Italy - Cross culture
The culture of Italy is unique that has both the charm of the old world and dynamism of the modern era. The success of the Italian brands such as Prada, Armani, Rodeo and Lamborghini are examples of the modernity and professional approach of the Italian manufacturing and supply chain management. On the other hand, the large number of family-owned businesses and the scale of small firms sectors highlight the importance of old-world social and familial values in the Italian firms. In short, Italy has a culture that is a rich mix of corporate cultures and is relationship-oriented.
Culture plays a prominent in the modern globalized world. The speech patterns, behaviors and actions, a person encounters in a foreign business scenario, are understood in many different ways, often resulting in miscommunication. To avoid such a scenario a modern day manager should be equipped with what we term as ‘cultural intelligence.’
Building business relationships depends heavily on the ability of a person to relate and adjust to other cultures. The training in foreign cultures does not stop with learning the foreign language, laws of the land and religion, but also things like business etiquettes, protocols and ethics. Italy is one such country, which has a unique blend of modern day professionalism and the old world group values. Learning about the country’s culture and business practices will enable a person to better understand some of the behaviors he encounters while dealing with Italian based firms and individuals.
According to Brooks Peterson in Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures, there are five scales through which the culture of a country can be scrutinized. They include a) Equality/Hierarchy, b) Direct/Indirect, c) Individual/Group, d) Task/Relationship, and e) Risk/Caution. When we apply these scales to the Italian culture, we find that hierarchy in Italy is very rigid. There is a strong power centre and there is no equality among the ranks of the organization.
In other words, Italian firms are more likely to hire, evaluate, promote or dismiss an employee based on his relationship with the management rather than the result he produces. So, maintaining cordial contacts with the management and following orders are more important traits than, say, professionalism or innovativeness. The Italian management practices are characterized by high power distance between the employees and the management.
Direct Vs Indirect
In Italy, there is a huge stress on the hierarchy and the subordinates are generally over-dependent on their superiors for directions. The nature of the hierarchy in Italy, which is rigid with a strong power centre, has enabled an indirect communication, whereby people do not interact with each other openly and with explicit terms. A manager is expected to wield his power and be authoritative. So, communications are indirect and the subordinates are expected to comprehend the implied meaning of the orders conveyed. Italy has what we call a high-context communication.
In high-context communication, the listener should combine a host of other things, such as context, position of the speaker and gestures, to derive the meaning of what is being said. Direct communication is said to have taken place when the speaker put in words his thoughts, clearly and precisely. On the contrary, in cultures such as Italy, where indirect communication is seen, the communicators expect the listeners to read in between the lines.
The rigid hierarchy makes it impossible for the subordinates to openly confront issues or communicate their concerns in a straight forward manner. So, the priority of the listener in business communications would be to focus on who said it and how was it said, rather than what is being said. Views and opinions are expressed diplomatically rather than in a direct manner. The speaker should rely on the receiver to interpret the meaning aptly.
Risk Vs Caution
Risk-taking is one of the main criteria in today’s business world, and in this aspect too, culture plays a prominent role. While there are countries which are extremely cautious like Japan and Germany, there are other countries that encourage their mangers to take risks like America or Korea. However, there are many shades in between these two extreme ends, in which countries such as the UK, France and Italy falls.
The risk-taking nature of a culture depends on the society’s readiness to embrace change and the ability to withstand the negative implications. The ability of a society/organization to deal with ambiguous situation without feeling threatened by its uncertain nature determines whether it has a risk or cautious culture. Italy has medium tolerance for uncertainty and change.
The process of globalization is exerting pressure on the societies across the world to embrace innovation and risk-taking. Risk managing and innovation is exercised through a variety of institutions. The people who have trust in their institutions are more inclined towards risk taking.
In countries like Italy, China and India, the institution of family plays a major part in determining the risk-taking abilities of a business. Since most of the businesses are family-run, the familial support and tolerance to risk determines the flexibility of decisions. Thus, Italy encourages risk-taking but in a more restrained way than say the US or Korea. They promote innovation but exercise caution while doing so.
Individual Vs Group
Individualism vs. collectivism is an important cultural dimension that is critical to cross-culture management studies. It is the degree to which a culture programs its members to look after the other members of the group. Individualism determines the extent to which an individual is integrated to a group or his degree of aloofness from it.
In Italy, there is a high element of collectivism and thus, a preoccupation of social values, which sometimes is given more importance than the profitability of the concern. Italians prefer working as a team and place great emphasis on group values and outcomes. It is normal to see Italians working in close vicinity with each other and they are used to being crowded. The resultant atmosphere is reflected in their office layouts and their utilization of space.
Italian workers are known to prefer company of their colleagues, and their interactions go beyond official issues and touch personal issues also. They like to discuss emotional things with their co-workers even in their workplace. In official meetings, the agenda set is not followed and, often, the discussion steers off to different tracks. The important aspect of the meeting is to be together rather than discuss the subject at hand.
The concept of time is not given due importance and one can see Italians turning up late for meetings quite frequently. It is also a common practice in Italy to treat people nearer to them better than people who are farther. Trust is a significant component of relations, and belonging to a group and supporting each other is a significant part of the culture. Italians prefer to do business with people they know. So, contacts and networks are important for good business opportunities.
The relationship between the culture and management in Italy is quite complex, because of the inherent complexity of the culture itself. The Italian society is diverse in nature and it is more of a ‘community of communities.’ However, some social and cultural elements of Italy tend to dominate the way business is conducted in the country. Specifically, the above three aspects discussed in this study influence profoundly the way organizations are managed in Italy.
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