Finn is an international business leader with 20+ years of global experience in fast-growth technology international sales, sales management & operations, business development, marketing and go to market strategies. Finn holds an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Born to an American father and a Dutch mother and having lived and worked all over the world, we can rightfully say that Finn is one globally seasoned citizen!
We sat down with Finn for a conversation about cross-cultural competence from his perspective, what it means, why it matters and how it can be achieved.
I sure hope to be cross-culturally competent. Being half American and half Dutch, I grew up in Europe first and spent many summers in the US. Spending time and studying in different countries made me aware of the existence of cultural differences and who I was from a cultural perspective.
After graduating from university in the US, I spent some time in Japan. It was a unique, new experience. I was culturally immersed in an intense way, as the only foreigner at a local company and living in a local household. This experience was important for me to become more cross-culturally competent because I experienced it all in such a unique way. Imagine taking Japanese language class in The Netherlands - it’s not the same as going there and learning the language.
"You need to invest in developing cultural sensitivity, be aware of cultural differences and respect them"
You need to invest in developing cultural sensitivity, be aware of cultural differences and respect them. Language is another big factor, especially in Japan where language and culture are so intertwined. Once people see your efforts to learn and understand their culture, you will be able to successfully interact with them and develop better relationships. For example, the proper way to do business in Japan is to first establish a
relationship with the business partner and earn their trust. Most business is concluded in an informal atmosphere. Companies in Japan are also highly hierarchical and rigid, so being aware of cultural and linguistic differences is a must (such as how you address people.) It is all very different compared to how we do business here, especially in The Netherlands where it's all more direct. You go in, do your pitch and close the deal all in one meeting!
It really depends on the country. Singapore and Hong Kong are easier because they have more westernized ways of doing business versus e.g. Korea. If you have little to no experience, choose one country to focus on first and find a local partner. The partner model is very important and common in Asian countries. In Japan the level of distrust is quite high, and startups are considered high risk. Having a local partner by your side improves your standing within the business community, but first you must build trust with them as well. You can leverage your network or the local embassy to help find a partner, this is a great way to get access to many resources. Having the embassy behind you is a strong asset because it’s like a stamp of approval. In Asia it’s all about your standing and reputation which is why it’s not easy for startups to enter this market.
As a global citizen, everyone should have a basic understanding of it. As an international business it is a must to be cross-culturally aware and build up knowledge on the country and markets you operate in. It should also be a mutual relationship where both parties must be culturally sensitive.
For companies who don’t know where to start, I suggest they invest time and effort in learning about the culture, country and their way of doing business. There are many ways to do this: go online, read up on it, use freelancers or cultural coaches. You can get professional advice that specialize in this area. You can go more in depth and learn about business rules and etiquette. It’s a matter of wanting to make an effort.
"Once people see your efforts to learn and understand their culture, you will be able to successfully interact with them and develop better relationships"
For teams to be successful they all have to follow basic rules: understand each other and their cultural backgrounds. Invest time and effort in understanding, learning and respecting the cultural differences between the team. Do that and I believe you will see a happier, more successful and productive multicultural team.
Diversity is always a plus, especially in this day and age. It enriches yourself, your team and company. In terms of soft skills someone who spent time within different cultures and countries is more culturally aware and able to interact better. Having this richness in cultural diversity and knowledge, you are often more curious and creative, and therefore able to provide multiple perspectives and solutions within the organization.
I’d advise everyone to develop some sort of cultural sensitivity and broaden their cultural knowledge. Always be mindful and respectful of our differences. We shouldn’t impose our cultural ways of doing things on someone else. Secondly, participating in diversity training and events is crucial. Lastly, cultural differences should be seen not as an obstacle, but as a huge opportunity for added value.
"Having richness in cultural diversity and knowledge often makes you more curious and creative, and therefore able to provide multiple perspectives and solutions within the organization. "
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