Going Global – A Culture Shock

Your company is going global, now what?

There are several scenarios to consider. Your company could be buying a foreign company, your company could be buying a company with branches in various countries or your company could be bought by any of  these. Another option would be that your company starts to sell to other countries and even wants to found a place of business beyond your geographical borders. There is debate about what  a “global” company is. You could argue that Shell, with Headquarters in two countries goes that way, but they still have strong ties to the UK and the Netherlands. A truly global company would be a company where no one culture dictates the policies and the ownership is truly distributed over the world. Consider this; no matter how close countries can be in miles, their cultural differences may be light-years apart.

I used to get my hair cut in a barbershop in Sedrun Switzerland. While making small talk with the barber he mentioned his displeasure about one of the girls from the village marrying a guy from “the other side”. He meant the other side of the bridge that connects Surrein with Camischolas. The bridge spans maybe half a mile, I never checked but you walk over it in a few minutes. After some more conversation about the differences between the barber’s side and “the other side” it became clear that the two parts of the villages had been separate for ages and only around 1920 got this fast connection. Local dialects differed and, according to my source the barber, so did the mentality.

In Europe Belgium still has a Language Border crossing the country that separates the Wallons from the Flemish people. There are enough examples in the world to underline the point still many companies work from the assumption that their policies, strategies, marketing and other approaches will work well in any culture. If you don’t look further than youngsters wearing jeans, eating McDonalds and working on MacBooks while talking on Iphones, you may get lured into thinking that cultures are similar. Learn much more about cultures and their differences and how to overcome it HERE in a book about understanding cross cultural differences. To deal with the internationalization of your company and to prepare for cultural differences the saying goes: “Think global but act Local”. You can have a vision and strategy about growing the company over many countries but you will have to ensure your strategy is supported by flawless execution in the countries where you will do business. Developing the execution at headquarters and then floating it for comments to adjust it later is a waste of effort. Get local experts involved at the start of your development. To be effective in working in a cross cultural environment, you will need to:

  • Understand your own culture, certainly where it deals with management tasks and preferences
  • Understand the other culture(s) you will have to deal with in a similar fashion
  • Adjust your management style to ensure you can work most effectively in the mix of cultures that results from the globalization

You do not have to go this alone, there are experienced consultants and resources available and these may be a great investment for your business. Think about some of the well known disaster mergers like the one between Rover and BMW or Daimler Benz and Chrysler.

My work got a lot easier after following the course: “Doing business with the French” It is all a matter of realizing that the cultural factor is real and that you have to pay attention to it and not underestimate it. Next follow the three steps above and explore your options.

Even if your company does not go global but decides to merge or buy another company, culture will be a major factor but that is a topic for a future post.

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