What Do You Mean You Haven’t Done it Yet? - Abundant Strategies

When I moved from France to the U.S. 15 years ago, I assumed I would experience little to no cultural shock. After all, both countries are part of the Western world. Boy, was I in for a wake-up call!

It took me about 10 years to truly adjust to the subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Today, I identify with both the U.S. and French ways of working—which helps me every day, as I work with organizations that have a presence in both countries.

My goal with this blog is to help interested parties better understand the difference between the two countries—and, more importantly, to understand why things can get so complicated with your U.S. or French colleagues.

In France, we create dissertations before we present anything or move forward on any project. This process can be painfully slow, and sometimes the information is irrelevant by the time we are done, as the world has passed us by. But once a plan is in place, it’s in place. When there is an issue, we create a rule to resolve it and, if possible, a law (just in case). My French HR colleagues tell me the HR law code is an endless maze of do’s and don’ts.

In the U.S., we prefer the proverbial “fire, ready, aim.” Sometimes we fire in the wrong direction and pierce the ceiling, creating a flurry of activity to repair the roof before we can move on to the actual project. But at least we are moving ahead, and there is an ease to trying, failing, learning and adjusting accordingly that has helped the U.S. become the nation it is. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it—or at least that’s the American dream most of us have grown up hearing about.

So, what a U.S. boss will usually hear from a French employee is: “We can’t. It’s not possible. We don’t have the data for that.” Of course, the boss wants to hear: “We started today; it’s been in place since tomorrow.”

A French employee will often hear from an American boss:” What do you mean you did not put it in place since our last conversation? I don’t want to hear what you can’t do. I want to hear when you will. Why not tomorrow?”

The pressure, of course, escalates as the two try to strike a balance between “it’s not possible” and “this needs to happen by yesterday.”

So, what can one do when confronted with this conundrum?

The first step is awareness. The boss must be aware that the French employee is caught in a cultural (and sometimes very real) mental model. And the employee must be aware that the American boss is coming at it from a place of possibility, a sense that there must be a way to make things happen.

So, what is the moral of the story?

For the U.S. colleague, get in there and ask questions. Help with the plan; explain directions. And ask for help. We love to help.

For the French colleague: Jump in there and take a little risk. Failure is acceptable in the U.S. workplace, as long as you learn from your mistakes and quickly get back on track.

We have the opportunity to learn a lot from each other, and to leverage our differences for success. Working together, we might even be able to put a project in place in a timely manner without piercing the ceiling.

Categories: Leadership, Organizational culture, Team Building

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