When developing a Territory Strategy, it is imperative to take into account the local culture and customs.
It’s easy to state this in theory, but significantly more challenging in practice.
When formulating a strategy for entering a new territory, one common misconception is believing that language proficiency alone suffices for effective communication with the local population.
Regrettably, or perhaps fortunately, language represents just a fraction of the vast realm of culture.
Consider the example of Americans and the British; they share an almost identical language, but their cultures diverge significantly.
Likewise, in Brazil, merely speaking Portuguese falls far short of ensuring effective cross-cultural communication.
Certainly, sharing a common language can be beneficial, but it is by no means sufficient.
How do we go about defining a strategy when we’re entering Brazil from abroad?
I developed the scenario approach based on my experience working for a British company in a joint venture with two Brazilian firms. Our primary task was to create a project budget for a large construction project in Brazil.
To determine the necessary resource allocation and financial requirements, we had to gain a deep understanding of the project’s intricacies and the myriad external factors at play. These external factors, including natural events like rain and third-party logistics, were beyond our direct control.
Our British colleagues posed detailed questions, expecting precise answers. In contrast, our Brazilian counterparts had a recurring response: ‘it depends.’
Frustrated, the British team expressed their concerns, stating that a plan and budget could not be constructed around so many ‘it depends.’
How did we overcome this impasse?
The conventional approach would have been to include a contingency value in the budget. For instance:
‘We estimate US$ xxxxx, with an additional 20% contingency to account for unforeseen events.’
However, in a highly uncertain environment, this 20% contingency might seem arbitrary. Why not 40%, 50%, or even 70%?
The truth is, we are not always what we plan to be. As highlighted in the insightful book ‘Predictably Irrational’ by #DanAriely, our emotions often influence our decisions, no matter how rational we intend to be.
The pitfalls of excessive planning are underscored by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his work ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.’ Taleb presents historical evidence that no matter how meticulous our planning, unanticipated events will inevitably arise, rendering our well-crafted plans ineffective.
The Scenario approach for an effective Territory Strategy
What, then, is the solution to effective planning without falling into the trap of excessive detail, and how can we facilitate communication among diverse cultures?
Returning to my experience in the joint venture, I proposed to my British colleagues the idea of presenting 1-2 scenarios.
It’s important to note that these scenarios aren’t meant to represent an ideal situation. Their purpose is to establish a baseline for discussion.
For instance, you might estimate that a specific duration is required (and you should provide a precise figure). Your colleague might respond with an estimate that’s either higher or lower. In response, you can adjust the figure to accommodate their input until you arrive at a workable range.
Establishing a range is sufficient at this stage to construct a budget and, subsequently, consider contingency plans. However, it’s essential to determine whether we’re talking about a range of 5, 50, 500, or 5,000, for example.
Moreover, effective communication skills are essential for advocating the scenario approach. Understanding the local culture is equally critical to succeed in this endeavor.
In any situation involving people, competence and technique take a back seat to interpersonal intelligence.
This underscores why fluency in the language alone isn’t adequate for effective cross-cultural communication.