Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Importance of Respect in Global Business

We all know business people who don’t have a strong sensibility about cultural differences and the impact they have on business dealings. They are the “I’ll-do-it-my-way ugly Americans” (or whatever their nationality) who are good fodder for stories of global business opportunities lost.

Often these folks with cultural blind spots blame others for their failures because they think they did everything right, and that those foreigners needed to wise up to their ways.

Unfortunately we're seeing something like this play out with Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer and Education Director Tom Horne. Whether the bills they've championed are the right or wrong action on critically important issues for Arizona almost doesn't matter. The problem became that these folks failed to do what was necessary to be perceived as being respectful to the entire community. The result was completely predictable: it created an emotional backlash.

In global business as soon as you think it doesn't matter what other people think, it does.

We're left with both the Governor and Mr. Horne trying to educate people to their logic. It's a classic mistake that those of us in international business have seen played out over and over again on hot topics. We know how it ends: not well, because logic almost always loses to emotion.

Here's a link to an article I wrote earlier this year that discusses being respectful in global business. Arizona would have been better served if a few folks had embraced the basic ideas discussed here:

As Jerry Colangelo said last week on this topic, unfortunately damage has already been done against Arizona business. So now we need less 'education', and more respect and empathy in order to minimize the damage and get back on track with the economic recovery.

We also need folks around the US to realize that boycotts of Arizona hurt good people who mean well and want to do the right thing for Arizona and the US.

And we need Arizona businesses to stick together - as the Arizona Chamber has articulated with their 'no boycott' stance - and stay calm and measured, not getting in to the tit for tat game.

So to the global CEO who this week is deciding to expand his or her company into Arizona or elsewhere: please choose Arizona as a destination versus New Mexico, Utah, Colorado or California. It's still a great place to live and do business, and we'll work through these issues successfully.

It's amazing what can be done when people listen, and how we can end up butting heads when people don't. In global business, listening is essential.

It's why not everyone is cut out for international business.

My mother used to say, it's not what you say, but how you say it. You know what? She was right then, and it still matters. In global business and beyond.

Mom also said that you could solve problems without stirring up a hornet's nest. Well somebody wacked that hornet's nest with a big ole stick. Now let's solve these real problems calmly, inclusively and successfully. That style works well in international business and it will serve us well here, too.

Doug Bruhnke
Arizona International Growth Group