Why Cultural Intelligence is Integral to Growing an International Business
Written by Yapstone
Business //April 12
You may have experienced culture shock if you ever visited a new country for the first time and didn’t speak the language. But try bringing your business across borders, and the term carries a whole new meaning.
Doing your market research before setting up shop abroad is essential, but having cultural intelligence is also key – and it goes beyond having an understanding of taxation rates and reliefs or how much you’ll have to pay out in salaries. You need to understand the culture of your target country on a very granular level if you want to be successful overseas. Ignore this crucial factor and you’ll have a product that doesn’t suit the market and a message that fails to resonate with its people.
As a leading Fintech company based in the U.S. with an established international headquarters in Ireland, YapStone has learned the value of cultural intelligence firsthand. Over the past 5 years, we’ve worked with our Ireland based leaders and our partners in the EU to gain a real understanding of each market, and from there, developed and implemented customized solutions for each country.
Here are a few insights we’ve gleamed that can help you increase your cultural intelligence and better prepare your business for international expansion.
Cultivate an emotional intelligence
Cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence may not be synonymous, but the ability to deal with different people’s opinions and accept new ideas is intrinsic to both. And, people who display emotional intelligence are more likely to develop cultural intelligence. Someone who is emotionally intelligent – characterized as having adept relationship skills, empathy, and optimistic expectations – is likely more equipped to deal with the challenges of adapting to the ways of another culture.
And if you’re looking for a model of emotional intelligence, millennials are a good place to start. They have been found to have a higher emotional intelligence than previous generations.
Learn your local market
It is vital to have a thorough understanding of the legislation you’ll have to comply with and a well-devised plan of how you’ll fit in with your new ecosystem abroad.
If you want to reach your target audience, for example, localization of your marketing materials is increasingly important. Even if you’re doing business in countries that share the same language, they’ll have different regional uses of vocabulary, national holidays, time zones, currency and climate. Your summer promos can go down like a lead balloon if you send them to the southern hemisphere in the middle of winter. Your content written for a U.S. based audience might seem foreign to UK or Australian readers. All these factors require research and adaptability, but they also require a high level of cultural intelligence.
Lean on locals
Cultural intelligence comprises a wide skill set, from how well you communicate with people from different cultures to your tolerance level of uncertain or ambiguous situations. Luckily, there are people and organizations who can help lead you through the unknowns of a new country. To ease YapStone’s culture shock, we hired Peter Rowan as VP of International Operations and Global Customer Support. A local leader in Ireland and a payments veteran of global marketplaces, Rowan’s tremendous breadth of international experience was pivotal in helping YapStone connect with local resources. In Ireland, that meant using the American Chamber of Commerce, the Local Business Chambers of Commerce and the IDA, but you’ll need to find the entities designed to assist foreign organizations where you decide to do business.
Having cultural intelligence sometimes means recognizing you might not be the one with the best answer. Our management team had to learn to rescind control at times and leave judgment calls up to local teams who have a deeper knowledge of the market and culture they’re serving.
Don’t expect to gain cultural intelligence overnight – or alone
Learning and truly understanding how to customize your product to suit a local culture doesn’t happen overnight. Culture, after all, is something that has been built up over centuries. You may be a whizz on geography and world capitals, but did you know that in Germany, consumers are less willing to make purchases on their credit cards than in the States? Or that in Ireland people are less punctual than their U.S. counterparts?
Having a company that is culturally intelligent begins with having a team that is culturally diverse. As cultural intelligence becomes integral to business expansion, more and more companies are seeking employees equipped with this skill. According to a study by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), culturally diverse management teams are more likely to stimulate innovation and creativity. Which means that your company can gain a competitive edge by learning to work well with global talent.
Taking a business abroad poses many challenges, but fortunately, you can lessen the blow of culture shock with a lesson in cultural intelligence. Taking the time to consider your new market, seeking out local resources and welcoming the help of diverse and experienced leaders will help smooth your transition and better set you up for success abroad. As cultural intelligence becomes integral to the future of business, it’s time to start broadening your horizons and strengthening yours.
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