Want to Work and Live Abroad? Here are some things to be aware ofGlobal mobility is on the rise. Although the type of international assignments may be moving in a different direction from that of the past, the numbers are steadily increasing. And that means people moving abroad for work — as well as those who work from home on a global team — need to prepare for and be aware of the very real cultural differences they will encounter in business.
14 Experts On Living and Working in a Foreign Country
The New International SceneBill Graebel, CEO of Graebel Companies, spoke with relocation specialist Fiona Murchie for Re:locate Global, and he told her that the type of international assignments employees can expect to see in the future are short-term and rotational. He acknowledges that a certain “strata of employee” will continue to be assigned to long-term and permanent transfers, but that the new reality is a kind of hybrid between extended business travel and short term assignments. Not only will this assist with training younger global talent, many of whom are actively seeking this type of development and experience, but it can be used by companies to keep their existing workforce engaged and help them to continue to attract top, skilled talent in an increasingly competitive global market.
Get a Head Start on the Cultural Challenges in Business
Leadership Style By CountryBefore placing an employee in a foreign country, it is necessary for that person to understand the behaviors and cultural norms that he will be exposed to and be expected to react appropriately to. And while labelling leadership styles by country can lead to generalisations and stereotypes, those general representations do provide a useful overview. You just need to remember that many exceptions obviously apply. Business Insider has a chart of 24 leadership styles by country, from the book When Cultures Collide by British linguist Richard D. Lewis, and there are some helpful insights:
- In France, autocratic and paternalistic management is the norm, with the opinions of lower-rung albeit experienced managers being dismissed.
- In Sweden, leadership is decentralised and democratic, although decisions may take longer.
- In Germany, there is a clear chain of command, but reaching a consensus is still valued.
- In Latin and Arab countries, authority is concentrated at the top. Family relations are very important, and nepotism can be accordingly rampant.
- In the Netherlands, leadership tends to be based on merit, competence, and achievement; however, consensus is mandatory.
Then There’s the Corporate CultureAt Profiles International, Ty Hall looks at how national cultures impact corporate cultures, saying that if you get to know both the “national and individual culture of the businesses you will be dealing with…you’ll be able to effectively manage any organisation in which you work.” Using the theories developed by comparative intercultural researcher Geert Hofstede, Hall compared Japanese and US management philosophies. The well-known bent for American individualism was highlighted, as well as the fact that creating a stable work environment through cooperation between manager and employee is part of US corporate culture. Individualism is not seen as being important in Japan; rather, the focus is on structure, long-term goals and equality between all levels of employees to get the job done right and maximise productivity. Of course, it’s not just leadership styles and approaches to management that can be affected by a country’s culture, traditions and etiquette. When comparing how interpersonal conflicts are handled in the workplace, a study published in the International Journal of Conflict Management found that “Arab Middle Eastern executives use more of an integrating and avoiding style in handling interpersonal conflict while U.S. executives use more of an obliging, dominating, and compromising style.”
Country Guides and ExamplesThere are guides at the international translation site Kwintessential that provide great overviews on dozens of countries, including their business practices, cultures and expectations.
- In the UAE, for instance, bureaucracy slows the decision-making process, so even simple tasks may take several visits. And even once those decisions are made, they are easily overturned. Another note is that you should repeat your main points in any business negotiation, as you will be deemed to be telling the truth.
- Belgians are also bureaucratic. They are also prudent people, and may take quite some time to discuss issues, examining all sides, before coming to a reasoned decision. What’s interesting here is that “Belgians prefer subtlety to directness, believing that subtlety is a reflection of intelligence…although…if a response is too direct it may be seen as simplistic.”
- Excessive paperwork isn’t mentioned in the guide when it comes to doing business in Sweden. Perhaps that’s because the Swedes tend to be moderate and direct in their approach to everything in life, although they are still extremely detail-focused. Flashy dress is discouraged, punctuality essential and small talk at business meetings rare.
- Management styles valued in the Netherlands may be perceived as weak in Romania, where authoritative leadership prevails.
- Calling subordinates by their first names is seen as a gesture of friendliness in the United States, but considered rude or impolite in France or Germany.
- Punctuality by someone from the United States may seem “pushy” for someone from Latin countries.
- Conversely, the indifferent response to time by a Latin person can be wrongly interpreted as being lazy or unresponsive.