Every country has its own way of doing business!

By Govert van Sandwijk · December 5, 2018 · Posted in: Time to Grow

It’s all about the energy!

A huge part of doing business is having the right energy. It’s intangible, but it’s there, and each business has its own energy. Often, however, it’s only when we do intercultural business that we realise our energy isn’t necessarily the same as the energy flowing around in other countries’ businesses.

Different energies

There are vast differences in the energies with which business is conducted across continents and countries. Europeans are often surprised to find that they are nowhere near as energetic as they think they are! Interestingly, European energy levels are even quite low in comparison those found in other countries worldwide. European countries may have a reputation for being wealthy, but in many cases, the fun has disappeared from corporate life. As an example, a lot of EU businesses have been focused on loss-prevention since the 2008 financial crisis. This can be seen in the increasing focus on new regulations in the face of disruption, a trend that takes the focus away from innovation to create new value.

It’s time to open ourselves up to different business models. And we could start by learning from other cultures’ ‘energies’. If we consider how foreign businessmen and women reach agreements, for a start, this generally differs greatly from European practice. In fact, decision-making processes in Europe are almost entirely unique from other countries. It’s not uncommon for Europeans to mistakenly assume that foreign business partners take an approach that’s ‘too playful’, when those involved are, in reality, taking things very seriously.

At Time to Grow Global, our work has taken us to over 40 countries worldwide, where we’ve noticed that global business involves combining serious work with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and playfulness. Compared to our international counterparts, we Europeans have ample opportunity to put more personal energy into doing business.

Should we abandon professional distance?

Collaboration is invaluable if we want to start thinking and growing globally. In short, it’s less about ‘me’, and more about ‘us’.

Having worked with scores of truly international businesses, we at Time to Grow Global have observed that a lot of the noticeable difference in energies boils down to how people view their professional and personal lives. Outside of our European bubble, successful entrepreneurs often do everything they can to enjoy their business successes alongside their peers. In what we used to term ‘developing economies’, entrepreneurs take care of people around them, as well as just themselves, and this care can take different forms, such as job offers and an increase in general education levels. Within Europe, however, the connections between professional and personal environments are almost entirely severed compared to the rest of the world, where there are still many entrepreneurs who give their 100% to both.

Non-European entrepreneurs can sometimes seem ‘touched’ on a personal level because they function as managers. This type of involvement, which we view as a part of what we call ‘professional closeness’ is rare in Europe. Here, it’s more about professional distance, despite the fact that we could gain a lot from leveraging the professional closeness concept. A good example of professional distance in the West is the way resignations are frequently handled: with zero signs of personal feelings about the subject.

This is worth reflecting on because these feelings are actually incredibly important when engaging in leadership. We often tend to evaluate our employees only formally, and it means that our companies can, at times, almost seem dehumanised. While everything on the outside everything looks smooth and functions like a well-oiled machine, the people on the inside aren’t receiving enough attention.

Let’s focus on what unites us, instead of what separates us

Of course, cultural differences exist. It’s only natural that some things are handled differently in countries across the world. What’s important to remember is that at the same time, there are as many similarities as there are differences.

As an example, Europeans sometimes instinctively adopt an ‘individual-focused’ mindset that can come across as quite overwhelming. If you realise your approach might be a bit too much for a foreign business partner, you might want to think about stepping back and giving them some space to express themselves. At other times, it may also mean that you need to try being a bit more modest than what comes naturally to you as an individual and businessman. This way, you make sure that you don’t appear too threatening because of your directness. It’s why it is sometimes important to wait and see how some things come across to someone.

Don’t make an issue of it

In other countries and cultures, things work differently. It’s simply the way things are and doesn’t necessarily mean problems will inevitably arise. The trick is to view these differences not as problems, but as opportunities, and adapt your own behaviour accordingly. For example, you can try connecting with the person behind the businessman. You’ll probably notice that the things which initially seemed to separate you start to fall away naturally.

The important thing is to work without prejudice from the beginning. Someone starting a business project with preconceived notions will most likely not be able to succeed. However, those who start with a positive attitude towards any differences will likely discover that business successes are very real possibilities. Perhaps they’ve even been made more possible because of this diversity.

Diversity and success

Even when a group of business people don’t speak the same language, it’s possible to reach an agreement. Even when there’s no bridge language to use, proper feedback about each other’s culture and simultaneous translations are very often enough to achieve success. The most important condition for success is that both parties accept each others’ different cultures for what they are and focus on the heart of the matter at hand: the mutual desire to create something successful!

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Govert is Time To Grow Global’s Managing Partner, specializing in Strategy Facilitation, Leadership development and Organisational performance. Reach him on our Time To Grow Global LinkedIn.

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