Published November 17, 2008

Understanding Cultural and International Business Mistakes

Congratulations! You have grown your small business to the point where you now either have customers in another country or you are considering outsourcing some of your work and using foreign workers.

You have obviously done a lot of things correctly to get to this point, but now that you will be dealing with other cultures, you will have a lot to learn.

Cultural business mistakes are common, especially to those working in an international market for the first time. Here are some international business mistakes as well as tips to avoid them.

Cultural Differences

One of the first things you'll need to do is become familiar with the culture in which you will be interacting. Then you'll have to make some adjustments to your management style to bring it in line with what is acceptable in that culture.

For example, while it may be somewhat acceptable to raise your voice to a subordinate in the United States, in a country such as China or India - where self-respect is of the utmost importance - it is not.

Yelling at someone here might just get you talked about in the break room, but in other countries it can bring great shame to the one being reprimanded.

Instead, you'll have to learn what methods are acceptable when you need to correct an employee.

Who is Filling the Top Spots?

Just as there is nothing wrong with outsourcing some of your work, bringing Americans to the other country to fill some of the jobs is fine as well.

But if every top job is being filled by an American, then the workers in that country may start to feel insulted.

As much as possible, promote from within the ranks, and do not fill every top spot with someone from your home country.

English Only?

Even if your foreign workers must have a good grasp of English in order to do the job, providing printed materials - such as procedural and training manuals - in English only can be a cultural business mistake.

While the workers may be able to communicate proficiently in English, it will be easier for them to grasp complex ideas if they can see the material in their first language as well as in English.

Legal Issues

Some business owners waste money and time by bringing all of the laws from the United States with them to the foreign country. Not every country has such strict bookkeeping and human resource laws.

While you naturally will want to treat your employees just as fairly as you do in the United States, it's not necessary to follow every mandate in places where it is not required. Instead, make it a priority to learn about the local laws.

You'll naturally need to follow all of those while also incorporating some of the American dictates that will help make the workplace fair and pleasant.

It would be impossible to list every possible cultural or international business mistake that a business could make.

The point of this article is to point out the need to understand the differences and learn enough about the new culture so that you won't make costly or embarrassing errors.