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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Spain

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

This guide is useful for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Spanish employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation

Management in Spain

The approach to management in Spain is influenced by several factors, including cultural, historical, and economical. Spanish management practices are characterized by a mix of traditional and modern approaches, with a focus on relationships, hierarchy, and adaptability.

  • Spanish management tends to be hierarchical, with clear lines of authority and decision-making.
  • Respect for authority and adherence to formal protocols are important in the Spanish business culture.
  • Managers are expected to maintain a professional demeanour and exercise their authority appropriately.
  • It is important to note that management practices can vary across industries, regions, and individual organizations within Spain.

The Role of a Manager

Building and maintaining strong personal relationships is crucial in Spanish management. Personal connections, trust, and mutual understanding play a significant role in business interactions and decision-making. Networking and socializing outside of work are common practices for fostering relationships.

  • People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience and greater knowledge than those they manage.
  • In Spain, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude to their employees.
  • They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace and strictly professional concerns.
  • Respect for seniority and experience is deeply ingrained in Spanish management.
  • Older managers are often seen as more knowledgeable and are given significant respect.
  • However, younger generations are challenging this dynamic with new ideas and a more egalitarian approach to management.

Approach to Change

Spain’s cultural appetite for change is developing all the time. Spain 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.
  • Because of this attitude, cultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made by participating individuals.
  • While traditional values remain strong, Spanish management has also embraced modern practices.
  • Adaptability, innovation, and embracing change are increasingly valued.
  • Spanish companies recognize the importance of staying competitive in a global market and have embraced technology, digitalization, and entrepreneurship.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Spain is a fluid time culture, and, as is the case with many fluid time cultures, it is also very relationship-oriented. People in Spain will not want to upset others in order to push through a deadline.

  • 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.
  • Spain values work-life balance, and managers often strive to create a supportive environment for their employees.
  • The concept of "siesta" or afternoon break still exists in some regions, although it is becoming much less common in modern workplaces.
  • Flexible working hours, extended lunch breaks, and family-friendly policies are increasingly being adopted.

Decision Making

Decisions are reached at the top of the company and are delegated downwards. Employees expect to be counselled about performance issues in private.

  • For effective management, it is important to remember that employees are accustomed to working with the same people for years and develop strong ties with their co-workers.
  • They do not like to be put in situations where they are expected to compete against people whom they know and with whom they have a long-standing personal relationship.

Boss or Team Player?

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 ideas of one of a lower status.

  • Successful foreign managers 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.
  • Employees follow the procedures handed down by their managers.
  • Teamwork and collaboration are highly valued in Spanish management.
  • Managers often strive to create a harmonious and cohesive work environment where employees feel supported and empowered.
  • Encouraging open communication and involving employees in decision-making processes are common practices.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Spaniards place great importance on the character of the person with whom they do business, so they will take time to get to know you. Spanish communication tends to be indirect, relying on non-verbal cues and context. Subtle gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice are important for understanding the true meaning behind a conversation. Managers often prefer face-to-face interactions and may rely on a more personal approach to convey their message effectively.

  • Personal relationships are critical to business relationships.
  • Since hierarchy and rank are important, you should deal with people of similar rank to your own.
  • Decision-making is held at the top of the company since this is a hierarchical culture.
  • You may never actually meet the person who ultimately makes the decision.
  • Spaniards perceive a lack of understanding as losing dignity and respect, so they will not necessarily say that they do not understand particularly if you are not speaking Spanish.

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