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Cross Cultural Management Guide - France


What will you Learn in this Guide?

In this guide, expatriate managers will gain an understanding of a number of key cross cultural areas when working in France:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling 
  • Importance of language 
  • Communication style and; 
  • Negotiation style 


Gain an Expert Understanding:

Once you've read this guide, ensure the success of your business venture in France by: 

  • Taking part in a two hour live webinar, customised to meet your unique needs, with one of our France country and culture training experts or;
  • Contacting us in respect to our consultancy services for France.

Being a Manager in France

French business culture tends to be very egalitarian. As such, to ensure successful cross cultural management it is important to remember to treat each and every person with equal respect and deference:

  • In the business setting, it is safest to be formal and reserved in your behavior and expect that your French colleagues will be the same.
  • Communication may be both formal and informal, depending upon the person you are dealing with and the relationship between you.
  • The way you present yourself in a French work place is very important and you will be judged on your appearance.  
  • To work effectively in France, it's important that you build a network of trusted acquaintances that you can draw upon where necessary. 


The Role of a Manager

French business behavior emphasizes courtesy and a degree of formality. Chief executives of French companies often come from a select group of universities and share a similar background. Consequently, it is best to send a senior executive to initiate the relationship with the French decision-maker, especially if it is someone whose credentials and experience are comparable:

  • Newcomers to the French management style should carefully study the corporate culture of specific companies because they may vary.
  • You may find that employees will range from feeling empowered to speak out in the management process, to those who believe it is most important to simply execute the instructions by their leadership.


Approach to Change

France’s intercultural adaptability and readiness for change is developing all the time. France is seen to have a medium tolerance for change and risk. It is important for innovations to have a track record or history noting the benefits if they are to be accepted and implemented:

  • The fear of exposure, and the potential of embarrassment that may accompany failure, brings about aversion to risk and the need to thoroughly examine the potential negative implications.
  • While in risk-tolerant environments, failure is perceived as a learning process that encourages confidence in future ventures, failure in France causes a long-term loss of confidence by the individual as well as by others.
  • Because of this attitude, intercultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made my participating individuals.


Approach to Time and Priorities

France is a controlled-time culture, and adherence to schedules is important and expected. How does this manifest in the workplace?

  • In France missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence.
  • If you are likely to be miss a deadline, then ensure this is communicated to all necessary stakeholders as this can mitigate events to some degree.  Hoping that people will not notice you've missed the deadline will not be helpful and will impact your reputation. 
  • People in controlled-time cultures tend to have their time highly scheduled, and it’s generally a good idea to provide and adhere to performance milestones.
  • Effective cross cultural management skill will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.


Decision Making

For effective cross cultural management it is important to remember that hierarchy is part of the French business culture. You may find that:

  • This is a country where rank has its privilege, often both literally and figuratively.
  • Decision making is done at the highest levels, often without consultation with subordinates.


Boss or Team Player?

French like working in teams and collaborate quite well:

  • The communication within a team is generally quite collegial, albeit somewhat direct and blunt. Role allocation within the team is generally quite clearly defined and people will take greater responsibility for their specific task than for the group as a whole.
  • Successful cross cultural management will depend on the individual’s ability to harness the talent of the group assembled, and develop any resulting synergies. The leader will be deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, but they do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas. Praise should be given to the entire group as well as to individuals.


Communication and Negotiation Styles

The French are proud of their language and prefer to communicate in French as opposed to English.  If you do not speak French, then you should at least make an effort to learn the language needed for introductions as this will show a willingness on your part.  If you have your materials translated, then ensure they are translated well and that they have been proofread.  It will not be considered acceptable to distribute materials with any grammatical or spelling errors. You should also consider the following:

  • French business emphasizes courtesy and a fair degree of formality. If you are attending a meeting with your French counterparts, then wait to be told where to sit as there may be a protocol to be followed.
  • Business is often conducted slowly. You will have to be patient and not appear ruffled by the strict adherence to protocol.
  • Avoid confrontational behavior or high-pressure tactics as it can be counterproductive.
  • The French will carefully analyze every detail of a proposal, regardless of how minute. The French are often impressed with good debating skills that demonstrate an intellectual grasp of the situation and all the ramifications.
  • Never attempt to be overly friendly. The French generally compartmentalize their business and personal lives.
  • The negotiation process in France can be quite drawn out. The value placed on detail in French business culture means that you may well be required to reiterate and distribute a record of any agreements made throughout the process to all attendees. 
  • Ensure you prepare well presented and clear materials as part of your negotiations which emphasise facts and benefits.  Do not be tempted to oversell yourself or your product / service, as this will not be appreciated. 
  • You will find that there is a great deal of debate and discussion in relation to your proposal.  The French are likely to want to understand it in detail and may well challenge your assertions in a bid to gain the necessary nuances. 

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