• Anwar Zibaoui
  • General Coordinator, ASCAME

Article translated from Spanish to English. Originally posted in Expansión.

In the process of business internationalisation, there are many requirements besides opportunity, security and a legal framework. The most important are: a transversal knowledge of the markets and their attractiveness; the availability of support mechanisms in terms of financing and human resources; competition or operational complexity; and, above all, culture. These factors can slow down or accelerate an international expansion plan.

Cross-cultural contacts are part of the daily business of many companies. Working and doing business with someone from another country means having to deal with an environment that is sometimes very different from one’s own. Many professionals are not trained to manage these cultural differences. This leads to misunderstandings, conflicts and loss of productivity. On the other hand, those who understand cultural differences are able to foresee what is going to happen and adapt. They are even able to take advantage of cultural complementarities and create synergies.

A culturally diverse team provides a deeper insight into the consumer and will have a superior understanding of political and social idiosyncrasies. Diversity is an opportunity. It is key to understand the differences between regions in aspects such as the value of time, the sharing of power, the control of uncertainty, emotions, the degree of individualism, etc. This knowledge makes it easier to transcend cultural barriers, cultivate trust and build the bridges needed to create value.

The most difficult obstacles to doing business with other cultures are not dress codes or eating habits. The main factors are those hidden beneath the surface, the instincts, the subconscious that lies at the core of our identity. Attitudes towards such things as life, death, family, money, time, destiny, will, laws, morals, friendship or honesty.

In an ever-changing world, a dynamic culture is needed to bring together skills and diversities and find opportunities and exploit synergies beyond classical thinking. It is possible to fail in international expansion by underestimating cultural challenges.

The most successful internationalised companies are those that have culture as part of their strategy and incorporate the influences, practices and values of other cultures.

Companies that bridge the gap and build cultural intelligence have a distinct advantage. By having teams that adapt to different ways of doing things (because it is not just about skills but also about values), they will be receptive to “doing business”, regardless of where they are going.

Multicultural leadership has to be encouraged. We need more executives with an inclusive style, with teams capable of interacting with other cultures, listening, observing, respecting and learning in the process of internationalisation. In short, a global perspective, an international spirit and global citizenship.