By Bengt Anderson
■陕西西安煤炭卫生学校 陈小君 选译／康国莉 仲志兰 校改
When we travel to a foreign country, we carry in our baggage a preconceived idea of people in that country. We look for characteristics in the individuals we meet. But much of the knowledge we think we have of different nationalities exists as stereotypes—conventional and oversimplified pictures without nuances or individuality. Our ideas may even be caricatures with features and peculiarities exaggerated for comic or grotesque effect.
Stereotypes and caricatures also exist about occupations or professions. If you ask asgroupsof international executives to characterize businesspeople and managers from different countries, their descriptions may be something like this: American managers have in-depth knowledge of the business they run and baseball, but know little about the rest of the world. They think that everyone who is not American wishes he was. Americans are always the best. They only lose when the playing field is not even.
The quarterly dividend is their cardinal goal, and quick fixes are the means to accomplish it. They organize their companies in many-layered hierarchies ofsgroupsgivers andsgroupstakers. Employees do not question instructions (at least openly). They lose their jobs if they do.
Americans talk fast and loud. Their products are the biggest, best, newest and fastest in the world. After a meeting, the Americans bring in hordes of lawyers and accountants to prepare contracts ten times longer than those used elsewhere.
British managers became managers by studying English literature and Egyptology at Oxford and by going through the old boy network. They have a broad, but not always thorough, knowledge of their company's operations. They are insular—and proud of it.
Class spite and social angst riddle British corporate cultures. Despite much lip service to the contrary, decision making remains the prerogative of top managers. Ideals about decentralized management clash with a basic lack of faith in the abilities of the subordinates.
British managers invariably are polite, and they spice their conversations with humorous little anecdotes that executives of other nationalities usually fail to appreciate. Meetings are not supposed to decide anything. The British use them to explore the terrain and to check out the broad perimeters, parameters and all that. If they promise you something to avoid offending you, it may take a long time before they deliver. In fact, they may not deliver at all.
French managers are Napoleonic and their management style is imperial. Many are graduates of the elite grandes ecoles. They are expected to be brilliant planners, equally adept at industry, finance and government. They are rude and haughty, jealous of their social status and eager to show off their power.Stiff hierarchies discourage informal relations and foster a sense of 'them' versus 'us'. It is difficult to reach the boss. The flow of information goes one way only: downward. When troops below fail to respond to orders from on high, company performance may stumble badly.
French managers love to talk, though not always about items on the agenda. Their initial response to proposals is always negative—not because they dislike the proposal but because they like debate. However, what they say at this meeting does not count. The discussion is just meant to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the other players and decide what positions to take at the next meeting.
German managers prefer to go by the book. They often have many years of technical training and high degrees (and must be addressed as Herr Doktor). They are serious and formal. Leaders do lead. The ranking executive is expected to pull rank and give orders—or what is the point inshavingsthat rank?
Meetings are conducted with great attention tosgroupsand detail. You do not take off your jacket or even loosen your tie. That would be sloppy and unbusinesslike. Managers sometimes raise their voice and pound the table to see if they can intimidate the other party into making further concessions.
Germans expect to see it in writing with full details and complete specifications. If it is not enshrined on memo or letter and signed in Vertretung, then it did not happen.
Italian managers are flexible. They often ignore the company's rules (where they exist). Management is paternalistic. Bosses give their employees protection. They, in turn, are loyal and identify with the company's goals. Fare bella figura, to put on an impressive appearance, is important to Italian managers.They are experts at looking busy, successful and rich.
Informal networks of family and powerful friends matter much in business. Deals are made on handshakes between gentlemen, not through attorneys and accountants. Memos, letters and faxes are too impersonal. Italian managers prefer the telephone and they like personal contact even better.
Italians often find businesspeople from other countries lineari, meaning too direct, too purposeful. Meetings are not taken seriously. They just set agenda for the real meeting. What happens before and after is more important than the meeting itself; decision making is always secretive.
Japanese managers mean no when they say yes (although the reverse does not apply). They are clever and cunning but speak only Japanese (why bother with lesser languages?).They are formal, reserved, have no feelings and consider themselves racially and culturally superior to foreigners.
Rank and status are important to the Japanese. But this does not mean the top man (it's always a man) makes the decisions. His main duty is to maintain harmony and nurture an environment that motivates subordinates to work together for the good of the company.
At meetings , the Japanese play close to the vest. They are well prepared and never improvise. Whatever is on the agenda, they probably know more about it than you do. Do not expect any decisions at this meeting, though, or at the next. The consensus-making process may take a long time.
Swedish managers are practical and technically capable but not very imaginative. Philosophy and abstract thinking baffle them. They have no sense of humor and take everything you say literally. They often spend more time telling you what is wrong with their products than what is good about them.
Managers shun conflicts and put off decisions until they reach consensus (in a manner that appears wishy-washy even to the Japanese). Organizations are flat, with responsibility delegated way down. It is never clear who is in charge of what and why. Swedes dress in sports shirts, slacks and sandals for business meetings. Being neurotic about punctuality, they begin (and end) meetings exactly when scheduled. They go straight to the point, without preliminaries. Their answers are short and they remain silent if they have nothing to say (though Finns think Swedes talk too much).-