of learning develop through a complex interaction between life experiences, habits and formal instruction. Some cultural differences may occur in this regard which you should consider but they cannot be assumed. Culture is shaped by a multitude of circumstances and influences. “

Of course we know that culture is made up of many elements – visible and invisible, and without reigniting the nature vs nurture argument, how we learn is an integral part of growing up, and is inherited from the way in which our parents, initially and later teachers, colleagues and friends, pass on information and encourage us to process it.

“….(for) Asian learners group solidarity is important, we will try to emphasize group work in which the group, rather than the individual, is at the core of the activity. If we find that Hispanic learners profit more from concepts presented globally rather than analytically, we will try to ensure that each new topic is contextualized so that they get the whole picture first. If we become aware that Islamic students value oral repetition, we will ensure that, especially at the start, this approach is included in some way or other in what we do in the classroom”

Why is this important? First of all, it’s important to me, because if I am talking to a group about intercultural communication, I will need to adapt what I say and HOW I present the material to the audience, based on the cultures represented. The activities that we do will have to be modified further to encompass the preferences of each. Looking at the quotation above, it will be important to ensure that an Egyptian delegate has the opportunity to repeat verbally key learning points, whereas a Norwegian may be more content to write it down, or read it. On the other hand, a Japanese learner will find it more important to concentrate on the elements of the training that improves his/her group; but an American or British learner will be looking to develop his or her personal skills primarily, in the hope that these will bring a business return eventually.

As always when dealing with people from other cultures, it is important not to over generalise. One of the functions of formal education is to broaden our range of learning style, and to help us accept information in a wider range of sources and formats.

I don’t think it’s possible to say that “Culture A” is a predominantly Learning Style “B” culture, however I think it is not too far from the truth to state that people from culture “B” might be more receptive to an approach that focuses more on Learning Style “C”. As usual, more research needs to be done to fatten this theory up a little, but all comments as always appreciated.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Presenting to audiences whose first language is not English

Don't leave your audience in the dark!

As business becomes more global, we are speaking to an ever-wider range of nationalities and people. This is true not only in the multi-nationals, but also in the professions and the public sector. It is giving us greater opportunities for wider relationships and more business. Increasingly, the world is using English, and this appears to give native speakers great advantages. However, there are dangers as well...

The tendency is to think that one can go into a presentation without having to prepare for that extra English language element that our Japanese, German or Spanish counterparts have to. In addition, we may forget to prepare for different cultural perceptions; because if we use English, we often expect the cultural context to be ours as well.

Adapt your language to the audience

Careful preparation is required for business encounters with non-native speakers of English, both linguistically and culturally. Take the example of a medium-sized pharmaceutical company in North Italy. They supplied medicines to the Italian market, and the only language spoken by employees was Italian. The company was taken over in the mid-nineties by an Anglo-American multinational with its European headquarters in London. The new British general manager arrived and called a meeting for all management, to set out the new strategy. The employees understood little of the presentation, because he spoke fast, idiomatic English. They left the auditorium in a state of panic, knowing that in future, they would be reporting in English. The presenter had not adapted his language to his audience.

This is not an isolated example. Similar stories are heard whenever non-native speakers have to deal with native English speakers.

The young Spanish aeronautical engineer on a management development programme with British and Irish fellow students, felt isolated as he struggled to keep up with their language.
The group of French purchasing managers for a Franco-German pharmaceutical company had enormous difficulty understanding their British counterpart when he presented to them.
The Japanese manager of a Japanese electrical engineering company could not understand the Scotsmen on his team. The list goes on.

Use of Off-shore English is growing

We may ask: "Why don't they learn better English"? The answer is, they are doing so. Companies and individual invest heavily in English training, and there are increasing numbers of managers around the world using English daily. They use, however, a different form of English from the native speaker: 'Offshore English' (OE), is a practical, direct language used as a business tool throughout the world. It cuts out the idioms, expressions, indirectness, phrasal verbs and colloquial phrases that we use to add life, interest and magic to our language.

OE is growing rapidly. It enables managers from a Franco-Japanese automotive company to communicate effectively, or executives from an Italian-German manufacturing company to solve complex problems together. Frequently, non-native speakers tell us that it is easier to talk to the Dutch, the Germans or the Scandinavians in English rather than the Americans, Australians or British.

Why do native speakers not use OE? In our experience, it is because most people using English internationally do not realise that it exists. In addition, the relatively poor foreign language skills of native English speakers are well known, and many of us do not appreciate the practical difficulties of using a foreign language at work. We hear a frequent complaint: "There is one American in my team of ten Germans, and so we all have to speak English at team meetings in Germany". Or that the British manager has been in Madrid for two years now, and still is unable to understand a presentation in Spanish. There are accusations of laziness, but more frequently of cultural arrogance.

Cut out idioms

So, how can the native speakers help their non-native counterparts? Clearly, adapting their language to OE is crucial. "We'll do it willy-nilly" is difficult to understand. "We'll do it anyway" is not.

Cut out those delicious idioms we love, and use unconsciously.

A former British prime minister used a mass of cricketing idioms in a meeting with a Spanish minister proud of his excellent English. But talk of 'sticky wickets' and 'being stumped' totally confused him, and before the next meeting he demanded it be conducted through interpreters.
Phrasal verbs are a minefield for anyone learning English, and often a more formal equivalent will be more easily understood. To a Frenchman or German, "I'll contact her" is easier than "I'll get on to her", or "Let's postpone the presentation" is more understandable than "Let's put the presentation off".

Presenting internationally

We also need to take into account cultural differences when we present internationally. The more we know what an audience in a particular country expects, the more effective we can be. The British prefer the presentation to be short and to the point, full of humour, metaphor and analogies. However, this can appear lacking in seriousness in Germany or Scandinavia, or not detailed enough in Japan.

A presentation keeping strictly to the timetable will be appreciated in Northern Europe, but may be less relevant in Italy, as one executive discovered to his cost. Asked to present to an Italian business association, he delivered a concise, well-argued performance in two minutes! After he finished there was an awkward silence, and then polite applause. The other presenters spoke for much longer, some for as long as 20 minutes. The meeting ended two hours late, and afterwards the Englishman was approached by a friend, who asked: "Why didn't you spell out in much greater detail the many things I know your company can offer?" The Italians expected to hear a well-argued case with the appropriate embellishments, and felt short-changed by the concise English style.

Presenting internationally offers many challenges. We need to be aware of not only what we say and how we say it, but also what our audience expects from a presentation. The more we know about our own language, and how to adapt it to a non-native audience, the more the audience will understand, and be able to take an active part in the meeting. The more we understand the cultural dimension, the greater our chance of hitting home with the message we want to give, on the level that the audience understands and feels comfortable with. When we get it right, we can build relationships and trust, and do business effectively.

Original Article at

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

New Cultural Dimension

I've been doing some informal research among people I meet, and have started putting together a little theory, which I'm calling the "How are you, and Who are you" theory.

One of the problems with intercultural theory is that the cultural background of someone you meet is not always immediately obvious. Or even if you do know what the culture is, then it maybe one you know very little about. So how can you learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible about a new culture, before you make any mistakes?

I'm a Brit, and as such, I'm conditioned to ask the question, "How are you?" when I meet someone. OK, so I'm a Brit, and I'll always answer, "Fine, thanks" however I'm feeling in reality! Nevertheless, my short answer can tell you a lot about me. The way I say it (intonation, facial expression, emphasis etc) will tell you how important I consider the answer (not very); that I am not accustomed to sharing my thoughts with relative strangers; and that there are other things to move on to as quickly as possible.

Have you ever asked an Italian how they're feeling? It could take you a while to listen to the answer! Italians are much more concerned with establishing a relationship with you; are very happy to talk about themselves and are not so rushed in business settings - and so you may get a full medical history of them, their families and their family's pets!

Russians are a slight problem, and in my view, a nation of split personalities. In a business or formal context, Russians are closed, difficult to read, unhelpful, and not afraid to say "no" (Some mythical research suggests that the word "nyet" is used up to nine times more frequently in Russian, than we use "no" in English). Russians are the masters of patience during negotiations, and will use threats and blackmail to ensure they get the better of the bargain. BUT in an informal context, Russians are renowned for their hospitality, and not just plying unsuspecting foreigners with dodgy ("left") vodka.

If you have ever had a meeting in Russia, followed by a meal (nearly always called a "banquet"), you will know what I'm talking about - the food seems endless, the mood invariably cheerful, you will be told all about the family and their successes, latest purchases, subjected to tipsy renditions of Russian music and dance; and crucially to my theme, when you ask, "How are you?" be prepared for the intimate details of the last flu remedy (Don't EVER cough or complain of a sore throat when a Babushka can hear you!). You will be overwhelmed with information about your correspondents health and life story.

I've tried linking this "How are you" dimension to personal space, and largely it works: the more honest the answer you get, the closer the personal space, and probably the more important a personal relationship is to the business in question. Finns, Germans, Dutch, Brits will give you a short, curt answer; they like a large amount of personal space around them, and a business deal comes first, and if you genuinely like your business partner, well that's a nice advantage to have. The Italians, Greeks, Slavs are more honest in their answers, generally prefer to get closer than Northern Europeans are comfortable with, and will let business decisions be influenced by a very subjective view of their business partner.

The second part of this theory is the "Who are you" side. As a trainer, I start each session by asking (in various interactive ways) each attendee to introduce themself, or their neighbour. Last week I was very struck by the very different ways people from different cultures answered that relatively simple question. Compare:
"Hi. My name's Matthew, I'm a trainer and programme manager at Farnham Castle, where I've worked for about 7.5 years. Before that I lived in Russia for 8 years, and managed to learn to speak reasonable Russian."

"Good morning, I am Friedrich Hampel. I am a Senior Civil Engineer at XXXXX GMBH, and finished my PhD two years ago"

"My name is Abdul, I'm from Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia. I have two sons who both work in the my father's business - they are both very successful. My third son is studying at Oxford, but we all have a house in London that we use when we are visiting here."

Again, as a Brit, I've limited myself to bare facts, nothing about my personal life, and a repressed desire to let every one know that I speak completely fluent Russian, but am slightly embarrassed to be seen as a show off!

Friedrich on the other hand is proud of his doctorate, and his rank within his organisation, but has only included information from his professional life. His personal life (even the fact that he is German) is omitted, because it is not relevant.

Abdul is very proud of his family's success - we can infer that he owns at least two homes, has at least three sons, and is from a wealthy family - we know nothing about how he became (and remains) wealthy.

When you introduce yourself, you talk about the things that are important to you in that context - for the Northern Europeans, this is usually qualifications and experience; for an Arab his family is always the most important.

The answers to these two simple questions "How are you" and "Who are you" give us a huge insight in how to approach the cultures of the people answering - do we need to get straight down to business; should I expect there to be interruptions during the meeting; how should I approach the meeting - facts and figures or generalisations; etc.

Yes, I admit, so far very informal, very simplified - but I will keep my ears open and look forward to hearing any other comments.....

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Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Working Abroad - Learning how....

Many companies contemplating expansion into new markets often fail to achieve the expected results because they were not prepared for the cultural differences and business styles of the potential market. Greater understanding and more informed planning will certainly lead to a much higher probability of achieving business goals.

Cross-cultural effectiveness requires more than common sense, and the pursuit of cross-cultural understanding is an essential tool in helping potential exporters increase their competitive advantage.

In the highly competitive and fast changing business world of today, we need to get it right, and get it right first time. Whether we are presenting our ideas to an audience from another culture or negotiating with them, understanding that culture, and in particular our ability to communicate effectively within that culture, will impact on how we are perceived, and substantially effect our success. Their ideas about what makes a good communicator may be very different from our own, and what is a permissible negotiation tactic in our culture may be unacceptable in another.

Individuals operating in international markets require particular competencies and personal characteristics. Unbridled inquisitiveness, patience, depth of field and self-awareness are some of these characteristics and above all highly effective communication skills. However, this is only the beginning. They need to acquire both the operational tools and practical skills that will help them articulate their thinking and adapt their style and approach to the needs of the markets in which they wish to operate.

Working with different cultures becomes all the more rewarding when we know what we should be looking out for, and when we are able to recognise our own strengths and weaknesses. Working within an international marketplace need not be a daunting task if we recognise the advantages thorough preparation and planning can bring.

Farnham Castle, recognised by many of the world's most successful international companies as the leading provider of intercultural management skills training, provides a complete range of programmes to support companies and individuals to achieve greater business effectiveness.
Full details of training programmes and the conference and meeting facilities available at the historic 12th century castle are available at