Navigating business relationships, particularly cross-cultural ones, can feel like moving through a minefield, sidestepping explosives that could instantly derail any progress. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
John Branch, professor of marketing and international business at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and faculty for the school’s Cross-Cultural Business course, along with Amy Gillett, vice president of education at the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan and co-creator of the Business & Culture virtual exchange, advise both professionals and business students on increasing their cultural competency. On Nov. 16, they will host a candid and interactive session around maneuvering these cross-cultural relationships.
While increased globalization is deepening and widening business connections, countries continue to vary widely on norms and acceptable practices. For instance, in some cultures, jumping directly into a business conversation without first getting to know a potential partner can end a deal before it starts.
“If culture didn’t matter, then we wouldn’t talk about these cultural gaffes or cultural blunders, because we’d be just one homogenous blob of people,” said Branch. “Culture still matters and if managers and marketers do not appreciate this, they’ll continue to make these cultural gaffes.”
So why aren’t businesses doing a better job of guarding themselves against these errors? According to Branch, business leaders are under-appreciating the significance of cultural differences. Many do not fully comprehend the major impacts of culture on their interactions and how they relate to business success. Consequently, many do not focus their energy on understanding or resolving these issues.
Making your way through culturally-diverse business interactions requires significant time, resources and analysis. Understanding the relevant and likely cultural sensitivities, collecting accurate and insightful feedback and carefully considering this information are all necessary before taking action. Cultural competency is not as simple as learning the right handshake. Culture is a layered and complex system by which business partners live, and success means understanding each of those layers.
“Even the big companies are failing to do proper cultural research because they’re in such a rush to get the product to market, or they don’t realize the role of culture and the importance of factoring it into their plans from the start,” say Gillett. “In many cases, managers lack training in cultural competence, so this is not even on their radar.”
Though steering clear of negative choices is critical, cultural competency isn’t just about avoiding blunders. Companies mastering cultural competency can also create a competitive advantage, explains Gillett.
Take HP. The company introduced its gaming laptop, Omen, in 2006 with lackluster results. After the success of the 2019 Academy Award-winning film Parasite, the firm re-engaged the market with a new campaign, pulling in cultural references that resonated. This improved sales — all because they took note of a cultural touchpoint and responded.
Mastering cross-cultural connections will facilitate more thoughtful interactions, which will foster better business practices.
Join Branch and Gillett’s virtual discussion on cultural competency to share your stories of cultural gaffes and/or successes, discover what it takes to prepare for better cross-cultural interactions, and learn from the breadth of cultural exchanges that have gone wrong — and right — across the business world.
- John Branch, Professor of Marketing and International Business, University of Michigan Ross School of Business
- Amy Gillett, Vice President of Education, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan
Date & Time
16 November 2021, 9:00am-10:30am EST