June 2005

Business In A Multicultural Environment:Business Tuesday Network on June 7, 2005

The Tuesday Business Network is an organization aimed at supporting technology professionals, technology suppliers, corporate users and other professionals by putting Small and Medium-sized entrepreneurs together and supporting their business.

The June 7th networking meeting will focus on “Developing Business and Comfortable Relationships in a Multicultural Environment”

The evening’s key speaker will be Karin Genton-L’Epée. Together with Kamil Vacek (Kiboon Mobile, a.s.), Karin will address the issues of working and networking in a diverse environment and share ideas on how to connect effectively with and be understood by people in both short-term and long-term business situations. The event will take place at PwC BusinessCommunityCenter, Katerinska 40, Praha 2 at 19:00 (registration from 18:30)

For information on how to register please visit http://www.tuesday.cz/detailAkce.aspx?id=227 You can find out more about the Tuesday Business Network at www.tuesday.cz

Calendar

June 1 Toastmasters in Prague
June 6 WIB – Women in Business dinner at Mlynec
June 7 Developing Business and Comfortable Relationships in a Multicultural Environment
June 8 Toastmasters in Prague
June 15 Toastmasters in Prague
June 16 Leadership Power Lunch: Mistakes Leaders Make
June 22 Toastmasters in Prague
June 29 Toastmasters in Prague
July 21 Leadership Power Lunch: Conflicts & Emotions
August 25 Leadership Power Lunch: Summary-Wrap Up

Communication Tip of The Month: Communicating With The Czechs Comfortably

There has been a fair bit written in the Czech Republic’s English-language press recently about problems this country could have in the future if Czechs don’t make more of an effort to adopt a stronger work ethic and develop the soft-skills that newly transplanted Western managers generally find to be lacking in the Czech workforce.

It has been suggested that this potential problem could become a major deterrent for the increasing number of Western companies who have or are considering moving their operations to the Czech Republic. Without a more cooperative workforce that is actively willing to adapt to the working norms of Western Europe and the United States, says the press, the advantages of a cheap but highly skilled and educated workforce might not be enough to keep attracting investment to the Czech Republic.

Foreign managers are apparently surprised to find out that hardworking and bright Czechs have not embraced their management styles with the same fervor that they embraced the opportunity to join the free market after the fall of communism 15 years ago. Among the grievances these managers complain of is an inability to communicate, a lack of soft skills and resistance to working in a team.

In contrast to this seemingly popular opinion, I would argue that Czechs communicate as well as any other nationality, are flexible enough to be able to adopt the soft skills managers are looking for and have no problems working as part of a larger whole. Rather, a large part of this problem stems from an inability on the part of foreign managers to understand where Czechs are coming from and see things from a Czech perspective.

So, if the Czechs are indeed agile communicators as well as industrious and hardworking, where has this misconception among foreign managers come from? After ten years of living and doing business in the Czech Republic, I think I may be in a good position to provide some possible reasons for this misconception.

First off, let’s get the issue of language out of the way. Yes, it is true that language can create a barrier between an expatriate manager and his or her Czech employee. However, that does not mean that one needs master Czech before being able to communicate effectively with the locals. Knowledge of Czech is helpful but not mandatory in connecting with Czechs. That isn’t to say a manager’s effort to learn Czech won’t be greatly appreciated by the locals he or she works with.

What is mandatory when communicating and relating to Czechs is a desire to connect intellectually and emotionally with them and to make the effort to understand them.

I really began connect with Czechs the day I recognized their supreme need to feel comfortable about their environment and themselves. This innate need for comfort, translated as pohoda, signifies much more than simple physical comfort; it also means hominess, coziness, harmony, self-satisfaction, easy-going relationships, a pleasant overall atmosphere, and the absence of strife, effort or pain.

While I very much appreciated this aspect of the Czech character, it wasn’t long before I realized that the premium Czechs place on comfort could create some serious misunderstandings in the work place. Having made a significant investment in the Czech Republic, foreign companies expected their Czech employees to embrace the work ethic and values that they have imported. This, of course, often requires the average Czech employee to get out of his or her comfort zone and accept and adapt to a different style of being managed. Adapting to anything new is never comfortable and from this discomfort stems the seed of resistance.

For the manager, what is important to remember is that this transition does not have to be difficult for the Czech, provided that it is factored into the equation ahead of time. Make anyone uncomfortable from the outset will put him on the defensive and discourage him. The key to making such transitions as smooth as possible involves helping the Czech employee feel comfortable and safe with the prospect of a new set ethics and values.

This idea of comfort, which is paramount in Czech culture generally, also plays a huge role in the way Czechs communicate with both colleagues and managers. According to Jarmila Brixova, an HR consultant with Deloitte, “[Czechs] have problems with sharing information and working in a team, and they can’t stand up for their ideas and defend them, promote their projects and negotiate”. This aspect of the Czech character could be confused with weakness, but actually stems from a Czech’s natural tendancy to be polite and civilized. In other words, Czechs would rather not rock the boat. In contrast to the French who express their opinions passionately and aren’t bothered about going toe-to-toe with one another in a heated discussion, the Czechs are dutiful listeners, polite and courteous, rarely interrupting and giving little feedback unless you are in a one-to-one situation.

One caveat must be included here however: While Czechs may not always be comfortable presenting their comments and criticism, they are very responsive to feedback as a means of knowing where they stand and whether their work is appreciated.

That does not mean to say that Czechs don’t have an opinion of their own or are afraid to express it. It is important for managers to understand that rather than showing disapproval through open confrontation, a Czech is more inclined show his or her dissatisfaction through quiet resistance. In Czech society generally, public confrontation is almost always avoided in favor of an approach that begins with calm discussion and the discovery of solutions that suit all concerned.

A final area which I think foreign managers may be slow to realize is that Czechs are some of the best educated and most highly skilled workers in Europe. This fact is something that Czechs take pride in and want to be recognized for. Moreover, they like their intelligence and creativity to be challenged and welcome any opportunity to put both to the test. Speaking from first-hand experience, many managers fail to acknowledge this because they don’t have an understanding of the caliber of the Czech education system. In addition to recognizing their intelligence, managers should also lose any misconceptions about Czechs being lazy workers who recoil at the prospect of hard work.

By providing Czech employees with an opportunity to display their talents and knowledge, managers will be able to take better advantage of their strengths and will go far in developing employee loyalty.

Understandably, working in the Czech Republic can be unfamiliar terrain for many expatriate managers. However, by taking the time to understand the values and motivations that drive Czechs, managers will find a work force that will continue to add value to their business well into the future. The more effort one makes in learning about the Czech culture and its internal dynamics, the easier it will be establish a comfortable working relationship with a talented and adaptable workforce.

How comfortable is your communication with your Czech team?

This article was written for the Prague Club Magazine and published in the May 2005 issue .

Yours truly,Karin