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French management style guide

Cross Cultural Management Guide for France


The cultural intelligence offered below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of France.


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

Topics include:

  • Leadership style
  • Time and priorities
  • Importance of language
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation



Being a Manager in France

French business culture aims to be egalitarian. As such, to be a successful manager it is important to remember to treat each and every person with equal respect and deference.

  • In the professional setting, it is safest to be formal and reserved in your behaviour 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 workplace is very important and you will be judged on your appearance.  
  • To manage 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 practices emphasize courtesy and a degree of formality. CEOs of French companies often come from a select group of universities and share a similar background. As such, although there is an egalitarian tendency in the wider culture, professional culture can be hierarchical.

  • 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.
  • Some organisations and institutions are very conservative and vertical, with an emphasis on a strong, directive leader.
  • Many French CEOs believe that, in order to remain globally competitive, organisations must become less hierarchical and maintain open and informal communication channels between managers and employees.

Approach to Change

According to intercultural research, France has 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 embarrassment that may accompany failure, bring 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, cultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made by participating individuals.

Time and Priorities

France is a time-static 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 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 time-static cultures tend to have their time highly scheduled, and it’s generally a good idea to provide and adhere to performance milestones.
  • Effective management will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.

Decision Making

As already stated, 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 employees like working in teams and collaborating.

  • 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 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 behaviour or high-pressure tactics as they 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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