Understanding national cultures and how they can affect business performance


In the business world, national culture is frequently undervalued.  Bottom line and key performance indicators (KPIs) tend to rule and (the less measureable) organisational culture combined with national culture can be ignored.  The differences in nationalities and how they approach business activities is frequently disregarded and many companies tend towards “tokenism” when they claim to be international.  For instance, if they are planning to enter a new territory, they hire a national without paying due regard to the way they will interact within the organisation.

Yet, ironically, the business world is full of interactions between people, groups, functions and nationalities who think, feel and act differently.  Aspects of cultural interaction can make or break the situation.  Daily I hear from Clients who have reached a business stalemate due to issues of culture.

Last week I provided coaching on an issue where an Asian manager has brought all his (working culture from back home) autocratic behaviours to work with an American business colleague who was intimidated to such an extent that it  subsequently caused untold damage in a client situation.

Yesterday, it was a Non Resident Indian (NRI) who was sent on a project to Delhi by his British employer.  Quite often, the Non Resident Indian can have become so westernised that they sit uneasily in both camps.  Indian business culture becomes frustrating and yet because they look local, they are not given the lee way by the workforce that a British colleague may have received.

This morning, slightly closer to home, a client has a situation which, in my view, has cultural overtones.  Her management team hail from 5 different European countries and their beliefs and  behaviours are underpinning some of their expectations.  This is causing needless friction as she has so far refused to engage in a teaming discussion.

It is therefore inevitable when multinational workforces require mutual co-operation to deliver business performance, you will find that mysteriously, deals falter; occasionally initiatives will become grid locked and thriving activities start to fall down.  The worst thing is that you may not get to the root cause easily as inter-cultural working relationships are so often disregarded.

One of the reasons is because differences in thinking and ways of doing things among different nationalities have been ignored.  Understanding the differences in the ways leaders and their followers think, feel and act is an excellent foundation for helping businesses work in harmony between East and West, North and South.

imagesSYVRYW81  Some of the areas to be aware of  when understanding how nationalities work together in one company culture include:

1)  Understanding national measures for the degree of inequality in society

2) The national Power-Distance Index (collectivism vs individualism) – where it fits

3) Listening and communication styles

4) Business attitude to strategy and innovation

5) Approach to gender and diversity issues

6) Understanding of time

7) Virtual communication across time zones

8) Intended versus unintended conflict

9) Attitude to uncertainty

10) Organisational stereotyping


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