Enabling new business. Being a manager in Switzerland

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Switzerland is one of the most powerful economies in the world. This is undoubtedly the result of high purchasing power and high-quality awareness. Due to the fact that German is spoken in 19 of the 26 cantons, Switzerland is often confused with Germany. For a person cooperating with Switzerland, such an assumption may turn out to be misleading, since the cultural differences between the Germans and the Swiss are huge. This relates especially to the French-speaking and Italian-speaking parts of Ticino, where you can observe a significant impact of the neighbouring countries, France and Italy.

Achieving the success on the Swiss market goes in line with acquiring knowledge about the Swiss and the models of local functioning. One of the most striking characteristics in the way the Swiss managers exercise control is undoubtedly the focus on consensus and emphasis on maintaining the balance, thus avoiding the direct criticism. Here, an aggressive or emotional discussion style generates helplessness. In everyday life, the Swiss apologize much more often for a real or alleged offense than the Poles tend to do.

The Swiss pursue a high standard of politeness – it often happens that comments or negative feedback are not addressed at all. However, they quickly start to use an informal form and call everyone by their first name, degrading all hierarchy levels known in Poland. This is a kind of camouflage that allows to overcome certain uncomfortable or troublesome barriers of behaviour – as the Swiss are reluctant to assuming the role of a person, who receives or gives commands. They would be more willing to ask to perform a task. It turns out that the life of a manager can be simple…

If you’re preparing for a meeting, trip or contact with a business partner from Switzerland, try to address the following questions (you’ll find the correct answers at the end of the article).

  1. You get an invitation for dinner at 18:30. What time will you come to the meeting?
  2. You are invited to visit your business partners home. What will you take with you as a gift?
  3. You call your colleagues about the project on Monday morning. Time is running out. How do you start a conversation?
  4. You come to a meeting attended by known and new colleagues from the company. How do you introduce yourself?
  5. You discover a mistake in the presentation prepared by a Swiss colleague. How do you react?

 

Do you know the correct answers to all these questions? Great, in that case, this article will only refresh the information you know. If you don’t know all the answers, you will definitely learn about some important issues here.

Regardless of whether it is a decision-making process or any other process, the Swiss business culture is based on consensus and compromise. The term Swiss, as such, is in fact used only abroad, because the inhabitants of Switzerland define themselves by belonging to one of the cantons, which in turn have far-reaching legislative powers. What’s more, the so-called understatement is important, i.e. not showing off, equality and self-restraint. Punctuality, dependability and correctness are appreciated here in the same way as the compliance with social norms and rules, legal regulations, as well as confidentiality. The Swiss pay attention to quality, precision and perfectionism. My experience has shown that during negotiations, the price plays a much smaller role than in many other European countries. The focus is on reliability.

One can get the impression that business life goes more slowly than, for instance, in Poland. And that’s right, because excessive haste is not a determinant of a successful business – the emphasis is much more often put on diligence and performing tasks within precisely specified dates. Timeliness and neatness are highly valued in Switzerland – the mess, even on the desk, is not treated as artistic chaos, but as a clear sign that you don’t cope with the tasks entrusted to us at work. Swiss citizens are hard-working – they work 42 hours a week, and in addition there’s overtime and weekend work. What’s more, holidays are shorter and amount to approximately 20 days a year. There are considerably fewer bank holidays than in Poland.

On the basis of my own observations, I can say that networking plays an extremely important role in seizing new business opportunities in Switzerland. After working hours, it is worth – and even necessary – to meet with workmates for the so-called “Apero.” The network is a mix of friends from elementary school, university, people met during all kinds of events, beginning from concerts to friends’ birthdays. Contacts are cultivated, so it’s not surprising that about 60-70% job offers are distributed and occupied within the own network of friends.

The exchange of business cards is certainly one of the few occasions, when you can present a range of academic titles or a grandiloquent work position. It’s not good manners to boost about them on a daily basis. In business and business contacts, the focus is rather on equality, which is typically an egalitarian approach. It is worth to remember the names of the people you’re getting to know – people quickly start calling each other by their first names here. The conversation itself is maintained in a nice and polite tone – at all hierarchy levels.

A common “small talk” constitutes an introduction to the conversation. Here, you have a selection of “safe” topics, you can for instance ask about the trip, or how to get to the meeting place, mention the nature of Switzerland, Swiss customs and traditions, as well as touch upon such topics as local buildings or national monuments. As a rule, however, people quickly get to the core the matter. The conversations are practical and carried out in line with the agenda. This approach to the matter reflects the characteristics of the Swiss – they are perceived as effective and heading straight to the goal. So, which topics are taboo and what is permissible? Below, you’ll find some proven advice.

Taboo: sharp or demanding approach aimed at forcing the decisions, criticism of Swiss banking and/or foreign policy, combining the issues associated with private and professional life.

What is helpful: polite and nice attitude and pleasant appearance, punctuality and careful preparation before the meeting (agenda), paying attention to your company’s tradition, cooperation with officials and offices, a large number of business cards as these are given to every potential interlocutor, including reception staff or assistants.

Answers
  1. At 18:30. In Switzerland, time is accurately measured. The standard s.t. (sine tempore) is always applied. Don’t be surprised if you get an invitation at an early hour. Meetings begin and finish early.
  2. Chocolate boxes and high-quality wines are appreciated here.
  3. The safest is to ask how the weekend passed. It doesn’t matter how important your task is. The information about it must be preceded by personal introduction.
  4. Using first names. The Swiss value egalitarian structures, calling people by their first names regardless of the hierarchy is typical here, while the use of academic titles is not welcome.
  5. You share this information with him later in a private conversation.

 

Do you want to know more about how to work with the Swiss? Email me: barbarab@eifid.com

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