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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Switzerland

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

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

Topics include:

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

Being a Manager in Switzerland

Swiss business culture is known for its efficiency, precision, and emphasis on long-term stability. The approach to management in Swiss companies typically reflects these values.

  • Swiss managers have a strong commitment to quality and precision in their work.
  • They strive for excellence and pay meticulous attention to detail, which contributes to the reputation of Swiss products and services for their high standards.
  • Many companies are conservative, although this may change depending upon the industry as well as the canton.

The Role of a Manager

Foreign managers need to carefully study the corporate culture of specific companies because they may vary from quite hierarchical to rather egalitarian. Consequently, 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 employees in Switzerland do not feel that they are authorized by station, education, or position, to either aspire to leadership or to express themselves freely in management circles.
  • Swiss business culture places great importance on professionalism, formal communication, and respect for hierarchy.
  • Managers are expected to maintain a professional demeanour and uphold a strict code of conduct.

Approach to Change

Switzerland’s cultural readiness for change is low, meaning that social change is difficult to bring about and the idea of it is not received with enthusiasm. The underlying belief is that change may threaten the social fabric.

  • Even though they are cautious in business, they are some of the most rapid high-tech innovators in the world.
  • In order for change to take hold, however, it needs to be perceived as good for the group and be accepted by the group.
  • Cultural sensitivity is needed as Switzerland’s attitude toward risk is dramatically impacted by the negative ramifications of failure on both the individual and the group.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Switzerland is a controlled-time culture, and adherence to schedules is important and expected.

  • In Switzerland missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence.
  • 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 management will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.
  • Swiss companies often take a long-term approach to business decisions.
  • They prioritize stability, sustainability, and building enduring relationships.
  • Managers focus on developing strategies that ensure the company's longevity rather than pursuing short-term gains.

Decision Making

Swiss managers value consensus and strive to reach decisions through discussion and collaboration. They aim to involve relevant stakeholders and seek their input to ensure buy-in and foster a sense of unity.

  • Swiss companies often have a decentralized management structure, allowing decision-making authority to be distributed among various levels and departments.
  • This promotes efficiency and quick response times.
  • In the Italian and French cantons, there is less of a tendency to arrive early and it is not uncommon for managers to work past the end of the work day.
  • It's important to understand that the Swiss are not risk-takers.
  • They adhere to high-quality standards and believe that nothing short of perfection is acceptable.
  • The highest-ranking person often makes the final decision, after consulting with his subordinates.
  • In large companies, decisions are often made by a consensus of the senior management team.

Boss or Team Player?

The role of the leader is 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.
  • Swiss management culture recognizes the importance of work-life balance.
  • Managers often promote policies that support employees' well-being, such as flexible working hours and generous vacation allowances.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Swiss managers tend to communicate directly and openly. They value clarity and appreciate concise and well-structured communication. Additionally, they emphasize transparency in decision-making processes and expect managers to provide clear justifications for their actions.

  • It is wise to be direct when dealing with the Swiss, as they will undoubtedly be direct when speaking with you.
  • This is not a culture that deals in innuendo and non-verbal communication.
  • Many Swiss speak English, but not always fluently enough to conduct negotiations.
  • Decision-making is a right reserved for those at the top of the company.
  • You will have to be patient and not appear ruffled by the strict adherence to protocol.
  • The Swiss are very detail-oriented and want to understand every innuendo before coming to an agreement.
  • Contracts are followed strictly.

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