What’s hard to understand about American corporate life for non US based folks

In decades of work with Asian, Mid Eastern and Asian managers, there seems to be a common thread of things that non US based folks have a problem of grasping, understanding and accepting about their US based confreres. Here are the top 3 in my experience

1) The ease with which US based managers leave to promote their career.

Of course, people all over the world do so, but apparently with more of a sense of shame. The ease with which this happens causes lack of personal  trust because “Bill may not be here in the long run, so his judgement is suspect”.

2) Our way is the “right” way

There is no lack of culturally sensitive people based in the US. However, either due to sheer power stemming from the US corporate or due to size  or some national psyche, US managers tend to look at other people’s ways of doing business as eccentric quirks, while their behaviour is the right way.

“Ok guys”, said Bill, “stop arguing and let’s meet half way”….the “right way”, thinks Bill.

3) Using Legal means to bridge trust issues

In many parts of the world, you build trust with people and do business, with Legal providing some artillery cover where absolutely needed. It is common practice for US based managers to take huge risks doing business with people they do not know or trust, hedging their risks by legal means. This flabergasts people all over the world.

Bill ended his meeting with Francois and texted his  Legal VP: “I’ve done my part-just finish it up”.

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On Israeli “chaos”

This post concerns chaos in Israeli business culture. Not all Israelis are equally chaotic and clearly, there is more chaos in an R&D organization than in Finance or Supply Chain.

Yet Israelis as a society (and Israeli organizations) do embrace chaos. This post provides some background about the preference of chaos over order in Israeli organizations.

There are 5 widely used terms for chaos in Hebrew.

1) The Biblical term “tohu vavohu” (תוהו ובוהו)…null and void……as in “and the world was null and void”.  (Genesis 1:2)

2) “”Bardak” (ברדק) a Turkish borrowed word meaning messy and disorganized, although the translation is “brothel”.

3) The term “Kah-os”, (קאוס)clearly from the English chaos.

4) “Buka-umavulaka”, (בוקה ומבלקה) an Aramaic borrow word, a “high level” form of speech, also implying very deep chaos. Rarely spoken but often written. (The term originates in the Book of Nahum).

5) Balagan, yet another very popular borrowed word (from Russian)  to describe lack of order.

These words represents a linguistic need to differentiate between various degrees of the very low level of order in Israeli society.

There are many reasons for the chaos, some of which are:

1) A disdain for planning exists; planning is seen as a luxury of the opulent. Thus, with no planning, there is constant improvisation, which causes a “balagan”.

2) Over-reliance on systems is seen as stupid, and instead of systems, there is a massive use of relationships (including systemic corruption) to bypass systems. The orderliness that systems bring to chaos (Weber) is lost in Israel society.

3) There is a proclivity to re open decisions because nothing is very final, ever.This constant questioning of the status quo creates chaos.

4) Being an immigrant society, Israeli society has with too few shared behavioural codes and thus lots of things are explicit. This causes chaos in interactions.

5) There is a deep rooted belief that the individual must be empowered with ingenuity to work around barriers and obstacles to beat the system. At a societal level, this surely cases “buka umvulaka”.

All of the above creates a lot of creativity, a low level of scalability and lack of discipline.

Managers working with Israelis must realize that the chaos is not something which is startling or upsetting, but rather a platform of interaction, preferable to order for the Israeli. Too much order, or even some order, is perceived as less useful than pliable chaos.

Naturally, there are many exceptions to rule, and you may very well know many Germanic Israelis and orderly Israeli organizations. Yet they tend not to be rule, rather the exception.


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Mike thinks De-Ming lacks managerial maturity

“As the results for Q3 pour in and looking in Q4’s revenue projection, it is clear that a reduction is force is immanent. Please prepare a list of the bottom quartile”, wrote  EVP HR Gloria Lemieux to all senior managers-by text message!

Mike Shapiro, Head of Deployment for Europe and Asia Pac, called all his area presidents and conveyed the grisly message. Deming Li (Head of China, Taiwan and Korea) sent Mike an email, cc’ing all his direct reports, that corporate HR should take care of employees and not lend a hand to cutting jobs from overworked engineers which will result in less people doing more work.

Mike was livid when he read De-Ming’s email; two weeks later in a meeting in Singapore, Mike asked Deming for the list of names, and De-Ming stormed out of the meeting and flew back to Shanghai.

However, in parallel, Deming’s HR clerk, Sally Ngai-Lam Xu, was providing Gloria with all the data and names that were needed.

Mike wanted to remove  De-Ming for “immaturity” and a consultant was brought into the picture. Deming explained to Allon that the Reduction of Force is completely justified but De-Ming needed to show his people that he was “protecting them”.

Allon sat with Mike and explained the role of the leader in different cultures.

Mike (from Billings, Oregon) told Allon: “Listen, this is not an issue of anthropology; it is a question of managerial maturity.”

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6 people make Harold angry

Harold is Brit who is managing a global team. Harold is no stranger to global organizing; in his previous role, he managed the European Division of the company for which he worked.

Now,  Harold manages the Global  Sales Force of a US based firm which sells home-diagnostic stress kits. Harold is meeting with a consultant today “because either I need to learn something, or I need to replace my staff; because I am angry all the time”.

Harold pointed out the last 6 cases where he found himself aggravated

Frank from Boston is very gung ho, spewing false positives about the product in internal meetings. In a recent discussion about some of the products limitations, Frank said,”Guys, let’s just focus on believing in ourselves”.

Carlos from Buenos Aires rambles on and on and on. He has a serious problem “staying focused” and by the time he finishes talking. Harold does not know what he is talking about.

Oya from Tokyo is always trying to get out of meetings “because of a client commitment” . Harold wonders what is amiss because Oya is not selling anything yet his expense account is sky high.

Menashe from Israel argues all the time. Even if Harold makes a comment about the weather, Menashe will correct him.

Gloria, his HR business partner, is brainless and highly motivated. She and Frank are always initiating “team building” enabled by cooking or horseback riding. Furthermore, Gloria is very non discrete and serves as her master’s voice.

Morris from Perth is constantly blaming HQ. Even if there is no parking, Morris will attack the ignorant folks in HQ, who know nothing about Australia.

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What is the strategic value of relationships?


Morton, a Sales Manager from Maine, knows how important relationships are;  he studied at an Ivy League school; his class mates are in key positions in many industries and on several occasions, doors have been opened and introductions made which enabled big bucks to be made. (Morton’s boss pays big bucks to lobbyists in Washington. Morton loathes corruption he often encounters in Russia, the Mid East and South East Asia.)

Chan (m), a scientist turned entrepreneur now living Beijing, maintains a vast network of relationships with people he knows, knows of, and trusts to different degrees. Into these trustful relationships, he plugs in his business and personal decisions. Relationships are the key and almost sole enabler of doing business and getting things done. (Chan looks at his relationships like Morton looks at his net worth.)

Neta (m), a Head of a large Business Unit from Tel Aviv, knows that the dreaded Israeli bureaucracy and red tape surrounding purchasing and supply chain, can kill his business. Luckily, Neta has a very strong relationship with Elad, supply chain/procurement manager. Elad and Neta studied in the same high school and run together at the gym. Neta and Elad trade “do me a favour-s” all the time,using relationships to work around the system. (Neta does not trust the Americans who “work-to-system” since systems fail more than relationships).

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