Although there are many, many differences between American culture and those of the rest of the world, there are a few key disparities that have an impact on our work culture. It is important to increase our awareness of these and other differences as we move toward a more globalized economy in which managers might have to work with people from all over the globe.
Although not a definitive list, here are the things your managers should better familiarize themselves with if your business has global aspirations.
Language skills are an obvious necessity for international success. Even though English is the business language of the world, it can be a great sign of respect to an international employee if their manager at least makes an attempt at learning their language. That is doubly important if that manager is posted on an international assignment.
Spoken and written language is one thing, but incorrect use of non-verbal communication can be offensive, or at least off-putting, in certain cultures. Some cultures believe in a great deal of personal space (Americans among them). Some believe in less. Every culture has a different business dress code. Knowing these cues can go a long way toward cultural competency.
The approach to time
Latin cultures are famous for their observation of a mid-afternoon break, or siesta. Americans can’t imagine such a practice and feel guilty if they even take an hour for lunch. Other cultures are somewhere in the middle. For a manager, this can be an important distinction because they tend to be the ones in charge of scheduling.
Status and success
In America, we believe that you’ve earned respect and success by working hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your twenties, like Mark Zuckerberg, or in your twilight years like Warren Buffett. For most other cultures, experience is the key component in respect, no matter how rich the person is.
Motivating the workforce
This is where a bit of knowledge of history and cultural understanding can come in handy. Some cultures, and some workers, are just happy to have a job to keep a roof over their heads. Others are in search of a deeper meaning for their professional lives and are more concerned with opportunities for growth within an organization, knowing that no matter where they go that they will be able to support themselves. Knowing the difference can help a manager understand how to better incentivize his or her workers.