Creating A New Business Culture For Success In Spain


Early this year I had the opportunity to work in Spain. It
was a joint venture project with several Spanish partners.
The experience gave me a first hand look at the challenges
of bringing American and Spanish work cultures together and
finding an effective balance between them. The added stress
of building an organization and delivering a product with
hard deadlines and stiff penalties did not make this
process any easier. I knew that both groups would have to
be patient and learn to listen to each other before doing
things the way they were used to doing them in their own
respective environments. I realized that the best approach
was to develop a third culture that had components from
each one. American businesses have always taken a
leadership role in international ventures. Foreign
businesses used methods established by our corporate
leaders to start their own ventures in their countries. Our
western culture is still idealized all over the world and
everyone wants to imitate and live "the American dream."
From blue jeans and Coke to fast food and rock and roll,
American influences are evident in every part of the world.
Since Post World War II, we have assumed the role of leader
in the business world. This sense of superiority has led us
to believe that our way is the best way when it comes to
running business. We have to realize that the global market
is shrinking and we are becoming more dependent on foreign
markets to ignite our economy. It is estimated that a third
of U.S. corporate profits are generated by international
business. Our ability to succeed overseas has a direct
effect on domestic employment levels and the economic
health of our nation. Every billion dollars worth of
exports creates about twenty five thousand new jobs. In the
last five years, nearly five million jobs created in
manufacturing were export-related. Today, nearly one out of
every six manufacturing jobs is directly dependent on
foreign trade, and one out of three acres of American
farmland is harvested for exports. Experts believe that our
superiority in foreign markets has leveled off since 1985
and that our future success will be determined by increased
participation in foreign commerce. Competitors such as
Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, France, and Germany have come
into the marketplace and given us fierce competition. They
have succeeded not only in their own marketplaces but have
come into our backyard and proved that they can succeed and
give American consumers what they want. During the post
World War II era any imbalance in our economic strenght was
not tolerated. In today's marketplace we realize that the
best approach is to team up with our foreign partners.
Understanding the business culture of a foreign country is
critical to our overall success in an international
venture. Knowledge of the language, geography and history
only hit one layer in discovering the complexities of our
foreign partners. Just like us, they, too, have ambitions
they want to achieve and objectives they want to meet in
their careers. Before going to Spain, I attended a
multi-cultural class that gave us an introduction to Doing
Business in Spain. When I arrived in Spain, I realized that
what I learned was stereotyped data. The Berlitz courses
did not adequately prepare me for my trip to Spain.
Stereotyping can be dangerous. As an example, we were told
that the Spaniards like to take long lunches and do not
work as hard as Americans. Although Spaniards adapt a
different work schedule, it was not mentioned that their
work day does not end until later in the evening. The
project we established in Spain was a test of marrying the
best from both cultures. The overall objective was to
launch cellular services nationwide in less than nine
months, a feat that had never been done anywhere else in
the world. To achieve this aggressive goal, it was
imperative that we work together as a team and leave any
differences at home. Our roles in this project were clear
from the start. The American team was chartered with taking
the technical lead and transferring the knowledge to the
Spanish team and the Spaniards were responsible for
assembling the workforce. Patience and the ability to
listen to each other were critical to the implementation of
this project. The language constraints were evident but not
a factor in achieving our goals. The Spaniards took us in
with open arms and made us feel welcome immediately. Like
any new relationship, the honeymoon period quickly ended
and problems started to surface. Our motivation was to get
this project completed swiftly and properly. We were
seconded employees to this project, our company developed
an incentive program to encourage us to meet the expected
deadlines. The Spaniards were not given the same incentives
to perform which led to differences in motivation. I became
part of the executive team that focused on aligning the
reward programs for each group. We had to make concessions
that included decreasing some of our own compensation
package. It took a lot of convincing on both sides but we
were able to agree on a program that was fair to each
party. The next several months presented new challenges and
issues. Who got personal pagers? Who was issued a cellular
phone? Who got a company car? Who had an office? Who got
certain types of furniture? All these sorts of issues
seemed insignificant to us but were vital to the Spaniards.
No matter how stupid we thought it was, the only effective
way to resolve these issues was through collaboration from
both sides. It was their company to run. We had to realize
that the Spanish society is autocratic and will not change
overnight. Our company has completed ten major
international ventures in the last two years. The scenario
has always been the same. We had the technical lead and
brought a team of experts into the country to launch the
business and transfer the knowledge. In every case there
have been unpleasant experiences. Most of the experiences
revolved around miscommunications and unrealistic
expectations. As we became more comfortable with each
other, we realized that we needed each other to succeed. We
learned to resolve issues quickly and leave our egos
behind. We had to allow ourselves to become students of the
business instead of always taking the teaching role. Anyone
who has ever been involved in an international venture will
tell you that nothing ever runs smoothly the first time. To
succeed in today's global marketplace, we must continue to
expand our knowledge of our foreign business and develop an
increased sensitivity to cultures and methods. Only then
can we regain our dominance in foreign markets as well as
change our reputation with other countries. 

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