Why is it important that international managers understand the culture of a society?

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International managers need to understand cultures of a wide range of societies in order to function effectively. Cultural knowledge can help with dealing with customers, suppliers, employees, and regulators.

First, every business operates in a regulatory environment and needs to understand how to negotiate local government bureaucracies both via formal...

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International managers need to understand cultures of a wide range of societies in order to function effectively. Cultural knowledge can help with dealing with customers, suppliers, employees, and regulators.

First, every business operates in a regulatory environment and needs to understand how to negotiate local government bureaucracies both via formal procedures and informal networks. Often cultures differ in acceptable business practices, and what might be a standard procedure in one country would be inappropriate or even illegal in others.

Next, without understanding local culture, one might not be able to market effectively. For example, a food chain that sold pork products in a Muslim country would offend local religious beliefs and would be unlikely to do well. The better one understands local culture, the better one can tailor products and marketing to local tastes.

Supply chains are increasingly global. To have an effective supply chain, one needs to be on the same page as one's suppliers on issues such as labor standards, quality standards, payments, and communication.

Finally, employees are increasingly international. Employees from different cultures have different work habits and motivations. The type of directness that might be considered "businesslike" in North America would be rude in Japan. Some cultures emphasize extreme promptness, and others have a more flexible attitude toward time, something one needs to consider in scheduling meetings.

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The better cultural understanding international managers have of the society in which they work (and often live), the better chance they have of achieving their goal -- whether it's increasing sales, raising brand awareness, providing better service, or maintaining market share. A common mistake is to assume norms in the home culture match cultural norms in a different country. Another mistake is to assume that culture remains static. Thus, even if a manager has a good feel initially for the cultural pulse of a society, culture can, and often does, change rapidly. If a company cannot anticipate cultural changes, and market effectively for them, it risks getting surpassed by rivals or becoming irrelevant in that market. Companies work diligently to understand and market to customers in their home cultures; they should be no less diligent in marketing internationally.

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With the increasingly globalized nature of business, it is essential for international managers to have a firm understanding of the cultures of the societies in which they interact. There are subtle, yet crucial differences between cultures that can go unnoticed by those not well trained to notice them. These little differences have sometimes led to unnecessary and avoidable problems in the workplace. Expectations about punctuality, formality, attire, and leadership vary greatly from place to place.

By showing their co-workers that they understand and appreciate their culture, international managers are also indicating that they have respect for the place they work and the people that they work with. This goes a long way to establishing good working relationships. It also indicates that the manager is invested in the community and place and not just there as a stepping-stone to somewhere else.

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As global marketplaces become more common, managers will need to increase their cultural awareness. Cultural knowledge is important for several reasons. A successful business relies heavily on good communication. Some cultures take a direct approach to communication, whereas others use a more nuanced approach. This can be confusing and can result in mistakes and issues in a business if the cultural differences are not recognized. Culture can play a role in how employees address each other in the workplace (casually or using surnames). Miscues in this area could result in conflicts with business partners.

The actual structure of the business can also vary depending on the specific culture. Some cultures propagate competition and hierarchies within their business structure. Other cultures promote a more equal approach within the workplace. Expected work attire, start times and punctuality are all social rules that vary depending on societal culture. In order for managers to function successfully, they must be aware of the cultural landscape.

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It is important for international managers to understand the cultures of the societies in which they work because it will allow them to be better at managing their workers and understanding their business partners.

Different societies have different cultures.  This means their people might have different attitudes towards authority or different customs regarding how those in authority should treat their subordinates.  They might have different attitudes towards explicitly telling others what they think.  These different kinds of attitudes can affect businesses.  If managers do not understand local ideas about relations between subordinates and superiors, they might give offense to their workers.  If they do not understand local attitudes towards things like saying “no” they might think they have agreements with partners when in fact they have none.

In these ways, it is important for managers to understand the cultures in which they work.

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