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by Richard Pooley

When cultures collide


Developing an awareness of cross-cultural factors in international business and handling them properly is es:c;:entialf you want your global i business activities to be effective.

he client rang me out of the blue. Could I fly to Munich and help solve a crisis11 agreed, but after hearing a brief account of what had happened, I wasn't optimistic ) COL,ld provide a 'olution. Eighteen months earlier two fJmous intcrn"t,onJI companies. one Japanese, the other German. had signt:d a joint venture agreement to develop, produce and launch a prod~J(t that had the potential to capture a new market. The joint venture would combine the

marketing skills of one co:npany with the technology and d~ign skUls of the other (my client). To the management of both it must hal/e seemed the perfect busin"ss marria!}", Within '''''i'k, of the deal being signed. a group of Japanese design engineers was sent to Bal/ana to work alongside a German team of similar size and expertise. The energy and enthusiasm surrounding the deal was infectious. But, within a few days of their

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arrival; the Japanese engineers were In a state of shock. They fOlJnd their German collabvrators to be rude, inconsiderate and lazy. The Germans Interrupted during meetin<Js and presentation,. and showed no Inte' est in r...,,,ching consellsus through thl' IIumerous 'p'(- meNln.( meNmgs th,,' are an inteyral pan of Jap"nese u,,"",ess ~ultu,,' The Japanese were un~omfortilble with the German WdY of aryuill'oJ everythinq out in front of eve')'cne 1o, the Jap" ,,'S(-, th" pOI,.nt'31 for loss of face -,.)S just too bHJ. The.,. also disliked "...hat they saw as ttl(' Germ~ns' willmgness to gu harTH', "ven when tasks were unflnoshed A< for th.. ejermans, equally unhappy the.,. were with the Japanese,

answer is that the two organisations should have been aware of the dangers thllt clln arise when or individuals, from different cultures together are suddenly brought in the workplace. tea.ms,

decisions, solve problems. manage staff and communicate proposals. Yet. people from different cultt;,es curry out all these procedures differently in diverse ways. The trouble is, each culture assumes their'wdY is the 'normal' one. Unexplained deviations from thesl.' norms are perceived as, well. deviant and even devious. People start to thInk: can we trust people from other countries who do things in this sir ange '''ay7 In the case 01 the German and Japanese companies, neither organisation b;)thered to gi':e their people any understanding of the cultural attill-des and behaviour cf the dlnN side. No attempt was :r1dd" to get th: r.ew team tu discuss their dIfferences.. and similaroties. For eXi'mrle, both the )"panese anJ Germans expect punctu..l.ty .Jnd clear, detailed olg~ndo1s. The ~eam pad no chance to establo~h ~he best way to work to\;etf)el.

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"We are all influenced by the culture from which we originate."


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Unfortunately, it is still rare fo, senior exeult,.es to take cros~cultt;ral dille, enees ~eroously wh..n making decisiom on mergers, aC4uisitiom, joint ventures i'nd licensing agreement> in the international arena. It cI':)l-sn't h"lp that institutional shareholders and analysts rarely regard cross-cultu,al rli~ferences as sj!Jnific~nt, eil"er Ve~ there is pl~nty of evidence tt'at cultural differences are a major reason why so many of cross-bvrde, joint ventures fail. It is rare for orgdnisations to bother with the nitty-gritty detaols of how the people lower down the hierarchy will run meetings. make

flIdny of ,V;10111 seemed unable tv sp,'ak English, the supposed cammon 1;.1I\9uage of !'le tedl.,. The (,eIOl.1'l\ lon'pl<,i"'>d I'ldt ev"n tho" who .0Clld sp!"dk 'drch.t.sti,t.. their OponlOns dhilly and fr.mkl{. By the time I was c;,lied in, the two sides were haodly speaking to e:Jch ottH.,. They ..xpres,,(od opiniom that can only be ces",bed as racist. Commun;catll,n had broken down comiJletely. The. team was dlsb'lnd"d.

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Wf"re all the same. aren't we? So what had gone wrong? The

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What's the iolution? Different types of cross-border deals require a vallety of solutions. The lOmpany for which I work, C/lnning, has been helping organisations fine and deliver the right mix of solutions to cross..cultural IHues since 1965. Sometimes the <lnsw(:(can lie In providing a combination of intensive language af1d crosswllur,,1 tr..ining for key person"e!. Or v..e may join in tl,e kick-off met'ting for a new OIult!nation<J1 t{'am and help team members learn about the cross-cultural differences and similarities of their new colleagues. This work offers team r",embers use1ul insights into how they can best work together. a process that can be lurthet facilitated by other assistance we offer. We may run i: series of generic cross-cultural courses to try and make staff rcallse that 'the way we do things around here' is not necesssrll, the w,.y that Klaus or Fran~ois do things there.
Renault dedded very early on in

its alliance with Nissdn to invert massively in cross-cultural training, team hllildin,:, anrl consl/ltilncy fC'r managers at all levels of the company, They wanted to be sure that their mostly French staff had a good understanding of the cultural norms and expectations of their Japanese partners. Over the past four years, Canning has trained more than 1550 Renault employees

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on over 140 courses about Japanese business cultur~. And since 2002, Canning's office in Tokyo has delivered a mirror course on French culture to more than 400 Nissa!'! employees. Unlike the disa~trous German-Japanese case chronl:led above, the Renault-Nlssan alliame has been successful.

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What kind of tralr./ng really Vltorks7 You can only handle di~ferences properly if you understand that you yourself are far from b(.;n~ d neutral observer, but arc starting with many ingrained prejudices and preconcepliom of your own. The fact that you start with these is nothing to be ashamed of. We are thre~folu ma~ner. which we refer to as Facts, Attitudes, Behltvlour. This consists o')fthe facts (eg the ,,~ogldrhicoll, uern0!}raphic, historica!, religious. education/II, economic fartors) that have created the attitudes which shape the behaviour of the people from the pdrticular culture you are dealing with. Particular att~ntion should be paid to thinking about the attitudes which you and others are likely to take about the followlny: . Time. How important is punctuality and sticking to deadlines? . Truth. What is their attI"Lude towards honesty. r1gM and wrong1 . F\elationships. One example would be how do they regard people who arp ,,'npr or senior T<' them? . The human condition. What is their attitude to risk and do they believe they have free choke? . Communication. Do they like to be frank and direct? Everyone, even from the same

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which \'Ie originate. At Canr.ing, we believe there are four key stages necessary for people to develop cross-cultural awareness. First~y,you need to know yourself. You must Identify and be aware ot what .:onstltute5 'normal' behaviour for you. What arp. your values? How do you see the world? What kind at behavlours and preconceptions in social and business settings do you regard as the norm? Of course. what you regard as the norm is not really an objective norm, but only your take on tt But Y;JUneed ~o undef!,tand this before you can move on to the next stage. Next, you need to understand the factors that halle determined what your counterparts in different countries regard as the norm. At Canning we like to analyse this in a

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especially :\eed to be aware of any negative perceptions they might have. The fOl<rthstep is to learn to --adapt. whilst remaining true to your own values. But you can, and frequently should, mal..e a conscious effort, in a non-patronislng fashion, to alter your communi{atlon style if you I!rCto work effectively with people from other wltures. In particular, think. at.out how you use . English. The box contains some tips for how you can modify your use of English into what we at Lanning call 'OHshore English', i: slmplitied English that.h is helpful to adopt whc:n doing business with 11011,.atlv: speakers.
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and attitudes likely to be infiuendng peop:e flOm the co~nl' y 'n question. tnI.' third step of handling cross. cultural diHerences Is to know how others see you. It is essential you develop an awareness of how people from oiher cultures perc\:lve you and YOUI own culture. You

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