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Cultural Briefing Document Zurich Switzerland
The LJ Products Co. is proud to announce that one of our executive staff will be joining our staff in Zurich Switzerland in January of 2012. Mr. Didier Burkhalter will be joining our Zurich staff as chief financial officer. Mr. Burkhalter will report directly to the CEO and other members of the board. To make Mr. Burkhalter feel welcome in his new position it is requested that all staff members read the following briefing prior to his arrival and that they become familiar with the customs of Mr. Burkhalter's country of origin. All staff members should extend Mr. Burkhalter a warm welcome by familiarizing themselves with his customs. The following summarizes many of the customs of Swiss society, using American culture as a reference point.
Hofstede's cultural dimensions is the most widely used system for developing a framework that assesses national cultures and organizational cultures. Hofstede's dimensions go beyond food and dress. They describe a culture in terms of the skills that they bring to an organization. According to Hofstede's cultural dimensions, cultures exist along a series of continuums. For instance, they may be individualistic or collective, masculine or feminine, or perhaps long-term or short-term oriented (Hofstede 2001).
Using Hofstede's cultural dimensions, the highest score for Switzerland is masculinity. This indicates a high degree of polarization between the value systems of Swiss men and Swiss women. The population has strong gender differentiation in which the male portion of the population is more competitive and assertive than the female population (Hofstede 2008). The United States also has a high masculinity score, so the cultures are similar in this respect.
The second highest dimension for Hofstede's cultural dimensions is individualism. Switzerland's individualism score is much higher than the world average and of that for Europe (Hofstede 2008). However, the United States also has a high score for individualism. This means that people tend to take care of themselves and their close family, but do not tend to involve themselves in the affairs of others.
Power distribution in Switzerland is relatively equal, compared to authoritarian societies. The Swiss believe that power and control in society should be distributed more equally among members of society. They do not believe in vast differences in social class or a highly differentiated class system (Hofstede 2008).
The Swiss also have a low level of uncertainty avoidance. A country with a high score of uncertainty avoidance typically imposes strict rules and regulations in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty within the society. Switzerland's uncertainty avoidance score is low. The Swiss are highly accepting of unique and unusual ideas and concepts. They have a high degree of tolerance for points-of-view other than their own. There a highly adaptable people, but they do not often appear to be highly emotional. This can be mistaken for apathy, but it is just an acceptance of the situation (Hofstede 2008). This summarizes the main dimensions that apply to Switzerland and will provide an excellent understanding of the general traits of the Swiss people.
Stereotyping means judging someone on the basis of general ideas about their culture, nationality, or religion, rather than individual merit. Some common stereotypes about the Swiss are associated with cheese, chocolate, watches, and a squeaky clean sense of order. The experiences of travelers in Switzerland provide an interesting perspective on the overall impression of the Swiss people. In Zurich, the trains and public transportation operates with absolute efficiency. It is expensive, compared to other cities in Europe, but it is always on time and easy to board (Pulis 2010). The Swiss are used a high degree of efficiency in their organizations and services.
This Swiss are known to be hard to get to know on a personal level. This agrees with Hofstede's assessment of individualism within the culture. They expect everyone to obey the rules and have little tolerance for those who do not. Switzerland is a major tourist destination, but they do not necessarily cater to their visitors. For instance, they seldom go out of their way to make certain that English speakers can understand directions at a train station. Almost everything is in German and the visitor is expected to become proficient enough in the local language to make their way around (Pulis 2010). The Swiss are highly adaptable and tolerant of other cultures, but they do not change theirs or make an extra effort to make a visitor feel comfortable.
Nonverbal communication rules are not that different from other northwestern European countries. For instance, leaning forward usually means agreement, leaning backwards usually means suspicion. Crossing the arms is a sign of closure, or cutting someone off because they do not agree. People nod their head vertically for yes and sideways for no. The Swiss do not become excited when talking and do not use big gestures or an overt display of enthusiasm. They tend to keep their language quiet and low key (Micheloud & Cie 2008).
It is customary to beat around the bush and avoid the real topic for quite some time until you gain their trust. They will not come into a meeting and get right to the point without exchanging niceties first. It is hard to tell what they are really thinking because they do not display it openly. The Swiss will watch for a reaction when they explain something to another person. When they want an answer they will smile. They expect others to play along with this little game, or they will not acknowledge them in the future (Micheloud & Cie 2008).
It might be noted that posture is important during formal business meetings. Sitting with legs crossed the over knee is considered appropriate, as is sitting up straight using proper posture in the chair. Crossing of the legs ankle over knee or extending one's legs out casually is considered rude and a breach of etiquette during business meetings (Communicaid Group Ltd. 2009). In addition, using your index finger to point to your own head is considered an insult (ediplomat.com 2011).
Business etiquette in Switzerland mirrors many other aspects of Swiss culture. The Swiss expect thriftiness, tolerance, punctuality and a sense of responsibility in the business setting (Expatica 2011). They hold themselves to these principles and expect them from others as well. The business climate in Switzerland is formal, conservative, and structured in a traditional vertical manner. The top levels of the organization are the decision makers. Employees have little responsibility and must default to those above them on many issues (Expatica 2011).
This Swiss take a detailed approach to planning and strategy. They often work with tight schedules. Meetings are impersonal, orderly, planned, and task oriented. They expect efficiency in every area of the business. Systems and procedures are the heart of Swiss business structure. The Swiss value consensus and strive to achieve consensus among all members of the group quickly (Expatica 2011). In meetings they tend to get down to business after a few minutes of general discussion. They tend to be methodical and precise in every area of the business and expect the same from others.
When meeting others in a business setting it is customary to shake hands with everyone present. Handshakes should be firm and combined with eye contact. Last names and formal address should be used unless the other party invites you to call them by their first name (Expatica 2011). Business attire should always be clean and neat. Fashion is considered to be taboo in the business setting. Formal and conservative best describes the appropriate business attire (Expatica 2011). Business and private life are always separate and it is not appropriate to call someone at home. The Swiss should not be expected to attend social functions with work associates that are not business related. Business cards are always exchanged at the beginning of each meeting.
The Swiss tend to focus on long-term relationships. Only after the relationship has been established will they become less formal. The Swiss place a high value on the ability to build group consensus. Although the final decision-making abilities rest at the top of the hierarchy, the lower ranking members of the team often contribute to the final decision (Communicaid Group Ltd. 2009). For this reason, the Swiss work well as a part of a team.
Switzerland is centrally located, with roughly 70% of the Swiss population speaking German. However, they also speak French, Italian, and Romanish. Most of the population speaks at least two of the native languages that are present in the country. They also speak English in addition to these other native languages (World Business Culture). The Swiss favor plain, direct speech in both their written and spoken communication. Their direct approach can be viewed by other cultures as aggressive or confrontational. However, this is not the intention of the Swiss and they simply mean to get their ideas across with as little chance for inaccuracy as possible. They want to get it…[continue]
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