You might wonder why we decided to write this book about Americans in business, when it seems so many legal and accounting firms and culture guru’s have already covered this topic before? Isn’t working with Americans just like working within any other culture, just with a different accent? In simple terms, no. We couldn’t find a book or reference guide specifically on this topic – so we decided to write one ourselves.
And why us, you may ask? Because between us, we have over 40 years’ experience living and working in Europe as well as both being Americans. Allyson Stewart-Allen lives in London, and makes her living advising European and US companies wanting to cross the Atlantic with their products and services. Lanie Denslow lives in Los Angeles and spends significant parts of each year in working London and Paris. Her work advising individuals and institutions in the US and Europe has shown differences in business cultures do exist and understanding these differences helps build profits.
Over the years we’ve been developing the ideas herein ideas with our non-American clients and network of experts. We’ve learned there hasn’t been anything compiled that focuses on helping you interpret the business culture of the connected, global, hyperspeed American business world. There must be something about the American culture (or the water) that produces, according to the Financial Times , seven of the top ten most respected companies in the world, and we hope in the course of this book you find for yourself what that magic might be.
According to Felix Rohytan, “today approximately four and a half million Americans work for European companies. About the same number of Europeans are employed by American companies.” Viewed from our perspective, this provides millions of possibilities for conflicts and confusion, humor misunderstood and opportunities missed. It is no longer sufficient to just “get on with it,” to do business as usual and take your chances. “Too bad if they don’t get it. We’ll sell our titanium eyelashes elsewhere”. But then you find that “elsewhere” has its own culture too.
When working in American fast paced, complex business environments, you probably wish “it could be easier” and wonder when your American colleagues will behave in a “reasonable” fashion. This book is meant to help you understand that the definition of “reasonable” varies by culture, to understand what drives American business behaviors, to learn what is typical, and thereby reduce levels of stress when you encounter business values and decisions which feel very different from those that would be the norm in your home business culture.
As Americans and authors, we know it is impossible to describe the complete diversity of our business culture within these covers. This is not an absolute guide. There are no “one-size-fits-all” explanations as people and situations will be different — influenced by family, up bringing, education and personal experience. But we hope we’ve gone some way towards demystifying it the American approach to business, and at the same time that by helping you better understand Americans, they’ll in turn better understand your business culture too.
Culture is Business Too
Culture is comprised of the behaviors that are prized – within a society, a company, and even a family. We learn these behaviors by experience and example. The lessons and the rules become so deeply embedded within us that our actions are automatic. We know what’s right and wrong, how to make a friend, share information, where to stand during a conversation, and even what time to expect lunch. All these matters big and small are dictated by our culture.
Culture doesn’t only guide our personal lives. According to the political economist Max Weber, culture is critical to business, to our economic development. He said, “If we learn anything from the history of economic development it is that culture makes almost all the difference.” The noted author Michael Porter states that “Economic culture is defined as the beliefs, attitudes, and values that bear on the economic activities of individuals, organizations, and other institutions.” Simply, it is how we do business.
There is wisdom, learning in all cultures but cultures vary between companies and countries and when these differences smack into each other, problems can arise. As our global economy expands and creates connections that are extensive, growing the possibilities for collisions increase. Our focus is the American culture as it reveals itself in a business environment. Culture in this context is about individual behaviors or patterns of behavior. As we stated above, no one description fits all Americans. They are complex, independent, proactive and proud. They can be fun loving and optimistic, or stern and anxious. The variations can often be linked to age or location. Our goal is to help you understand what makes us “tick” so you can steer clear of misunderstandings and capitalize on your business opportunities. Read on to learn how this shared cultural background influences American business behavior today, and gain some practical tips for smoothing the way.