French Management Style
The current French management practices are the result of several constraints such as strong and specific regulations, demography unique in Europe, the acceleration of internationalization of large organizations, and sociological upheaval. These practices are converging with those of other countries under pressure from similar factors. French managers are striving to adapt French organizations to their environment by relying on unique practices similar to those implemented in other countries. The business set up in France is egalitarian and to ensure successful cross cultural management it is important to remember to treat each and every person with equal respect and deference.
The Role of a Manager
French business behavior emphasizes courtesy and a degree of formality. Chief executives of French companies often come from a select group of universities and share a similar background. Consequently, it is best to send a senior executive to initiate the relationship with the French decision-maker, especially if it is someone whose credentials and experience are comparable.
Approach to Change
France’s intercultural adaptability and readiness for change is developing all the time. France is seen to have a medium tolerance for change and risk. It is important for innovations to have a track record or history noting the benefits if they are to be accepted and implemented.
Approach to Time and Priorities
France is a controlled-time culture, and adherence to schedules is important and expected. In France 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.
For effective cross cultural management it is important to remember that hierarchy is part of the French business culture. This is a country where rank has its privilege, often both literally and figuratively. Decision making is done at the highest levels, often without consultation with subordinates.
Boss or a Team Player?
French like working in teams and collaborate quite well. The communication within a team is generally quite collegial, albeit somewhat direct and blunt. Role allocation within the team is generally quite clearly defined and people will take greater responsibility for their specific task than for the group as a whole.
Communication and Negotiation Styles
French business emphasizes courtesy and a fair degree of formality. Wait to be told where to sit as there may be a protocol to be followed. Although English may be spoken, it is a good idea to hire an interpreter so as to avoid any cross cultural misunderstandings. Business is conducted slowly. You will have to be patient and not appear ruffled by the strict adherence to protocol. Avoid confrontational behavior or high-pressure tactics as it can be counterproductive
Most senior management in French companies is educated at the Grande Ecoles which are the elite schools of France.
These colleges champion an intellectual rigor in their students, which is rarely matched elsewhere in the world. This produces a highly educated management population, which approaches leadership with an unusual degree of academic precision. ‘Intellectualism’ is something to be cherished rather than sneered at and a comment once attributed to French management was that ‘this idea seems alright in practice but will it work in theory?’
Decisions, once taken at senior levels, will be passed down the chain to lower management for implementation.
This directive approach can be seen, especially by those from a consensus oriented, non-hierarchical background, as being overly authoritative and lacking in the necessary team-building elements.