DEARBORN – While geographically close to the United States, countries in the Caribbean and Central America employ business practices that can differ from those in the United States. As a result, Ford Export and Growth (E&G) employees attending a recent Cultural Awareness Lunch and Learn found it to be time well spent.
Although the seminar included an overview of the region, its primary focus was on practices in Puerto Rico and Panama.
One of the biggest differences between the region and the United States, according to Francisca Fernandez of TechWorld, who presented the session, is the concept of time. “They place a strong emphasis on relationships. If they’re on their way to a meeting and see someone they know, it’s important to stop and talk with that person and risk not getting to the meeting on time. They’ll also want to converse with the person they’re meeting with on topics other than business, because they view that relationship as more important than the business being conducted.”
Fernandez, who grew up in the region, says getting down to business without asking someone from CCA about their family would be considered rude, an indication the person doesn’t care about them or their lives. She says first impressions tend to be lasting ones. “The initial meeting will set the tone for future relationships. The ability of foreigners doing business in the CCA to project respect for the person’s position and point of view will aid in getting things accomplished smoothly.”
Fernandez says courtesy and respect are particularly valued. “Latin Americans expect foreigners to be rude, impatient and demanding. Anything that can be done to negate this perception will help outsiders achieve success. Perceived arrogance may cause irreparable damage.”
Business meetings tend to be less formal in the CCA than in the United States. For instance, side conversations are not uncommon, and while an agenda may be set, it may not be adhered to. Titles are considered important and should be used, at least initially. However, not everything is less formal. Business casual office attire, for example, is virtually unheard of.
Because of the region’s proximity to the United States, many E&G employees have spent time there, which helped focus the discussion on differences encountered in doing business and the accommodations made both in CCA and the United States in order to find the best way to work together.
The lunch and learn seminars are a regular occurrence within E&G, which supports emerging markets in the Middle East, Caribbean and Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia Pacific. Elaine Luther, management sponsor of E&G’s Diversity and Community Service Council, says they’ve become part of the organization’s corporate culture. “One of the council’s goals for 2012 was to strengthen our focus on diversity, and these luncheons are helping us accomplish that. Because the seminars help employees at our main offices in Allen Park learn about cultures, social norms and business practices around the world, they also help us become more unified as we work together to achieve our objectives.”