Intercultural Management - Bolivia
Being a Manager in Bolivia
The business set up in Bolivia is very formal and cross cultural management will be more successful if you bear in mind the importance of being courteous at all times. Treat those in positions of authority with particular respect and deference. It is better to err on the side of being overly formal rather than jeopardize a business relationship by being too informal and appearing flippant.
Spend time cultivating relationships and maintaining them once they are formed. This is a country where "who you know" is often more important than "what you know". Interpersonal relationships ("personalismo"), including loyalty to family and friends, are the linchpin of successful business interactions.
The Role of a Manager
Cross cultural communication will be more effective when managing in Bolivia, if you keep it in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization. People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience than those they manage, and it is, therefore, unnecessary, and even inappropriate for them to consult with lower-ranking individuals when decision-making.
In Bolivia, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude to their employees. They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace and strictly professional concerns. This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues.
Approach to Change
Bolivia’s intercultural adaptability and readiness for change is apparent although changes are still made slowly, requiring a considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation. It would be perceived as imprudent to introduce rapid change, and yet it would be recognized as poor management to resist change unnecessarily.
Cross cultural sensitivity is important with Bolivia’s attitude toward risk dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group.
Approach to Time and Priorities
Deadlines and timescales are fluid in Bolivia. Patience will play an essential part in successful cross cultural management.
While timescales and deadlines need to be set well in advance and reiterated carefully, it should be understood that these will be viewed as flexible.
Global and intercultural expansion means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.
Decisions are reached at the top of the company, often after seeking input from all the stakeholders. Since Bolivians believe business should be "win-win" scenarios, they attempt to find solutions that are in the best interest of all concerned.
Managers are more autocratic than in many other countries. They tell subordinates what they want done and how they expect them to perform the task. Subordinates follow a manager’s instructions without comment, as it would be rude to challenge someone of a higher status.
Boss or Team Player?
If you are working with people from Bolivia an intercultural understanding of the importance that hierarchy plays is needed. Traditionally, the supervisor is seen to hold that position because of superior knowledge and skills. It would traditionally have been unthinkable for someone of a higher position to collaborate with someone from a lower status.
This is changing somewhat in younger generations, particularly those employed by multinational corporations.
Communication and Negotiation Styles
Personal relationships are important to Bolivians. They prefer to deal with those they trust; therefore they spend time developing relationships. It may take several visits to accomplish a simple task. Bolivians are skilled negotiators and drive hard bargains. Bolivians negotiate with people, not companies. Therefore it’s important not to change your team during negotiations, or you may have to start the process over.
Deadlines are not seen as important and contracts are negotiated in stages. Agreements may be reversed until the final contract is signed. Cross cultural patience is going to be a necessary pre-requisite during the negotiating stages.