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Canadian management style guide

Cross Cultural Management Guide for Canada


The information below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Canada.


It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Canadian employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Equality
  • Leadership style
  • Punctuality
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation


Being a Manager in Canada

The business culture in Canada is egalitarian, so to ensure successful management it is important to remember to treat every person with equal respect and deference.

  • The Canadian management style can be defined as informal, friendly and open.
  • Shows of status and 'pulling rank' are not looked upon positively in the workplace.
  • In Canada, there is a sense that all people in the organization have an important role to play and are valued for their input.
  • Managers are expected to engage junior team members in discussions about events that might affect them, including during decision-making. 
  • Since Canada is multicultural, where immigrants are encouraged to retain their ethnic heritage, the business practices or behaviors you observe may vary dependent upon the cultural heritage of the person involved.

The Role of a Manager

The most productive managers in Canada recognize and value the specialized knowledge that employees at all levels bring

  • A manager is expected to be a leader and to set the right example in terms of performance and conduct for the rest of the team
  • Creating an inclusive and positive work environment is prioritized, so tend to remain politically correct and avoid conflicts as much as possible.
  • Although you may find that the leader will be deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, they typically do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas.
  • Due to a greater level of group working in Canada, praise should be given to the entire group as well as to individuals.

Approach to Change

Canadian culture is comfortable with change and risk. What does this mean?

  • Businesses in Canada have a high tolerance for risk and a ready acceptance of change.
  • The underlying mindset is that change, while difficult, usually brings improvements and that hard work and innovation will bring a better tomorrow.
  • Risk-takers who fail are not deprived of future opportunities as failure is often perceived as a necessary step in the learning process.
  • When discussing plan implementations, Canadian managers will look for a proactive, success-oriented perspective with details about how to make the plan succeed.
  • Without losing sight of the risk, managers are expected to stay focused on the opportunity and the positive vision.

Approach to Time and Priorities

  • Canada is a controlled-time culture, and adherence to schedules is important and expected.
  • In Canada, missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence.
  • The importance of time also extends to meetings and start times. If you're due to be in a meeting at a particular time then ensure you arrive 5 minutes before it starts as being late is not viewed well. 
  • Since Canadians respect schedules and deadlines, it is not unusual for managers to expect people to work late and even give up weekends to meet target deadlines.

Decision Making

Canada is an egalitarian society, which means that employees are free to express their opinions to their managers. In general, you are likely to find that:

  • Information flows in all directions and managers often seek the advice of others within the company who are technical experts.
  • Managers often see themselves as facilitators whose job is to assist their subordinates in reaching good decisions and producing their best work.
  • Relationships are not as important in forming decisions and moving business processes forward in Canada as they might be in other cultures. 
  • Instead, managers in Canada will look more at the qualifications of the people they are working with and place trust in the contract and related agreements as opposed to trust within the relationship. 
  • Avoid hurrying your Canadian counterpart into making a decision as it's likely that this will be perceived negatively.
  • Although you may achieve a partial decision in a meeting, it's often the case that your Canadian counterparts will want to discuss potential outcomes privately and reach a collective decision before reverting. 
  • In Quebec, which is more hierarchical, there is a greater respect for rank and authority and less discussion with employees prior to reaching a decision.
  • However, in high-technology companies or more entrepreneurial companies, Quebec management style is similar to the rest of Canada.

Boss or Team Player?

The role of the manager is to harness the talent of the group assembled and develop any resulting synergies. As such, you will find that managers collaborate fairly seamlessly with team members.

  • In Canada, team members are generally chosen to participate based on tangible skills or the knowledge base they bring and are equally welcome to contribute to any discussion that may arise.
  • One of the key goals for a manager is to harness the talents of the team.
  • Managers develop skills, find synergies between employees and provide a safe framework in which their teams can thrive.
  • They also act as mentors for junior employees, and more generally, create the conditions for everyone in their team to develop themselves.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Canadians are relatively indirect communicators which means they won't necessarily say what they mean. They take care to be polite and diplomatic, avoiding any conflict. They are typically fairly easygoing and relaxed in their attitude.

  • Canadian managers give regular feedback to their teams both on a one-to-one and group level.
  • Negative feedback is usually softened; for example, managers tend to use the “the sandwich method” to avoid being too direct.
  • Employees used to a more direct feedback style might miss the point and believe they are being praised. 
  • Canadians tend to be fairly calm and measured negotiators with a preference for working towards a win-win outcome.
  • They are not given to hard or pressurised tactics.   
  • Don't negatively impact your relationship by trying to pressurise your Canadian counterparts as they will be aware that you are doing this and the move will likely backfire.
  • Due to the egalitarian nature of Canadian culture, boasting or presenting an exaggerated image will not be viewed positively.  
  • As a rule, French Canadians are proud of their culture and heritage. They take special pride in their language and speaking it well.
  • If you do not speak French, it is a good idea to learn a few key phrases, since it demonstrates an interest in maintaining a long-term relationship.

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