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The Importance of Understanding Internationalising Your Business’ Culture

Companies spend millions of pounds every year investing in their organisational culture, honing and perfecting it to deliver the strongest performance it can. However, it can be a tough process and the very concept of culture and what it really stands for can be considerable.

It's therefore easy to see why crossing cultural divides - from one business community to another - can throw up complex challenges. Organisations need to be absolutely confident of the differences their cultures represent and, crucially, they need to be agile enough as a workforce to embrace and respond to those differences by taking on new attitudes and behaviours.

Globalisation, mergers and acquisitions are rapidly changing the way businesses operate. It's not just large corporates who are venturing into new economies and cultures, but smaller and innovative businesses who also desire the opportunities and potential value that these new territories offer. Competition has never been so tough.

The golden rules for working across international cultures

Rule 1: One of the biggest pitfalls is making assumptions between one culture and another. Organisations are often so entrenched in their own cultural perspective that it is all too easy to slide back into what feels comfortable and familiar. This is especially seen when the pressure to deliver really starts to mount; the reflex action is to revert to a tried and tested solution that has previously been successful.

However, what has worked well in one culture will not necessarily work in another. The key is to have the right cultural intelligence in the business and build in enough time and resource for leadership and line managers to fully support their people and help them build confidence around specific, new behaviours.

Rule 2: Different languages are perhaps one of the most obvious cultural differences that organisations face but actually it's the difference in business processes that can influence success or failure. The sales process in one culture can, for example, be more influenced by the strength and authenticity of the relationship between the two sales teams than it is by, say, reams of statistics about the performance of the product. Understanding these cultural processes – and not just seeing them as a series of business transactions – is key.

Rule 3: Relationships are at the heart of any successful culture and they take time and commitment to foster. In the rush and pressure to succeed, it’s worth remembering that these relationships are just as important to the eventual outcome as the legislative detail. Behind every failed international venture is often a breakdown of communication and failed relationships. When there is a significant deal or strategic move in play it makes sense to get professional assistance with corporate diplomacy to avoid pitfall and mitigate risk. Leadership must also seize the initiative here and demonstrate an active, authentic interest in making time and effort for these all-important cross-cultural relationships that need to be developed to ensure success.

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