Culture exists in every society. It is the specific learned norms based on attitudes, values and beliefs. Culture is often based on long standing traditions that have been passed from elders to the younger generation. It can be evolved through societal and religious influences. Changing culture, though difficult, can be done through choice or imposition. When culture are isolated they tend to stabilize and change is slow or ceases. When culture makes contact with other cultures, a type of cultural borrowing takes place and is more prominent when languages are similar or identical. Culture not only influences daily life but also effects business transactions that take place in that community. Because culture can vary from country to country and even area to area doing business in a foreign country can cause complications for even the best of business managers.
The culture of the country a company does business in can and will effect many of the business decisions that the company has to make. Cultures are made up of group affiliations. Ascribed group memberships include those based on gender, family age, caste and ethnic/racial/nation backgrounds, they are determined at birth. Acquired group memberships are not determined at birth and include religion, political affiliation and professional and other associations. These affiliations often reflect the status the individual has in the country’s class system. Therefore manager’s must make themselves aware of the implications certain positions will have and target those job vacancies to the appropriate groups or they must be aware that their products will appeal to only a certain segment of the population of the country and determine who that segment is. Another way that culture has effect on business decisions is the concept of competence. Some countries feel that competence should be highly rewarded while others feel that seniority or some other quality is more important when determining promotions or hiring. Some countries legalize their cultural beliefs through laws regarding hiring and they too must be taken into consideration when making business decisions in a foreign country.
Cultural attitudes towards the importance of work vary from country to country and impact the management styles, product demand and levels of economic development. The reasons why people work and how hard they work changes from area to area. Some work harder than they need to make more money to purchase luxuries that are sought in that culture. Other cultures take a more laid back approach to working. Often as economic gains are achieved attitudes change, workers often do less work when incomes are raised. If workers believe that they will be rewarded when they succeed and is there is uncertainty of success. Some countries value high need achievers, or people who work very hard to achieve material success or career success even if it negatively effects their social/family relationships. Other countries however, place a higher value on the relationships one has with their family and their friends than the success they achieve at work. Some cultures differ as well in their ranking their physiological, security, affiliation, esteem and self actualization needs. They may feel that activities that satisfy their self actualization needs are more important than activities that ensure their security needs are achieved. Businesses must be aware of these factors for many of the decisions they must make in order to be successful in that market.
Different cultures differ in the way they view occupations and the relationships between employer and employee. Many cultures view certain jobs as the “best” jobs, but these jobs deviate from country to country or culture to culture. Some cultures also find it demeaning to work for a boss while others feel that it is important to be part of an organization. Some cultures use autocratic styles of management, while others use consultative. Another area of concern is the degree of uncertainty regarding rules and effects on the company. Some cultures want to know the specific guidelines and rules of the organization and how breaking them could effect the company. They also plan to work for companies for a long time. Other cultures do not have as much loyalty to the company or their rules. Some cultures trust easily while others spend lot’s of money on monitoring other’s actions and making contracts to ensure compliance. Cultures that believe in self determination, rather than fatalism will work hard to achieve their goals. In several countries they have a very collectivist culture and work for the group instead of individual rewards. These variables all impact the success or failure of the company in it’s endeavors in a foreign market and an organization must be very aware of these issues to ensure a smooth transition.
Language, both silent and vocal, reflect the environment of the society. Language in itself is a unifying force. Translating a language into another can be difficult because of varying environmental factors. Words in different cultures also may have different meanings, so a phrase that is socially acceptable in one culture would be unacceptable in it’s translation to another culture. Languages such as English, French and Spanish are widely accepted and often people who speak these languages are not motivated to learn new ones. Silent language is when messages are exchanged through nonverbal cues like colours, appropriate distance between people, time, status cues and body language. When meeting with foreign cultures a business person must be very aware of what is acceptable or not acceptable to certify that they do not insult their prospective partners or customers.
Many countries deviate in the way that the receive and process information. Some cultures require broad information while other’s want more focused relevant information. Many cultures are comfortable with dealing with many tasks while others want to handle one at a time. In numerous countries national norms hold that principal issues should be handled first while other cultures require small issues be cleared up before the main ones. If a company is going to operate successfully in an international capacity they must be attentive of the process of communicating and problem solving.
As Canadian business people one has to understand the differences between our culture and the cultures of foreign markets. Canadians are very self determinate in their approach to business, and pay less attention to the effects of fate. We usually have a scheduled approach to tasks and take one task at a time, rather than multi-task. We are also time and task oriented, a Canadian business man might stay late to work on a task that was supposed to be accomplished by 5 PM while other cultures will leave the office early to have dinner with their family and finish the project tomorrow. Canadians rarely beat around the bush they tend to get straight to the point while other cultures feel that it is more sophisticated to be less blunt. Canadian tend to limit physical closeness to a pat on the back, while other cultures hug and stand very close to each other, even other cultures believe that physical touching in any way is inappropriate. Canadians also recognize and promote individualism. We value the many subcultures that exist in our society and believe in an individual achieving their goals. Other cultures take a more group oriented approach to accomplishing goals and achieving recognition.
An example of a foreign culture that many Canadians do business with is the Japanese culture. The Japanese culture is one that is based on collectivism. People work together to achieve goals that benefit the group as a whole. Their primary motivation for work is the honour and welfare of the collective group. Japanese language is very subtle, they believe that it is very sophisticated to derive the main point from a broad conversation without having to spell it out. Japanese culture require punctuality for business matters but allow tardiness for social engagements. The Japanese also place meanings on every gesture and recognize negative responses through fanning of the right hand in front of the face and sucking air. Japanese culture also regards individual space as something that should be maintained at all times and that hand shakes should be weak with a nod of the head and downcast eyes. The Japanese culture views gift giving as extremely important and requires business gifts to be exchanged on Jan.1 and July 15 (year-end and mid year). To the Japanese image is everything so gifts with well known logos are important. Gifts should not be given in even numbers and never give four of anything. Wrapping should be done in Japan by a wrapping service as many colours and decorations have significant meanings for example, white means death and bows are not used. The Japanese also believe in lavish entertainment and reciprocation. They place high value on seating and will seat people according to their rank. The Japanese begin business negotiations very formally but follow their dinners with several trips to the bar, each decreasing in formality. The Japanese culture is very different from Canadian culture and is an example of how one culture must be aware of the connotations of another culture when doing business with them.