Masai with cellphonesAs an American coming from a culture that appreciates the structure and stability that our legal system often gives, sometimes it’s challenging to understand and accept the constant changing landscape of international business. Regulations on the local, regional and national levels can change depending on the political climate. Currencies fluctuate. Markets expectations change over time. Sometimes it feels like it’s all a moving target… and it is.

Someone from Finland asked me earlier this year for any recommended books on the current environment of international business. I was at a bit of a loss. There are certainly classic books that I think are worth reading like Riding the Waves of Culture by Fons Trompenaars and of course anything written by Thomas Friedman. But international business and trade is evolving much too quickly to publish. Blogs keep a more up-to-date perspective on global developments in commerce. The truth is that those of us working in international company roles are witness to one of the largest economic shifts that the world has ever seen.

So how do Americans, Canadians, Swiss and other rule-centered business cultures adjust to a more fluid system in much of the rest of the world?

Let In-Country Partners Take the Lead

It’s normal for business people to make assumptions about how things work. What works much better is to assume that there are differences that can’t be anticipated. I once worked with a Lebanese national who tried problem solving in the U.S. the way she would in Lebanon. It was a complete disaster. She burned relationships in every conflict situation. Likewise, I shouldn’t go to Lebanon and assume that my conflict resolution skills based on American culture will meet any greater success. Instead, spend the necessary time to cultivate close relationships with your in-country partners. Then heed their counsel.

 Regulations Are Reactionary

Rules are normally made when a government body sees either a problem or an opportunity that’s developed. Those of us in high-tech industries know this all too well. Any new industry niche starts out with minimal regulations. If the niche grows enough to attract attention, then normally a regulating agency sees the new area as their domain and then new rules follow. Another set of reactionary rules that I’m currently dealing with is the process around bringing a Chinese investor into the United States to look at high-tech investment opportunities. My contact is a reputable private equity firm owner, but she has the burden of proof to show that she will not illegally immigrate to the U.S. during her visit. Since much of regulation is reactionary, you can either anticipate what is likely to be a new rule or try to influence the legislative process. If you can, do the latter.

Change = Opportunities

As markets around the world experience change, I like to approach these changes as potential opportunities. Even negative changes are ones that the entire market must contend with. What helps is to accept the changes instead of resisting, and then to figure out how this new development can be dealt with. Your employees will thank you, but most importantly, your customers will thank you too.

Please contact me for more information about change management and navigating international markets. Good luck in all of your international business efforts!