No welcome for the competition

Totnes is a tourist-led town in the holiday enclave that is Devon. And the locals are up in arms about a national coffee chain opening there. Over three-quarters of the local population have signed a petition urging the town council not to allow Costa Coffee to open there. Of course it’s not just Costa, the objections would have been around any of the other national chains like Starbucks. Objectors claim that Totnes is a thriving independent town that embraces individuality. With over 40 independent coffee shops and even an independent Coffee Festival it does not want to risk turning into a clone town.

Unfortunately for many of the Totnes residents the town planning process lies elsewhere and Costa have been given planning permission to open. The local MP has supported the petition and even suggested a boycott. Criticism has also been aimed at the landlords who residents feel are outsiders and just going for the largest rent available – So when is competition not acceptable?

As one of the established coffee businesses states the problem is while they feel they offer a better experience and coffee, the big brands are risk-free, and for many tourists the option of choosing a well-known brand is dominant over trying a new unknown experience. So have Totnes residents got a genuine concern or are they just trying to stifle the competition – now given planning permission, and opening soon, the market will probably decide for itself.

Know Your Culture

In the 1980s, Geert Hofstede surveyed thousands of employees in over 40 countries, and determined that national culture explains over 50% of the differences in the behavior and attitudes of employees. Moreover, Hofstede proposed four value-oriented dimensions that differentiate national cultures: (1) power distance, (2) individualism, (3) uncertainty avoidance, and (4) masculinity. Each of these values can be considered as continuous variables; a culture can fall anywhere between the two descriptive poles of one of these variables.

When fostering working relationships with people from an unfamiliar culture, it is important that you do a bit of research before you begin your interaction with them. Many times your first impression is of critical importance and sets the stage for the relationship, so is beneficial to be as prepared as possible.

Generally, there are a few “rules of thumb” that can be implemented when working with partners from different cultures.

  1. Set a standard of formality
  • Make sure that you are initially somewhat more formal than usual when working with your new colleagues. It is very easy to offend by being too candid and informal at first.
  1. Expect the relationship to take time to build.
  • Don’t expect to be trusted immediately, as people from several countries outside the US take more time to build bonds of trust. It takes even longer in a distributed environment where face-to-face conversation is not always a possibility at some point early on in the relationship. Just remember…“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
  1. Minimize misunderstandings by avoiding slang words and idioms.
  • This is sometimes difficult to do at first because these language adaptations have become such a part of our daily lives and rhetoric. Saying a product is ‘Cool’ doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to us as it does to a non-US native.
  1. Have the same definitions of industry specific words.
  • If there is a word or phrase that is specific to your industry, make sure that everybody is in agreement about the definition and how the word is used.
  1. Speak fairly slowly and make sure to articulate.
  • If you have an accent, try to minimize it as much as possible. Yes, this is not the easiest thing to do but can be done if you focus on it. For example, I moved to Texas from Minnesota and was an Air Traffic Controller. I learned quickly to hide my Minnesota accent so the pilots could actually understand what I was saying.
  1. Don’t raise your voice if you are not understood.
  • Yelling doesn’t help them understand what you are to saying. Try rephrasing what you said using different words, as s/he may not be familiar with one of the words you chose initially. Simplicity is key, so do your best to keep your words as simple as possible.

As I previously mentioned, it is important make a habit of researching the culture you are interacting with before meeting, to minimize misunderstanding and increase productivity. For example, you could be speaking with someone in China and when they say “Yes”, you think that they are agreeing with you, when in fact they are acknowledging that they heard what you said and may in fact not necessarily agree. When working with someone in India and they say that they understand your instructions, you need to make sure to ask them how they plan on executing on what you just told them. At first, they may not be upfront about any misunderstandings or questions they may have, because they could feel at risk of appearing insubordinate or incompetent. When asking them to outline their approach, you will force these questions to the surface so you are able clarify. You may also have a Ukrainian tell you that your idea is wrong and it won’t work. But remember, they aren’t being offensive in their view, just giving you their opinion of the situation. This is a prime example of something that could quite easily come across as rude to someone here in the US, if one didn’t know better

Unions – Bad for Business?

I have never been a fan of unions, I think they are counterproductive to a business being successful; don’t get me wrong, unions had a purpose in the past, but not so much today.  In the past, unions were created to protect the workers, but that is not really a necessity today because today every state has a Labor Division and the U.S. Congress passes laws that protect workers and their rights, Unions are no longer there to protect the workers just to decrease the amount of workers and increase the amount that is paid to those working.  As someone who has ran his own company for many years, here is my thought; if I hire you to do a job at $12 an hour and you agree to this prior to taking the job, I should not have my business hijacked because you decide to go on strike a few months from now because you want to make $18 an hour.  You agreed to $12 if you didn’t want that, than you shouldn’t have taken the job, if your situation has changed and you are not happy or able to survive on that amount, than find another job.  While most companies will give promotions and pay raises for those doing good work, they are not required to do so, they only have to pay what they agreed to.   They are not required to raise your salary, or your vacation days, or the benefits that you get; only what they agreed to when they hired you.  If you are not happy; quit, find another job, start your own company, whatever works. Continue reading

Being in business means being at war

You’ve probably heard the expression, “It’s a dog eat dog world”, and when it comes to business I believe that this most definitely applies.  If you are in business you know it’s hard, you have to constantly be watching the competition to see what they are doing, and how what they are doing is effecting your business.   To run a successful company you have to have the heart of a warrior, you have to out think and out maneuver the competition at every turn in order to stay ahead.  Being in business is being at war, the competition is the enemy and the company that attracts the most customers, and the company that is constantly taking the competitions customers away is the one that is winning the war. Continue reading

Culture and IT Outsourcing

The concept of cultural difference is a critical success factor when outsourcing IT services.  Truth be told, there are instances where certain cultural differences are too much to overcome, and outsourcing is not the best solution.  A prime example of this is contacting a support line when trying to get assistance for a purchased software or hardware product. With this, the variety and (hopefully small) volume of individuals that call into your support line can’t be underestimated, or worse, grouped together. For example, you might be catering to a senior citizen who is a first time PC user and has rarely spoken to anyone outside his/her own small community. On the other hand, you could be talking to an experienced professional who regularly communicates with others on an international level.  Because of this wide spectrum of potential customers, there is an expectation that when calling customer support, you will be dealing with a customer support representative that knows not only what they are doing, but how to help both quickly and efficiently.  Everyone needs access to quality support, even if it is someone who has never talked to anyone outside her/her own country.   Continue reading