Arriving in a new country as an ex-pat, is not anymore as heroic as Marco Polo’s travels around the world. Ex-pats are usually supported by an international HR Coordinator, who supplies them with a comfortable safety net, moving companies, real estate brokers, lawyers etc. All facilitated by an attractive labor contract, including housing allowances, hardships fees, international schools for the children, health insurances for private clinics and other benefits. However, after settling in and getting your way around in your new city, the time comes to actually start working and this is where the real challenge begins.
Looks are deceiving
When you are confronted with another culture, you tend to focus on the things that are known and familiar to you. You (subconsciously) might expect your colleagues will understand what you mean and react to what you are used to. You, however, will soon realize that things are not always what they seem and you might draw the wrong conclusions. Thus, you will have to explore deeper! Take the effort to get to know more about the environment and your colleagues. Explore how ordinary people in the city live and think. Get out of the expat community and start exploring. How can you for instance judge marketing campaigns when you do not know the values and opinions of the users of your products?
Ratio versus emotion
Doing business in South East Europe is also focused on emotional and human connections and not only on ratio like more practised in Northern Europe or the USA. Before your potential clients even think about the terms and conditions of your business, they are first interested in establishing a closer relationship in which both parties gain respect for each other. Domestic managers rely on their local network. Hidden agendas such as powerful positions or outstanding moral debts or credits to friends, family and other stakeholders could play a role in the decision-making process. Therefore, it is important to invest time in building up relationships with the local community. This can facilitate a faster pace or, when neglected, stall the business development progress.
Leave the bubble
The most effective international managers are sensitive to cultural differences and show empathy and patience in bringing out the best in their subordinates, peers and supervisors. The ex-pats that have the courage to step out of their cosy ex-pat bubble and discover the real world of the country where they are a temporarily guest will be able to make much faster progress. This will result in a very positive energy and synergy leading to improving the business for which they are responsible.