When deciding to do business in other countries to perform well, and ethically, business people must understand that they are doing business with people in a country and not an impersonal entity.
There are some basics of humanity that don’t change. You are going to read a lot, and have probably read, about the differences inherent in doing business abroad. In fact, differences dominate most discussions about diversity. (Sorry for the alliteration, I couldn’t help myself.) I agree understanding and respecting differences between people here and China, for example, is a crucial part of working with other cultures. I’ll argue, however, we must simultaneously focus on similarities.
People in India also want to provide for their families and themselves. They want their children to be better off than they are, and they want to pass on the values that made them successful to future generations. All human beings deserve and crave dignity and the feeling of being valued. One way to ensure doing this when you are working with other cultures is to learn more about them before you begin business. Did I just shift to differences? Yes, but hear me out. In appealing to differences aren’t we also addressing the need to be heard and understood at the same time?
Assumptions and stereotypes can get in the way of dealing with people. What do you think about when you consider doing business in Mexico, France, or Vietnam? How did you form these assumptions? How do you check them? In a study called, “Ethics Perceptions of the U.S. and Its Large Developing-Country Trading Partners” the author, Inder Khera (2010) reported in the Global Management Journal that when a sample of Mid-Western business students were asked about a variety of scenarios, the assumption was that Americans will act more ethically than their counterparts in Mexico, China, or India.
If you are a manager of a division in another country, maybe Mexico where study participants assumed ethics would be at its lowest (Khera, 2010), you might make different decisions. Would you be as quick to promote Mexican employees? How much money would you spend on their training? Would you invest the same time in coaching them for management? There is a bright spot that Khera’s (2010) survey showed that Americans are starting to attribute higher percentages, and therefore, more propensities, to be ethical to these trading partners. More important is that people in Mexico, India, and China are not necessarily less ethical than Americans. How does perception become reality?
Khera, I. (2010). Ethics Perceptions of the U.S. and Its Large Developing-Country Trading Partners. Global Management Journal, 2(1), 33-41. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database.