You don’t have to work for a multinational corporation to benefit from a lesson in how to engage with people from other cultures or in other countries. Whether your business deals with companies abroad or you have local colleagues or customers from other cultures, being able to connect is critical. Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The
Q: If someone has never worked in Germany or with someone from that country, what is the most important thing for him or her to understand about the business culture to be successful in Germany, as well as internationally?
A: There is a tremendous shift going on within German business culture — a huge move from traditional German hierarchy to international players with lean structures and very open business cultures. In addition, start-up companies are increasing in Germany. In order to stay competitive, fast-moving companies need to move towards a mindset that is open for change, has an anticipating, pro-active approach towards the market and is driven by entrepreneurship as well as innovation. In order to be successful you need to understand and live according to this. Ideal international employees bring curiosity for what they are doing. They have relentless energy and the courage to push things to the next level, and to drive new thinking — which is linked to seeing the bigger picture, building on trends and assessing opportunities. In addition they are flexible, adaptable to different team setups, and able to engage and win over people. It is as important to be aware of your own characteristics and be able to adjust accordingly as it is to understand what is relevant for other cultures. For instance, Germans tend to be very straight forward whilst being consensus-oriented. Therefore, it is useful to go into a dialogue, listen to your counterpart and include them into the conversation. We are a relationship-based company, which means the ‘how’ is as important as the ‘what.’
Q: What advice would you give someone who is new to working in Japan? Also, in general, what has worked for you when dealing with people in other cultures?
A: I believe the shortcut to success is to listen to various opinions before deciding yes or no. Asserting oneself too bluntly may drive other people away by making them think you do not understand their viewpoint. But you need to make your point known. In a meeting with the Atlanta team when I was still in my 20s, I was overly conscious of not making mistakes and straining myself to speak correctly. Because of this, I rarely spoke up, and, quite naturally, hardly anyone paid any attention to me. Because of this experience, I do my best to state my opinion and ideas clearly. Communicating what I am thinking may also lead to discussion. And I believe that it helps to build bonds of trust with others. When working in Japan, it is important to understand that Japanese people are not inclined to actively speak to other people. However, this reluctance does not mean you are disliked. If you approach people with friendliness and show respect to that person, you will receive respect in return. Ultimately, if you can passionately and respectfully express what you want to do and why, you will be able to create good work relationships.
Q: If someone has never worked in Latin America or with someone from the area, what is the most important thing for them to understand about the current business culture? And what skills have worked for you abroad?
A: Mexico — and really most of Latin America — has experienced significant advancement over the last generation. Positive demographic, economic and social trends have had a substantive impact on our psychology. We are evolving from a ‘traditional / collective / undemanding / accustomed to crisis’ culture toward a ‘modern / more individualistic / empowered / visionary’ nation. In our business community you will find highly intelligent men and women: creative thinkers with a challenging point of view on par with anywhere else in the world. Anyone working here should be keenly aware of the quality of our local professionals. While we are highly collaborative and team-oriented, employees are expected to demonstrate leadership, set direction and mobilize the organization. We are a much more dynamic work culture than we were some years ago, and thus expect all to be very energetic, enthusiastic and focused on people development. You will find that we have a zeal for our work that you should always respect. Also, you should recognize that this passion extends beyond work to our families and our country. Personally, I’ve found that while one has to be aware of the differences in cultures when dealing with others. In business worldwide I have always been successful when I understand the big picture, treat people fairly and get things done.