Culture and StandardsGovernments don’t write standards and regulations. People write standards and regulations. And while everyone wants to be – and stay – safe, how they go about ensuring safety can vary significantly across countries and continents around the world.

It’s an important consideration for the equipment manufacturing industry. How culture influences interactions between people can greatly affect the development of standards and regulations, and it impacts how effective a manufacturer is at achieving its goal of widespread market access.

“It’s all about creating win-win situations,” said Gerrick Gehner, global compliance manager for product standards and regulations for Caterpillar, Inc., who shared insights on how culture drives global regulations and standards development to the industry professionals in attendance at this year’s Product Safety and Compliance Seminar. “Figure out what a regulator wants, figure out a way to meet in the middle, and find a way to align with what he or she is trying to do.”

The term “culture” can be associated with many characteristics of a person or group, all of which can be expressed and depicted in a variety of ways. Some – such as language, customs, gestures and symbols –can be observed and interpreted fairly easily. Others, however, aren’t so obviously noticed by the vast majority of people. They include decision-making tendencies, relationship management techniques and negotiation tactics.

No matter what form culture takes, it’s vitally important for equipment manufacturers to understand its impact on global business. In addition, companies also need to determine how best to adapt to the differences between cultures, so as to drive organizational success as it relates to processes, procedures and strategy associated with standards and regulations.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” said Gehner, quoting management consultant, educator, and author Peter Drucker. “You can have the best safety strategy in the world. But if you haven’t factored in the culture, where you’re selling the product, who’s buying the product, who’s building the product, who’s designing the product, and who’s marketing the product, it may not go the way you think it might go.”

With that fact in mind, here are a few characteristics to keep in mind when conducting business with regulators across the globe:

Low-Context Communication Cultures Versus High-Context Communication Cultures

  • Low-Context Communication Cultures – Getting straight to the point is important to low-context communicators, and they greatly value expertise and performance. Specific agreements and contracts are honored, and low-context communicators are willing to take people at their word. Negotiations with these people should be conducted quickly and efficiently, as they tend to be results-oriented and value time management. Generally speaking, low-context communicators are often found in countries such as the United States, Canada and Northern Europe.
  • High-Context Communication Cultures – Social trust needs to be established with high-context communicators before moving forward and conducting business. They tend to value personal relationships and goodwill, and negotiations can often be both slow and ritualistic. High-context communicators are especially prevalent in countries such as Asia, Russia, the Middle East, Latin America and Southern Europe.

Deal-Focused Cultures Versus Relationship-Focused Cultures

  • Deal-Focused Cultures – Time governs events in deal-focused cultures, and directness is prized above indirectness. What a person knows is more important than who he or she knows, and legalities are adhered to and emphasized. In addition, results take precedence over processes in deal-focused cultures. Generally speaking, deal-focused cultures are present in North America, Northern Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Moderately deal-focused cultures tend to be found in South Africa, Central Europe and Eastern Europe.
  • Relationship-Focused Cultures – Events govern time in relationship-focused cultures, and change may be perceived as a threat. Who a person knows is of greater significance than what he or she knows, as status has more influence than expertise. Furthermore, processes are just as important as results in relationship-focused cultures. Oftentimes, relationship-focused cultures can be found in the Arab world, most of Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Perception Matters

How a person’s words and actions are received by others ultimately determines the success of his or her interactions. And according to Gehner, certain methods can be employed to more easily achieve desired results:

  • Don’t look at other cultures through your own cultural lens
  • Develop empathy for other points of view
  • Develop personal relationships with people from other cultures
  • Be open-minded

“Also, avoid bias and develop your interpersonal skills and adaptability,” he added. “Technical understanding is important, but so are influencing skills. And you’ve got to have both.”

The stakeholders and decision makers you work with may possess different values, come from different backgrounds and hold different viewpoints. In understanding those differences, interpreting them and acting accordingly, equipment manufacturers can drive positive organizational results and gain entry into new and developing markets.

“And the better relationships and trust you have with regulators, the easier that will be,” said Gehner.

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