Being in the right mindset when dealing with a different culture can save you lots of trouble. In this post, we will show you some ways to set your expectations right.
Expectations are outcomes that we anticipate under certain circumstances. They tend to crawl into our minds, settle as givens, and become assumptions. Assumptions are beliefs.
Beliefs make us feel certainty much like knowing something for a fact does.
The difference between believing and knowing is that believing is constructed on our biased perception while knowing is based on facts. What do expectations and assumptions have in common? We tend to seldom talk about them.
When you assume, whether positively or negatively, you step into a dangerous territory. You’re commanding your mind to process something that hasn’t happened as real. You then take action according to this thought which is based on nonexistent information.
Be cautious even if your assumptions match reality. Remember that even if outcomes match your assumptions, this didn’t happen because you assumed so. For example, if you assume that someone is honest and they prove to be honest. They were honest because of who they are, not because you assumed they were.
To give more context on assumptions: have you read the contract you agree to when you buy a flight ticket? It turns out that some airlines are only liable for transporting you from one place to another, not for doing it specifically by airplane. This means that, if your flight is canceled, the airline can send you by bus to your destination and you might have to accept it.
This is to say that even things that might seem obvious -“I bought a flight ticket.Therefore I should fly”- might not be so.
Expectations and assumptions come from past experiences and tend to remain internalized. When you have been exposed to only one business culture, it is common to assume that such culture is the “right” one, instead of understanding it’s the only one you know. Invariably, this leads to disappointment.
Assumptions, positive or negative, are still biased ideas. How to know when I’m assuming? If you are ever certain that you aren’t assuming, then you might be. If you don’t question your assumptions, you are assuming.
An underrated yet vital skill is expectations management. Once you have accepted that you have expectations, you can control them.
When you outsource, you will expect things to be done in a certain way in a certain time. You will appreciate values like honesty, efficiency, and commitment. In reality, you can’t expect all of these to be part of the process by themselves. You need to bring them to the table.
Bringing your expectations to the table, as detailed as possible, will ensure the swiftest process with your outsource. Explicit strategic communication is the key to success when outsourcing, especially when offshoring.
How to do it? Remember these points:
Have you read the book “The E-myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber? Among other things, Michael speaks about the importance of creating manuals and standardized processes for your company. Creating manuals boosts productivity and makes delegating tasks a piece of cake.
A point emphasized by Gerber is the need to make these manuals -“as simple as possible so that even the most uneducated mind can recreate the process with little to no problem”.
Translating this to outsourcing, especially if you don’t have these manuals, you would need to give as specific and clear instructions as possible. This reduces the guessing games and unnecessary experimentation from your outsourced professional in getting it right.
Anything from color codes or official measurements, to software to use, channels of communication, and whatever other preferences you might have, should be explicitly defined and explained.
A good place to start is to answer these questions and share the answers with the third-party.
Once these are settled, you might also want to consider the following points.
Anglo-Saxon cultures see time as a finite, well structured, construct. This is not the case for the majority of cultures around the world, where time is more of a point of reference.
Wait times can be tricky. For example, a remote worker could think that being 10 minutes late is not a problem. Could this be a problem for you?
To avoid this, it’s important to set expectations on punctuality and consequences if they’re not met. Following up with consequences is part of respecting agreements, so don’t back down.
However, never assume that the other party has a set perception of time. Many remote workers are aware of these cultural differences and they have adapted.
Remember that setting expectations leaves a precedent that highlights the importance of time for you. Don’t let the “they should know better” thought take over.
Do you want overnight production or better communication?
For the latter, nearshoring can be especially useful when you want to communicate faster on a daily basis with your resource or be able to visit them on short notice.
For the former, you can offshore mechanical tasks that need less supervision to a further time zone. This would ensure getting the job done overnight.
Taking this into consideration will reduce your costs and boost your productivity.
For example, will you use Slack? GitHub? Are you open to suggestions from the outsource?
Whatever platform or means you establish for communication, make sure to mention and explain its features.
Depending on the type of professional you’re dealing with, they could adapt faster to new technology. If that’s the case, then you can use your preferred tools, unless you are feeling adventurous and open to suggestions from the other person.
If the professional you hired is highly specialized in a specific process or technology, then a need for compromising on certain tools might arise. Whichever scenario you are in, always discuss this thoroughly.
Once, I worked with a company that had its own platform for video calls. They asked me to get a specific headset for our virtual meetings. They reimbursed the cost of the headset.
Communication is paramount in remote work, never be shy when defining its details.
Once the communication channels are defined, you can move on to time and dates. How often is it crucial to talk to each other?
As a general note, speaking constantly with your remote professional might give you peace of mind but slow progress.
Depending on the nature of the project, you can have meetings once a week or twice a month. Micromanaging will drive you crazy, let go.
Establish clear dates and time. Be there and hold the other person accountable for being there and being there on time
Think more about the project and less about your peace of mind or need for reassurance.
If you can’t see the project moving forward, then start looking for plan B.
In the beginning short periodic conversations that establish a sense of direction with your new resource will pay big dividends in the future. It will provide them with a sense of security that they are doing the right thing and it will ensure that the project advances in the direction it needs to.
Being aware of the origin of our work ethic can save us lots of trouble. Anglo-Saxon and Protestant cultures have a strict sense of business.
Values take on different forms, it can be useful to research a little about them.
For example, in a Mexican context, honesty isn’t equal to being forthcoming. So, if you are dealing with a Mexican outsourcer, you might face some beating around the bush before getting to the real matter.
In some Sub-Saharan countries, like South Africa, the above is also true. Also, if you don’t start a conversation with “Hello” or “How are you?”, before diving into business as usual, people might feel offended.
In some Asian countries, people struggle with saying “no”. However, the fact that they might agree to everything, doesn’t mean that they will do it.
Taking time to research makes you more aware of these differences. This improves time and productivity, making the working process more enjoyable.
Manners matter in business and how people perceive you. They can be the difference between a fast, high quality, experience or a bitter one.
Another tricky issue is feedback. Again, depending on which culture you are working with, you might need to adjust your approach.
Some cultures that can handle straightforward feedback are the Japanese or the Argentinian.
Researching how to give feedback, ask for things, and give orders, might seem a little tedious at the beginning. Just remember Mandela’s words “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Language is not only words, it’s culture and nonverbal communication. Becoming more aware of different cultures and how to approach them will open unimaginable doors to you and your company.
Take the time to know how to do so.
All the processes we describe above might seem a little overwhelming. In all honesty, it is not that difficult, you’ll be fine. Keep your interactions business oriented, with respect and honesty, and you’ll either get great results or won’t struggle with bad outsources.
With practice, you’ll get the hang of it. Remember that these situations boost your directing and interpersonal skills. Offshoring provides you with a great opportunity to increase productivity and management skills. We help companies find the right people that will accomplish this.
It’s better to feel overwhelmed for a while during cultural research, than burning out from all the work you didn’t delegate.
What has been the biggest cultural difference you’ve noticed when offshoring and how did you overcome it?