Recently I was at a dinner meeting where global business dealings was being discussed. After about an hour of discussion about the ins and outs of doing business abroad and the very serious topic of what happens when the deal is dead before you even meet your counterpart came up. Several in this esteemed body one after the other gave horror stories of sending out what they thought were their best and brightest stars carrying their MBA’s in hand and years of experience into the global marketplace only to be turned around at the door (literally) and handed their hat and politely exited out of the building. Not one word had been spoken or hand shook. What happened?
Without exception before the young executive was back at the hotel, a phone call was placed to the US with quiet indignation wondering why the US business could possibly send this low of a person to do such an important first introduction and interface with our global important company? What had this representative done? Were his clothes wrinkled, he didn’t brush his teeth or perhaps he hadn’t had a chance to shower?! What many of us know who have been in the Military or if you have ever been a MK (that’s code for Military Kid) you would realize this person needed a very long detailed lesson in "Culture".
Global Business Etiquette is in my opinion the highest priority in the global market right up there with why you want to do business globally and the product you are trying to get into the global market place. If a business does not know what to do or how to conduct business outside of the US you and your business are doomed to fail.
When I was young and the child of a military officer and we were assigned a new duty station, one of "my jobs" as the child was to get basically a
"crash course" in how to not offend the local population in the country that we would be living in, going to school in and basically interfacing with on a daily basis. There were very harsh real consequences for not following these cultural norms for both me as a child, my father as a military officer and the US as a visitor by invitation to the host country.
We here in the US seem to have a posture that we can just hop on any plane and fly to any place on earth get off and go about our way of doing things without any regard to where we are. That includes, eating while walking in public, which is a huge offense in several countries, chewing gum in public, being the bull in the china shop and so on. This is quint essentially being the arrogant ugly American that is so distasteful literally everywhere on this planet. These countries that have now "grown up" and have a posture for what is acceptable behaviour and what is not acceptable behavior are now voicing these rules by turning the US Business person away moments after they come through the door when they have not done their homework.
To get back to a point of being able to even get your call answered or letter opened by the country you want to do business with after one of these faux pas can take years and lots of gravelling and lots of eating of humble pie. By the way, we as Americans do not do this well. It is not in our "skill-set".
The bottomline here is that as a professional business in the US, you absolutely MUST, train everyone in your organization how to behave and to know what the dos and dont’s are in every single country that your business interfaces with. Even if a technician goes to a trade show convention to set up and break down he represents YOU and reflects on you in that bar where he is interacting with the locals. The reverse is also true, when a representative comes to the US it is very easy to offend them if even one of those employees that interfaces with them does something which is seen as offensive, the deal is dead. This is HUGE! If you do not have a plan or a "university" set up on these topics of Global Business Etiquette and you are not putting all of your employees through it, you are headed for disappointment in the global marketplace.
And by the way….the same is very true in the reverse. If you are a company overseas who is sending one of your employees into the US to work, they better have a lesson in how to behave. More on that revelation on a later blog!