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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Panama

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

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

Topics include:

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

The Role of a Manager

Foreign managers will be more effective when working in Panama, if they keep it in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization.

      • People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience than those they manage.
      • Therefore, unnecessary, and even inappropriate for them to consult with lower-ranking individuals when decision-making.
      • In Panama, 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 and strictly professional concerns.
      • This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues.

Approach to Change

Panama’s cultural appetite for change is apparent although changes are still made slowly, requiring a considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation.

      • It would be perceived as imprudent to introduce rapid change, and yet it would be recognized as poor management to resist change unnecessarily.
      • Cultural sensitivity is important with Panama’s attitude toward risk dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Deadlines and timescales are fluid in Panama. As such, patience will play an essential part in successful management.

      • While timescales and deadlines need to be set well in advance and reiterated carefully, it should be understood that these will be viewed as flexible.
      • Global working and collaboration 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.

Decision Making

Panamanian business is hierarchical. Job functions, roles and responsibilities are well-defined and respected.

      • Even in meetings, subordinates will demonstrate deference and respect towards those of a higher level.
      • Decisions are made at the top of the company, but only after much consultation to determine how it will impact others.

Boss or Team Player?

If you are working with people from Panama, it is important to remember the role that hierarchy plays in teamwork and collaboration. Traditionally, the supervisor is seen to hold that position because of superior knowledge and skills. It would traditionally have been unthinkable for someone of a higher position to collaborate with or ask for ideas of someone of a lower status.

      • This is changing somewhat in younger generations, particularly those employed by multinational corporations.
      • If you would like to encourage participation it is important first to clearly establish a non-threatening work environment and communicate clearly that their participation is desired.
      • Effective management will rely on the individual’s interpersonal skills and ability to maintain cordial relationships with their subordinates.
      • This can be as important as their technical knowledge.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Expect a fair amount of small talk before getting down to business. Personal relationships are very important. Panamanians prefer to deal with those they trust; therefore much time is spent in developing the relationship. It will usually take several visits to close a deal.

      • Business is hierarchical and the person with the most authority makes decisions after considering how the decision will affect the group.
      • Panamanians do not like confrontation so positive signals may be given out of politeness rather than actual agreement.
      • Likewise do not assume that your proposal is being well received simply because no one is challenging what you say.
      • Decisions are often based upon the personal preference of the decision maker, which is why spending time to develop trust and personal relationships is crucial.

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