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You Can’t Make Me!

Getting a bit jowly? Going gray? If you’re from Nigeria or Japan – those signs of age can be an asset. Gray hair connotes gravitas and sagacity in many African and Asian societies, and puts you on a higher level in business and social hierarchies. 

But in the US, senior managers may worry about their wattles and white streaks. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that 13.8 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the US in 2011 – a 5 percent increase over 2010. It may sound superficial, but many baby boomers feel the need to compete against more youthful-looking co-workers. If a nip and tuck can help them get, or keep, that high-paying job, it’s evidently worth it.

If you ask South Americans to write down their top priorities in life, the #1 answer will be family. Nepotism is frowned upon in the US but in most of the world, people do business with people they know, trust, or are related to. Some, like Brazilians, consider nepotism a serious obligation, and will endeavor to help a large, extended circle of family members (which can number in the hundreds) to gain employment. The same is true in many parts of Asia and the Middle East. 

Besides money, power, and family, here are three more top motivating factors to match with their respective countries:

1. Religious beliefs         A) Japan

2. Leisure Time             B) Saudi Arabia

3. Non-verbal praise      C) Sweden

Answers: 1) B;  2) C;  3) A

1) If you live in a theocracy like Saudi Arabia or the Holy See (Vatican City), God tells you what to do. For example, the Koran prohibits charging interest, so if you want to open a bank in the UAE, or any other Islamic country, you will have to do so while abiding by Sharia law.

2) Since medical care, education, and many other programs are subsidized by the government, Swedes must fund these programs. Consequently, over 50 percent of a Swede’s salary generally goes to taxes, which is why extra leisure time is a great incentive to workers in many Nordic countries like Sweden.

3) According to Rochelle Kopp, an expert on doing business in Japan, the Japanese don’t like ebullient verbal recognition – (e.g.: “That was terrific!” “Great Job!”). Verbal praise violates Kaizen – the concept of continuous improvement. Plus, it’s embarrassing. However, Japanese workers aremotivated by non-verbal praise – like increased job responsibilities, invitations to lunch or dinner, or corporate golf outings. And souvenirs brought back from trips are always appreciated.

In a consensus-based culture like Japan, the paramount consideration is the agreement of the group, and it can take a good amount of time to achieve it. Never push to get to a decision too quickly. Researchers at the Harvard Business School inadvertently discovered that cultural truth when they tried to enlist corporations to participate in a survey on standards of conduct around the world. 

In an article in the newsletter HBS Working Knowledge entitled “Creating a Global Business Code,” Professor Lynn S. Paine says  “…in the United States you can get a quick yes in agreeing to participate, but when you get into actual implementation, the yes may turn into a no… in Japan, it’s likely that they’ll take a long time getting to yes. But after they commit to do it, they are really engaged. It was an interesting cultural difference.”

South Korea is another consensus-based culture, where the sensibilities of what is best for the largest possible group are important throughout every business meeting. Never try to sell a product based upon how it may benefit one person, one department, or sometimes, even one company. Work backward. Start your presentation by explaining how your product or service would benefit South Korea, then the company, then the group. Most South Koreans are very patriotic, and work that promotes the success of oo-ri-na-ra (our country) will resonate with them.

Sometimes avoiding trouble is the biggest motivating factor. Before you travel, register with your country’s embassy in each place you will visit, and ask for lists of any legal issues that you might unknowingly violate while you are there. (This includes driving regulations, drinking prohibitions, taboo items, etc.) Ignorance is no excuse. It’s also a good idea to check online for the latest travel, medical, and security alerts, available through government agencies such as the Bureau of Consular Affairs (travel.state.gov) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov).


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