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3 ways cultural differences can hurt IT management

Written by Mark Williams | 11 August 2016

The biggest challenge to your overseas office isn’t the new building or overseas ISPs: it’s the people.

When you’re managing new people, in a new office, thousands of miles away - who might even speak a different language – just talking loud and slow isn’t going to cut it.

Here are three of the biggest challenges that you could face thanks to cultural differences in your new international IT management role.

1.      Hiring differences

When hiring an IT team for your new office, you’ll need to research the different qualifications to look for:

  • Not every country has education qualifications equivalent to the ones you’re used to. GCSEs do not equal SATs.
  • Familiarise yourself with the reputation and standards of national colleges, universities and training schools to know what certain names are shorthand for.
  • Vocational qualifications tend to be acronym central. Dig around, get to the bottom of those letters and figure out if you trust who accredits them.

Most of all, don’t forget that applicants from different countries may pride themselves on different ways of working. Don’t be put off by applications that don’t match your normal requirements: a little cultural diversity could prove to be a valuable addition to your business.

2.  Communication problems

Different cultures – let alone different languages – can create communication barriers. And poor communication means low productivity and unhappy employees.

Even if you are speaking the same language, some of your international colleagues might use terminology that you are unfamiliar with, and vice versa. It’s not unusual for technical terms to vary from country to country.

At a broader level, differences in communication style may cause friction or lead to conflicting priorities for the business.

This might mean an IT support request that includes too little, or even too much information, making it difficult for you and your team to identify and deal with the problem. Or it could be a project leader who misunderstands the urgency of your request or the priority of certain features.

Don’t skirt around the issue. Address it directly and work together to create a common ground for work-related communications. For example, create an IT support request template that outlines all the information you need so your colleagues know what they need to tell you and how.

3.   People mismanagement

Different people require different management approaches to get the best out of them. In a new country, these differences can be even more pronounced.

Even Google aren’t immune to this problem.

‘When Google moved into France, it learned that in that country, positive words are used sparingly and criticism is provided more strongly’, according to HBR. ‘One French manager told me, “The first time I used the Google form to give a performance review, I was confused. Where was the section to talk about problem areas? ‘What did this employee do really well?’ The positive wording sounded over the top.”’

Be aware of the cultural implications of your feedback and management techniques. Do people prefer face-to-face feedback? Would they lose face by being singled out in public?

These aren’t challenges you can meet overnight, but they are something you can prepare for. And you owe it the staff and to your business to do so.

Cultural barriers might not seem a priority when you’ve got a lot of tangible, technical tasks to address, but they can make or break an international office.