Culture is often one of the most neglected issues for companies undertaking international expansion and is often the cause of unsuccessful market entries. Not only should cultural differences be understood, they should be recognised in practice. This is particularly important when market entry is undertaken through partnerships, joint ventures, acquisitions or mergers with existing employees and management.
There are a number of important characteristics, cultural traits and values that pervade both business and personal relationships in Australia. Australians are generally considered welcoming with an easy-going, informal attitude. The concepts of "fair go" and "mateship" are important values in the Australian psyche. These values encompass equality, tolerance, solidarity, optimism and friendship.
A major Australian cultural trait is egalitarianism. Australian believe that all are equal and value equality above hierarchy, status, patronage and class. Australians do not respond well to over-inflated, pretentious or superior professional and personal attitudes. Status through achievement is often respected more than titles and rank.
Australia is also considered to exhibit individualism traits whereby society is loosely-knit with the expectation that people look after themselves and their immediate families. In business this translates to employees being self-reliant, displaying initiative and with promotion expectations based on merit or achievement.
- Informal, open and direct communication style
- Australians work hard but value a work-life balance
- Pragmatism, initiative and a "can do" problem-solving attitude.
- For an international company, a commitment to the Australian market through regular visits, engagements and meetings is crucial. Local support and service is also an important consideration. Australians will appreciate and value commitment to market and sharing of new ideas or information.
- Relationship development - rather than a high-pressured or hard-sell focused approach - will typically generate more success.
- Teamwork and being a team player is important and opportunities for building positive teams, bonding and socialisation are actively encouraged. Socialisation across multiple levels within organisations is also the norm.
- Leadership is characterised as democratic and participative.
- Meetings should be arranged well in advance ideally with at least 3 weeks notice. Meetings are generally relatively easy to arrange.
- A meeting in a cafe may be suggested and is common practice to take advantage of the exceptional coffee available.
- Punctuality and delivering to deadlines is considered important. If any lateness is anticipated, it should be communicated in advance.
- A firm, friendly handshake is the customary greeting. Business cards are exchanged without formality. No insult is intended if a business card is not offered; the person may not have one. Writing on business cards (i.e. note-taking) should also not be considered offensive.
- During meetings, there is usually some relaxed small talk during the first few minutes of meetings before getting down to serious business quickly.
- Meetings are generally characterised as open, accepting of contributions and debate. Meetings are often used to decide a solution or way forward with detailed work and implementation taking place after the meeting.
- Informal style meetings are generally favoured over highly formal or structured meetings. If making a presentation, avoid hype and over-exaggerated claims.
- Decision making can be slow and protracted with multiple levels of authority sought.
- Australians will tend to be relatively plain speaking and have a direct style of communication. There is an openness and acceptance of contributions, challenges or debating ideas openly even between junior and senior managers.
- A more consultative, inclusive communication or management style will be more successful than an authoritarian style.
- Australians may also incorporate relaxed, colourful or humorous dialogue into discussions. Humour may at times seem self-deprecating.
- In most cases, first (Christian) names are usually used even at an initial meeting.
- Australian English differs from other varieties of English (such as British or American English) in vocabulary, pronunciation, register, grammar and spelling. Australian spelling is closer to British than American spelling (i.e. "u" in colour or flavour, "s" not "z" in realise or finalise and "re" not "er" in centre or theatre, etc.). The Macquarie Dictionary is a standard for Australian English spelling. The Australian National Dictionary of Australianisms is a dictionary of Australian words, expressions and idioms.
- Dress: In City and corporate environments, standard business suit is normal. Dark suit and tie for men and a smart dress or suit for women. Flashy dressing is not a good idea. Outside the City areas, and in less corporate sectors (especially ICT & media), less formal attire is acceptable.
- Tipping: Generally tipping is not expected in taxis and restaurants, though tipping in restaurants has become much more normal over the last decades. A single passenger may sit in the front seat of a taxi with the driver (and have a discussion). Sitting in the back seat is also perfectly acceptable.
- Queuing: Waiting your turn in a queue (a "line") is important.
Curated Collection of Cultural Cues
There are almost as many "20 things" lists about Australian working culture as there are items on each list. Here we present, in a casually curated fashion, some of the ones we've found most pertinent, profound or potentially funny (and some that are, admittedly, a little tired).
Our current collation includes lists that are surprising:
- 20 Things about Australian working culture that can surprise foreigners
- (Source: Business Insider Australia, Mar 2015)
… or that are amusing:
- The Unauthorised Rules for Doing Business In Australia
- (Source: Business Insider Australia, Oct 2013)
… or that are a bit generalist, but still have some nuggets of gold:
- Social Etiquette in Australia
- (Source: ConvictCreations.com)
… or that come from a certain (in this case, UK) perspective:
- Business Etiquette and Customs in Australia
- (Source: Kwintessential.co.uk, 2014)
… or that are downright out-of-date:
- Australian Business Etiquette & Culture
- (Source: International Business Centre, 2012)
All have something to say about the Australian way of doing business whether that is from an Australian point-of-view or a foreigner looking in.