As you begin to set up the American subsidiary for your company, there are many important aspects of the process to consider. Beyond simply having a solid business plan, securing visas for your employees, getting set up with a physical location and warehouse (if necessary), learning the ins and outs of the U.S. market, and ensuring that your products and materials are developed for American English language and measurements, it is important to remember one key factor that will have an immediate impact on how your first year rolls out: the cultural differences between Americans and other cultures.
Live to Work or Work to Live?
It is no secret that Americans tend to work a lot. It is so ingrained in the culture that it doesn’t seem odd until we look more closely at the business lives of our foreign colleagues. It isn’t uncommon for Americans to work upwards of 45 hours per week, and to even take work home with them. While such a practice is not as common in Europe, employers who are moving their business to the U.S. might benefit from the ways Americans embrace hard work.
For example, while 20 vacation days are guaranteed in the EU (with some countries offering even more), there is no federal requirement for any vacation days in the U.S. That isn’t to say that companies don’t offer vacations. Most do. But since there’s no minimum requirement, many Americans are accustomed to getting only one or two weeks of paid vacation (if at all.) If you want to attract top talent who aren’t afraid to work hard, you could consider a more generous vacation package.
Some might say that Americans take political correctness to an extreme. Nonetheless, it is expected that business conversations are more sensitive in an effort to avoid unnecessary conflicts and to take into consideration how they might affect others. Religious beliefs, remarks about ethnicity, women, sexual preference or identity, and politics are generally not discussed except among friends or close acquaintances. Europeans might be more accustomed to speaking more freely, and to debating over politics in a friendly manner. It is best to avoid such practices in U.S. business.
Some foreigners doing business in the U.S. might be surprised to find that many Americans smile a lot. People on this side of the pond smile often to attract clients and establish relationships, whereas those in other cultures tend to have neutral faces when conducting business. Furthermore, Americans use first names in business. Foreigners who are used to showing respect by using last names can find this fact jarring. In the U.S., referring to one’s boss by their first name is common, unlike in Europe or Japan where referring to the boss by their first name may not even be considered.
The tendency for Americans to communicate more directly might also be jarring for an unsuspecting foreigner. With the intention of getting a point across as efficiently as possible, many Americans give straightforward answers and ask direct questions, (and expect the same from those with whom they’re doing business.) For many Eastern cultures (and even for some in Europe), there is more of a focus on maintaining harmony and avoiding tension or conflict, so communication might be more indirect.
[Be sure to read Part 2 of this post in the inSites section]