Bisnis Asia

Why cultural understanding has GOT to be on a business' to-do list

04 November 2020 | By Helen Brown

An Australian walks into an Indonesian meeting room – but lacks the skill to do the meeting well.


The experience is familiar: an Australian business manager walks into an Indonesian meeting room. The meeting was supposed to start at 11am, however he arrived at 10:30 to make sure he was not late. He made small talk to a few others in the room while waiting, and it was not until 11:30am that several senior people walked into the room, said hello and sat down.


Once the welcome remarks were made the Australian felt that he should not waste his or others time and made a pitch about how great the product was.  The 30 minute conversation went well with the senior Indonesians saying that the product offering was interesting and they would be in touch.


Months passed, and three emails were exchanged. But they did not progress what had been discussed or touch on key points around pricing and distribution. The Australian business person took this as a sign that what had started out with promising initial conversations was not going to end in a deal. So it’s decided to let it rest and give up on taking it any further.


What went wrong? In summary, the Australian misunderstood that this meeting was set up to follow a cultural norm. He tackled it as though he would a meeting in Australia, thinking more about how “things should be” rather than adapting to a different, and perhaps even a bit uncomfortable situation.  


If your goal is to improve transnational growth, then learning the business culture of another country is vital to progressing an opportunity and getting a return on investment.


Indonesians have a very different dynamic in their business relationships. A smarter approach and some cultural knowledge in that meeting room would likely have lead to a more successful outcome. 

Business executive Tracey Monahan understands this, and explained the value of being switched on to cultural sensitivities at our recent Batik webinar. 


She said she had some key learnings for doing business in Indonesia.

“The main thing is to keep that relationship going, even if you don’t hear back from them,” she said.


Key Options has won contracts in Indonesia to deliver its technology which provides solutions for keeping track of people and physical assets in large spaces, such as hospitals and airports. 


The company director said it took her 12 months to close a deal in Indonesia.


She said it is easy to give up after spending a long time waiting for a transaction to happen, but she knew she had to maintain a relationship over a long period of time.


She also said that talking less, and listening more, helped with her business dealings. 


Ms Monahan said that the company works heavily in security as well and they worked hard with their international clients to maintain  relationships throughout the pandemic.


It meant finding ways to adapt to the culture by accepting the use of a communication tool such as WhatsApp for team meetings and capture the information within the company’s data environment.

While adjusting can be a challenging process, it can be small steps which are attuned to how business is done in another country which make the overall impact greater.

“The main thing is to keep that relationship going, even if you don’t hear back from them.” – Tracey Monahan, Director at Key Options

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