11 January 2013

Practical Tips for International Business

What do you need to know about another country?

When you do business with a new company, you check out their website, right? But what do you do if you are doing business in a new country? Most people assume that give or take a few etiquette differences, the business process is the same. Wrong! It’s often entirely different. Even with countries next door to you. So how can you check?

Imagine you are going to live or work abroad or you are dealing with colleagues, clients or suppliers from another country, what do you know about what makes them tick? What do you need to know about their management style or how they communicate?  You don’t just need knowledge.  You need to know how to organise it in business friendly categories.

As you may know, I believe that if you have an adaptable structure of cultural understanding, it will help you focus your thinking on key business features and ensure you refer to the important differences and not just cosmetic ones.

The structure I use to note key features of different business cultures is this one – ECOLE.

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ECOLE is an acronym. Each letter stands for one of the key features you need to consider in preparing to deal with another business culture.

The first is EXPECTATIONS – what do people expect of the business relationship? What are the key qualities they look for? In Britain, for example, businesspeople tend to look for a professional attitude to the relationship and a degree of transparency in explaining business procedures. They like to adopt a friendly but detached attitude to the people they deal with.

Individuals, of course, may differ but as a general rule, this is what the British expect of each other.

The second is COMMUNICATION. It is important to know how people communicate. Do they like a formal or informal style of greeting? Do they prefer close communication by telephone and personal visits where possible or do they prefer distant communication by email? The British tend to vary but the standard communication style is distant, using email and only visiting on first contact or crisis and only phoning when necessary, usually after several emails have received no reply.

The third is ORGANISATION. How do people organise their business day and their business week? When do they go on holiday? More importantly, how do they organise their work? Do they work in teams or individually? Do they organise their work by project or by day-to-day routine. Most important of all, how do they prioritise their work? This may affect deadlines.

The fourth area is LEADERSHIP. How are decisions made and communicated? What is the dominant management style? Are decisions taken at top level or delegated by level of responsibility and budget? In Britain, delegation is the norm. Managers at each level know what they have the authority to decide and within what budget and will know what they have to escalate to a  higher level of management.  Leadership also covers targets and appraisals. In Britain where most firms have Management By Objectives, all managers tend to have organisational or financial targets, or both, and appraise their progress with their senior manager once or twice a year.

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A major area of leadership is the role of women in management. Are women equal in pay grade and responsibility to men (they should be) and how are female managers considered in the workplace? There is still, even in British companies, a lot of debate about the ‘glass ceiling’, which can make it difficult for women managers to accede to higher levels of management.

The last area to consider is ETIQUETTE. In my experience this breaks down into four areas, greeting and leave-taking rituals, gift-giving, hospitality both at home and in business entertaining and finally what you talk about – do and taboo topics of conversation.

If you can review your knowledge of the business cultures you deal with and break what you learn into the five ECOLE categories, you will have a ready-reference file that will benefit you and your colleagues when they need to research new markets.

To find out more about SIMON & SIMON’s range of cultural training courses, and how these could benefit your organisation click here – or call us now, on 020 7821 0999

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