In the last few days, I had a very good, and interesting, conversation with a colleague about trends and businesses. More specifically, about how several trends are connected to a country’s business ecosystem and culture, while others are more universal. Our conversation also included a topic that, as an Italian working for a German company, was at the same fun and amazing: how a specific country is seen by its neighbors or other countries in general. Plus, how people coming from a business in a specific country are seen by business people in other countries.
So, that is the question: does our personal and professional culture impact how we help businesses (as consultants, coaches, and managers)?
After more than 25 years of international professional experience, my feeling is that we need to be aware of the impact that culture has on the way we behave, we support businesses, and we give suggestions.
During our discussion, my colleague and I were debating if, to say, a German consultant, using the most common German approach (for the sake of demonstrating to you the point, allow me to oversimplify the assumptions, here) – pragmatic, direct to the point, telling things as one sees them – could have been the best solution for a company working in other countries, with different approaches to business, and personal, matters.
My point is that if you simply search on Google, from Germany and in German, which are the current business trends, you will have results that are consistently different from the ones you get if you make your search from France and in French or from Japan and in Japanese, or from Dubai and in Arabic.
A quick check, made at the beginning of June, reinforced my point of view: different countries require different approaches when it comes to business, as different languages and cultures require different attention from the speaker. Even if we live in a world that is every day more connected, even if businesses around the world share their networks, their ideas, and their marketing strategies, both the customers and the employees that work for the companies are, more or less evidently, bound to their culture.
If you work as a consultant for a Japanese business, to make an example, they will find it quite weird for you to address the managers by telling them directly that they are making a mistake or that they must change their strategy, things that a German consultant would find normal to do in many businesses in Germany.
In Japan, you are expected to follow a specific business etiquette about communicating with the managers, the owners, and the board of directors/executives. The same applies to many other Asian countries.
Where Western cultures tend to stress the relevance of rationality, individualism, privacy, and competition, Asian cultures tend to give value to patience, a broader feeling of belonging as well as a deep sense of community and common service, where the team is more important than the single, while respecting those who bring experience and knowledge.
In Italy, and Spain, you are expected to understand, and respect, hierarchies and “politics” inside a business, so presenting your ideas to the people who will help you gain the sympathy of the key people in the business.
Talking to a religious organization is not the same as talking to a betting company when it comes to values, money management, and strategy, so you need to adapt your style, your language, and your solutions according to the specific needs, culture, and values of your customer.
Whether they are the managers, the stakeholders, or the employees, people in a business need to feel that who they really are, what they feel, and what they stand for is being acknowledged, understood, and respected in every step of the consultancy. Every single person in a company has the right, and the need, to feel appreciated for what they do, accepted for who they are, valued for their knowledge, and cared about when it comes to their requests, needs, and aspirations.
I do not need to cite here the overwhelming amount of studies and practical experience that demonstrate that those things create a strong sense of belonging in a team, giving people motivation, commitment, and desire to grow and contribute to the overall success of the company, perceived as an organization the employee or manager belongs to, adhering to the values, the goals, the efforts.
I have spent most of my personal and professional life in multicultural environments and I have become aware that every single person, every single team, and every single company has a culture, values, beliefs, and mindsets that are wonderfully different from my native ones.
Multicultural consulting has many benefits and advantages as offers both you as a consultant or a coach and the business you are serving the opportunity to remove the limiting factors deriving from lack of complete integration, knowledge, and awareness. Only under these conditions, a business can really thrive.
All this to say that, to me, working with a company means understanding its two key assets: its customers and its people.
So, you may say, a consultant should work according to the principle of “when in Rome do as the Romans do”, as Pope Clement XIV firstly said in a letter in 1777?
Well, at least you should be aware of the context, I would say.
Being aware of the difference in body language, communication style, social norms, cultural assets, physical space, roles, assertiveness, and hierarchy (just to cite a few elements) in the different cultural environments you can meet as a consultant or a coach can truly make the difference.
So, getting back to our question, working for a German company, can or should you remain typically “German” in your consulting style even when you work with companies having other cultures, thinking that the customers will appreciate this in your approach?
Or, would it be better to be able to offer to each business, team, or team member a consulting or coaching service tailored to their native culture?
I am convinced that offering a series of services tailored to the needs of the business you are working for and you are helping is essential for the achievement of what the company wants. There are no two equal businesses in this world, yet all the businesses may need some kind of help during their life. Our job, as consultants, and as coaches, is to provide a kind of help that understands the specific culture of a company, and the specific values, vision, and mission the businesses have.
Every individual, and every business, has a definition of its own purpose, a declension of knowledge and skills, a bound with the origin the founders and the customers have. And we, as consultants, must foster these individual needs and must offer services that can understand these differences, making them the strengths of the business.
Of course, if you can speak more than one language, and you are curious about cultures, lifestyles, and traditions, this will naturally help you.
In that way, and in that sense, I, an Italian consultant working for a German company, can provide a business with the help they need, wherever they are based, whatever their culture. As multicultural business development is the language I, and the company I work for, stand for.
“Caminante, no hay puentes, se hacen puentes al andar.”