Intercultural Management - Saudi Arabia
Being a Manager in Saudi Arabia
The business set up in Saudi Arabia is extremely conservative and to ensure successful cross cultural management you will need to maintain a proper degree of formality and treat everyone with respect. Older people and those in senior positions are always deferred to and treated with the utmost respect.
Patience may be a necessary cross cultural attribute. Things generally take longer than expected since meetings are frequently interrupted and Saudis take time to get to know you. In general, punctuality is expected of the westerner but not of the Saudi. Never do anything that would make a Saudi appear less in the eyes of others.
You will need a Saudi sponsor to enter the country. The sponsor acts as an intermediary and arranges appointments with appropriate individuals.
Since Saudis will most likely judge you on appearances, stay in a high standard international hotel. Likewise, wearing good-quality, conservative clothes will impress them.
The Role of a Manager
Cross cultural management will be more effective with an understanding of the individual roles and existing hierarchy. Employees do not question the decisions that have been reached. Managers or those in a position to do so will make decisions, while in general their subordinates will wait to be told what to do.
Approach to Change
Saudi Arabia’s intercultural competence and readiness for risk is low. Saudi Arabia is a low risk and low change-tolerant culture. New projects will be carefully analyzed to assure that whatever risk they represent is thoroughly understood and addressed.
In order for change to take hold, the idea needs to be perceived as good for the group and be accepted by the group. Intercultural sensitivity is important with Saudi Arabia’s attitude toward risk dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group.
Approach to Time and Priorities
Cross cultural understanding is important when reviewing the approach to timelines. Saudis will not want to upset others in order to force adherence to a deadline.
Things generally take longer than expected since meetings are frequently interrupted and several meetings may be required to do what could be handled by a phone call at home. When working with people from Saudi Arabia, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadline. Globalization and intercultural expansion means some local managers may understand and appreciate the important of adherence to schedules and deadlines.
Managers reach decisions after many discussions with major stakeholders. Once a decision is reached, it is handed down to subordinates to implement. Employees do not question the decisions that have been reached. Managers or those in a position to do so will make decisions, while in general their subordinates will wait to be told what to do.
Boss or Team Player?
If you are working in Saudi Arabia, it is important to remember that honour and reputation play an important role and so some cross cultural sensitivity will be required. The risk becomes amplified in a team or collaborative setting. If you would like to encourage participation it is important first to clearly establish a non-threatening work environment and communicate fully that team-member participation is desired.
Communication and Negotiation Styles
Business is personal. It will be impossible to finalize agreements without face-to-face contact. Decisions are made slowly. Do not try to rush the process. Most decisions require several layers of approval. It may take several visits to accomplish simple tasks. Saudis are tough negotiators. They believe that everything is negotiable. Business is hierarchical. Decisions are made by the highest-ranking person. Repeating your main points will be interpreted as meaning you are telling the truth. High-pressure tactics are counter-productive. Decisions are easily overturned. When discussing price, Saudis will often make an initial offer that is extremely low when they are buying. Conversely, when they are selling, their initial offer will be extremely high. You may need to compromise on a point if someone's honor is at stake. There is a tendency to avoid giving bad news and to give effusive acceptances, which may only mean "perhaps". Expect to be asked to make concessions. Do so with great reluctance and insist upon a similar concession from the other side.
Need more help? Our Saudi cultural awareness courses also cover leadership and management.