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Intercultural insights part II

February 16, 2010

I thought it was time for another example of one of the challenges many of my clients face. Especially small to medium sized businesses that are expanding into a new market.

Challenge: Manage an overseas business long-distance or have an expatriate on the ground?

The decision for some businesses may simply be driven by resource constraints.

Other businesses may think that sending expatriate staff is an unnecessary expense.

Cultures – national or professional – which view business as a discrete set of business objectives and tasks that can be accomplished by e-mail and phone, without spending too much time socializing, would definitely argue that having “people on the ground” is an unnecessary expense.

But some cultures have a different, more holistic, perception of business relationships.  Where the focus is on people and relationships rather than on pure business objectives, we can expect more time going into socializing, lunches, playing golf etc.  In these cultures, having someone on the ground can make a real difference.

What’s the value of having expatriate staff on the ground?

Direct feedback from clients:

  • having direct connections to solve problems and misunderstandings
  • being able explain the other side’s perspective to head office
  • building trust and more durable relationships

Overall: it conveys the impression that your company is taking them seriously enough to invest into the assignment of an expatriate.


I encourage clients and organizations facing this challenge to consider some of the following questions:

Consider your own preferences and expectations:

  • How does it make you feel when a business partner doesn’t spend much time socializing with you, or decides to re-locate expatriate staff?  How does this impact on your business decisions with that partner?
  • How might your own perception that a combination of e-mail,  conference calls and regular trips will suffice, be perceived by your business partner?

Tip: Think big, think strategic/long-term, think outside of what’s “normal” for you.

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