Yesterday, I was part of a discussion on standards as it relates to doing business. I find Global Business Leadership totally fascinating.
Now having lived in England, Canada and the United States, and worked with Sweden, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Switzerland & India, I found myself saying:
“What country? What culture? What industry? What? What? What?
I needed more criteria to really embrace the discussion. I usually enjoy these discussions but for some reason, on this occasion, I found myself lost in my thoughts and reflections.
When I first started my professional journey, I was sure I was clear about my sandbox and the standards I needed to abide by. However, as I crossed many borders and gained more knowledge, I realized that so many standards are relative. In fact the more knowledge I gained, the more I realized I had so much more to learn.
Secondly, I have scars as it relates to attaining one global standard for a global organization with over 10 countries sitting around the table! I kid you not. I can also name a few of my colleagues who can compete with me showing you those scars! LOL! They were painful discussions.
As a result, I have decided to write a series of posts on:
“Cross-Cultural Business Global Leadership”.
Is there such a term? Don’t know. What I do know, is that I really would like to have this discussion with you. Especially at this time – when social media is breaking down the walls to increase transparency and yet our interpretation of our messages may be all over the place because of the very diverse cultures that we bring to the “screen”.
This post is a general introduction about conducting business on a global level.
Now the first order of clarification from my perspective is the word “global”. I have been in so many “global organizations” where they use the term global and what it really means is wherever the head office resides ( be it UK, US, Canada, Japan- wherever), the way the business will be conducted in other countries, will be the same as the head office country. So their interpretation of global is that we are doing business IN that country -not WITH that county. Wrong! Gosh, how many blunders have there been because global business leaders think they can just put a template of their home operation into a different country and expect it to work? Countless times! It just does not work like that. Perhaps if the mindset was: We are doing business WITH the country ie WITH the people in that country- the risk of blunders would be minimized. Global should mean doing business within a country that would be seamless as possible to employees and this new customer base. It is being a master international, business chameleon. This is my definition.
When conducting business, individuals often focus on how they think, not how the other party views the situation. This built-in bias is generally detrimental and can be toxic for international transactions and businesses. It can set you up for failure as it can contribute to the possibility of making cultural blunders that have negative impact on business relationships.
Those who fail to recognize cultural differences and concerns will frequently destroy what could have been a successful transaction. More importantly, the global leader, consultant or investor who has made the offence, typically is not even aware of the blunder that spoiled relations in the first place and caused the loss a potentially good opportunity. Sadly these leaders will also have a long learning curve, as many cultures will not share their blunder. Why? Out of respect.
I have witness this so many times. There have been times when I have had to take the global leader aside to share his or her misstep and why staff or other leaders are not motivated by their message delivery (or their presence). Global leaders should not interpret nodding heads as agreement or commitment. In fact it can mean quite the opposite.
In many cultures, relationship building is imperative, let alone critical, before any discussion of business can occur. We in North America are very business task/transaction focused. Others are not ,or I perhaps I should say -do not always put that discussion as the first item on the agenda to developing a business partnership.
My first trip to Argentina was such an education. Wonderful experience. I had to totally rethink my style. Luckily, I did a lot of reading before meeting my counterparts. The first two days in Argentina was all about relationship building and getting know each other. Beautiful country! Here in Canada, the US and my country of birth, England- we get down to business almost immediately. Usually wanting to see numbers as soon as possible and then documenting everything in sight, what’s been said with a whole bunch of assumptions. Sometimes we really need to take a pill and relax a little.
A focus on only net financial benefits, such as a rate of return analysis, may be extremely short sighted especially when dealing with other cultures. Though a return on investment is crucial in most business circumstances, other issues such as family relationships or prestige may be of more importance, at least in the short term. This is especially true in most Asian countries.
In the United States it is generally not an insult or unusual for a long legal document to outline a partnership or transaction. The quality of the partnership is related to the weight of that document- ok I jest; being a little naughty but just a little ;). However, in many Eastern European and Asian countries, it could be considered an insult to have an extremely detailed document, as it could imply that the person presenting it doesn’t trust them.
In the United States, Canada and England, for example, the contract is the document that ultimately defines the transaction. But elsewhere, it can be the starting point of the discussion. Now talk about the need to get aligned!
So What About Those Standards?
So I will finish this post, where I started. Standards are relative and quite frankly should be made to be flexible – which by definition is not a standard. Like the term “unconference”, lets call it “unstandards”. What do you think?
Thank goodness, I had that discussion yesterday! I have been meaning to write about this for ages! It feels good to get it out. Ooopsie!
Cheers- your turn…
Cartoon used with the permission of the Cartoonist; image by Pat McDonald
- To Ensure Successful International Expansion, Join the Global Village (theinternationalexpert.com)
- A New Era for Global Leadership Development – HBR (bjconquest.com)