Building culturally-diverse social skills: as valuable a benefit of relocation as the professional advancement assignees receive
Social and professional networks are playing an increasingly important role in business and particularly in light of current needs to tap into the opportunities offered by emerging markets. If you’re sending professionals on international assignments, ensuring they can start building their networks immediately they arrive can significantly increase their potential for successful business generation in certain geographical regions.
China is particularly well known for having a business environment characterised far more by social etiquette and network building than performance in the boardroom. The Chinese concept of Guanxi, or ‘face’ is becoming more well known within international business circles. Similarly, most of us will now realise that presenting a pitch in Shanghai in exactly the same tone that we might have used in, say, New York, could be ineffective. Toning down or powering up the language dependent on locality is now an accepted part of doing business internationally and to a large extent, this knowledge has come about more from social interaction than purely commercial engagement.
Whether it is the traditional golf course or long lunches with prospective business partners, your company will often be judged by how well your employees play the social game. For professionals operating on an international scale, the challenges are exacerbated by the fact that the rules of the social games change with each city they do business in. Every geographical region – and sometimes even each individual city within that region! – will have different social nuances to navigate.
It is often assumed that gaining an understanding and appreciation of social rituals is to be taken seriously only when travelling to emerging markets. Yet the significant number of failed assignments every year to more established business regions for what is by far the most common reason – failure to integrate into the host location – is testimony to the fact that this is not the case.
Take London, universally considered as one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet. Renowned for its tolerance, England’s capital city might be considered a place where anything goes. Yet, like any major financial centre, the city has its own social etiquette and behaviours that may not be immediately evident to a newly arrived assignee. From the light-hearted banter at the school gates to buying pints at the pub, speaking about the weather in the supermarket queue to Londoners’ over-reliance on the word ‘sorry!’ – social rituals are as much a part of life in London as in Shanghai, Mumbai or São Paolo.
Appreciating what makes each city tick is the surest way to ‘fit in’ while on international assignment. And when it comes down to it, the old adage about people buying people is still proving accurate. Ensuring your international assignees ‘fit in’ and start building rapport in any new location means guiding them towards social opportunities where those rituals of life that are unique to their city can be learned. Facilitating social interaction and engagement with the host city can offer your relocating professionals with the best opportunity to develop culturally-diverse social skills. In today’s business environment, this can be as valuable a benefit of relocation as the professional advancement assignees receive.