American business, culture, leadership, motivation, international business

Recently I spoke with an American friend, Susan who survived the layoff rounds at her company to find herself now reporting to a manager in India. She is the first US-based person in her multinational company to report to an India-based boss and the experience has been a mix of positive and negative.

On the positive side has been the high level of courtesy from Susan’s Indian colleagues. She appreciates that they want to get to know her as a person. Her new colleagues value her American optimism and encouragement that she gives to the whole team.  Susan enjoys the differences of English expressions such as – “Are you sitting on your seat?” as a conversation opener to almost any phone conversation.

On the negative side, Susan has been lectured repeatedly on seemingly minor points for long periods of time often in front of others. She is also expected to work long past her normal work hours to accommodate her Indian colleagues’ schedules. Sometimes Susan’s word usage is criticized and even mocked such as the word “totaling” as used in accounting.

So here are some helpful tips for entrepreneurs from around the world who are just starting to either partner with American companies or hire their first American employees:

Americans Assign Status & Respect based on Achievement, not Rank, Age, Gender, Family Name, etc.

This is one of the most common points of friction for most other cultures working with Americans. Americans do not respect the boss because they are the boss. They give respect only when they feel that person performs their duties well and delivers results for the company. In addition, American employees expect to earn respect by performing well in their jobs. They expect to be acknowledged for their on-the-job achievements.

Americans Expect You to Care about What They Think

Americans want you to value their ideas and insights. This shocks others from many cultures. We actually expect a boss to ask us “What do you think we should do about this situation?” Maybe we have no good answer, but maybe our idea is absolutely brilliant. But an American will feel that he or she is valued if you at least ask.

Praise in Public, Scold in Private

If an American has performed above expectations, that person is praised. Even more motivating for an American is to praise their performance to your superiors or in front of the rest of the team. Americans can take some pride from their team performing well, but what we really prize is individual achievement. On the other side, when an American performs poorly we expect criticism to be privately given. If the poor performance is due to negligence or lack of effort, then the punishment should be greater. If the American just made a rare mistake, then he or she expects you to forgive right away. In either case, we expect criticism to be a conversation, not a lecture. We also expect there to be constructive advice on how to do better next time.

Please send me your stories and insights on working with Americans to continue to build this conversation! Best wishes to you all in your international business ventures, – Becky

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