9 Apr 2010

Acknowledging the importance of cultural factors and face-to-face engagement when doing business in different regions of the world

In today’s world of global networking and instant communication, it is easy to forget the importance of regional or national cultural differences in the way people and companies do business.
Moving from France to the UK provided me my first experience of a different way of working, where hierarchy was less important and individual initiative was more valued. In the last few years, I have worked on events in very different parts of the world, particularly in emerging markets with the Com World Series, and witnessed other approaches to business. In some regions, personal contacts are the only way to do business, and relationships take years to build, while in others people are very open to making new contacts and exchanging ideas from a first conversation. In others still, it is crucial to know the right people in order to make any kind of contact, let alone meaningful conversation.
I was shown an interesting tool to begin to understand how different regions approach social interactions and business: Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions. The model researches countries and region according to 5 parameters affecting their approach to business: Power Distance Index (the extent to which power and hierarchy is important), Individualism (the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups), Masculinity (the distribution of roles between genders), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity) and Long-Term Orientation. It didn’t come as a surprise to me that societies such as the USA and the UK have high degrees of individualism, low power distance and low long-term orientation, while the opposite is seen in China.
Models such as these are interesting tools to examine when doing business in different regions, but I have to say that not all companies are attuned to these differences. It may be a reason why Chinese and Indian companies are being successful in doing business in Africa for instance, where the cultural dimensions are relatively similar, which is not always the case for Western companies.
There is one common point between all regions though: nothing can replace face-to-face engagement when building business relationships. This is why events such as conferences and exhibitions are still a great way to meet clients. When producing congresses around the world, the Com World Series endeavours to stay tuned to local differences, and to deliver events that provide the right type of interaction in order to facilitate networking and business. Some events such as West & Central Africa Com focus on facilitating discussion; others such as South East Asia Com provide more formal in-depth learning; and others focus more on high-level networking with more VIP features, such as the Middle East Telco World Summit. The fine-tuning of conference programmes and congress experience takes time and research to get right, and the most rewarding thing is to hear participants' feedback on how an event gave them a clearer picture of their market opportunities or helped them develop their business in a region.