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what I REALLY mean by cultural differences in business

Friday 30 July, 2010

I read with interest an article Do Germans and Americans Understand Each Other in German American Trade, the magazine of the German American Chambers of Commerce which highlighted some of the meaningful cultural differences which make a difference in international business.  One of my pet peeves is that many Americans throw up their hands in disgust & write off deals poorly done or implemented due to cultural differences, as if eating a meal with the wrong fork scuttled the deal.  (I was embarrassed to attend an international accounting seminar where they actually hired an etiquette consultant who trained us on table manners in other countries over lunch.)  Many people lump all differences together as if all are equally important & I disagree.  I think there is relatively little research done, (or possibly just reported on), on cultural differences that are important in conducting business globally.  The main differences that stick out in my mind are that business people from different countries place different values on different decision-making criteria (i.e. Americans value speed & convenience while generally Europeans value quality & stability), & that decision-making processes differ by country.  This article focuses on some of the important variables we should focus on for many more cultures so that global business people are better prepared to do business with business people from other cultures & aren’t surprised when a deal or implementation doesn’t proceed in the way they expected.

disclaimer:  I didn’t intend to write about so many German events & issues in July, but they were the only ones doing much this month.  Also, the only problem with the article is the book is in German, so Americans in all likelihood won’t be have access to the depth of content that is available in the book.

These articles focus on difference between Germans & Americans, but there are differences between Americans & businesspeople from many other countries with which we do business as well.  After living in Germany for 2+ years, 1 of the striking differences to me was that despite all of the similarities in demographics, income, technology, etc., the Germans conduct business fundamentally differently from Americans & the German method is no better or worse than how Americans do it.  I admire & respect the way the Germans conduct business for the most part, but understand the strengths & weaknesses of their approaches.  I have lived all of the differences the author brings up & understand & agree with all of them.  The overarching question is:  “How do you as a businessperson address these differences?”  Again a major cultural difference between Americans & other business people is Americans just jump right in & do it, which is usually their 1st mistake.  I wish I could point to resources to find out these business cultural differences on a country-by-country basis, but like this book, you pretty much have to look for them in each country.  The value in this post, like many 12 step programs, is recognizing, admitting, & committing to do something about the problem.  If you’re interested in differences with German business culture or just a good example of pertinent differences, check out the article.

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