Interim Executives Break Down Cultural Barriers To Good Business

Although in a globalized economy business practices become increasingly standardized, entering into global business relationships provides unique challenges.

Here’s the definition of one interim executive’s recent employer: The Dutch-owned company with significant U.K. and Belgian investors had U.S. and Canadian leadership and was doing business in Germany.

For global ventures, especially amid mergers and acquisitions, the differences must be minimized. It’s not your culture, it’s not my culture: it’s our culture. To create that new culture, an early focus on communication styles is essential.

Scott Elliott, an interim and consultant who runs a boutique technology consulting firm, said one approach to address potential misunderstanding is running workshops to help create that new culture, addressing issues as obvious yet critical as knowing when yes means yes—not maybe or perhaps.

He noted that acquisitions even within national boundaries can tend to fail, as differences can be significant within company cultures alone.

Michael Schaub, an interim CEO and CFO based in Germany, helped establish a joint venture for a German company doing business in China. Noted lessons from that experience: ten years developing a business relationship might be a long time in Germany, but not so in China. Schaub travelled to China four to six times a year, creating the deep trust that his Chinese counterparts demanded.

That level of understanding is a constant for an interim, who is generally hired amid circumstances of change. “It’s hard to over-communicate, but easy to under-communicate (amid change). You need to control that very carefully,” according to another well-travelled interim. Luckily, today’s technology allows for much easier remote management.

Back to that Dutch multinational doing business in Germany. Which interim is right for the job? A German national? A Dutch national? Someone else? The answer is, “Who can help the company avoid being absorbed in the wrong way?” It’s important to have both the cultural finesse to prosper as well as the ability to deliver the corporate strategy. Look to the interim who is capable of bringing the change needed.

Discussion: How have you brought alignment in a company culture that was clashing? OR Where have you seen a global venture go wrong because of differences in culture? How do you bring alignment in the company?