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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Iran

The cultural insights offered below are for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Iran.

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

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation

Being a Manager in Iran

If you are new to being a manager in Iran then it's important to understand the country has been under sanctions for decades. This has resulted in Iranian businesses being sidelined internationally which means the management style is still very 'Iranian'.

  • When managing in Iran, it is important to keep in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization, and maintaining that role helps to keep order.
  • It's also important to learn the many rules and rituals of etiquette that exist, especially those between manager and subordinate.
  • A manager in Iran is expected to lead from the front, give their employees motivation and protect the organization from failure or loss of face.
  • Employees are generally treated with respect.
  • In turn, employees treat their manager with respect and deference attributable to their position.

The Role of a Manager

In Iran, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude toward their employees.

  • They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace.
  • This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues.
  • It is the manager’s job to regularly check on the work of a subordinate and to provide regular constructive feedback.
  • This may include monitoring work quality and the timing of its completion.

Approach to Change

Iran’s cultural readiness for change is minimal. This means that change is difficult to bring about and is not received with any enthusiasm.

  • Projects will need to be carefully analyzed every step of the way to assure that all the risks have been assessed and understood.
  • Failure in Iran causes a long-term loss of confidence in the individual as well as in others.
  • Because of this attitude, cultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made by participating individuals.

Approach to Time and Priorities

People in Iran will not want to upset others in order to force adherence to a deadline, and while appointments and schedules need to be set well in advance as a sign of respect for the individual, you need to understand that those schedules are seen as flexible, not necessarily needing to be adhered to.

  • When working with people from Iran, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and how that may affect the rest of the organization.
  • Global working 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.
  • Patience is key.
  • Meeting deadlines is often secondary to maintaining personal relationships.
  • Cultural agility is necessary and you must remember that managers do not publicly chastise employees because it would cause the subordinate to lose dignity and respect.

Decision Making

Many companies are family-owned. Decisions are usually made at the top of the company, either by the most senior ranking person or by a small council of senior-level staff.

  • Decisions are often reached after discussions with everyone who will be affected.
  • 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.
  • Risk-taking is limited to those in decision-making positions.

Boss or Team Player?

If you are working in Iran then cultural awareness is essential. It is important to remember that reputation plays an important role.

  • 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 their participation is desired.
  • Successful management will rely on the individual’s interpersonal skills and ability to maintain cordial relationships with their subordinates.
  • The hierarchical nature of Iranian business culture means that employees expect their managers to have greater expertise, insights and knowledge than themselves.
  • It may damage your reputation if you try to get too much input from your employees as this may position you as lacking the necessary knowledge to do the job.
  • Iranians are generally very keen to learn and are open to gaining new skills and building their knowledge and understanding.
  • If you create a learning environment, then your Iranian employees will undoubtedly value the opportunity to develop their expertise.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Although initially warm, friendly and hospitable, it takes time for Iranians to trust foreign business people. Until then, they may appear somewhat stiff and formal.

  • Foreigners will be more effective when working with the understanding that personal relationships form the basis of business dealings and decisions are made slowly.
  • Iranians are deliberate negotiators who can drive a hard bargain.
  • Do not use high-pressure tactics as they are generally counterproductive.
  • Iranians may display emotion, even walk out of the meeting, or threaten to terminate the relationship in an attempt to convince you to change your position.
  • Do not emulate this behaviour.
  • Iranians often use time as a negotiating tactic, especially if they know that you have a deadline.
  • Be cautious about letting your business colleagues know that you are under time pressure.
  • If your Iranian counterpart disagrees with you, then you may find they don’t overtly communicate this to you.
  • Instead, they may show their disagreement by failing to carry out instructions properly or that they demonstrating their disagreement through other passive means. 

Iranian business culture training

Learn More About Iranian Business Culture

If you are doing business with Iran, then this eLearning course on Iranian business culture will help you make a great impression.

The course will help you create trusting relationships and maximise your business outcomes.


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