While the business world is ripe with opportunities for companies to expand into new countries and markets, one crucial element that is often overlooked—and even discounted—is culture.

As Robert Salomon, professor of International Management and Faculty Scholar at NYU’s Stern School of Business, said in a recent interview: “Culture is the least well understood of all of globalization’s challenges because culture is difficult to define and measure.”

From language barriers to religious traditions to culture of time to women in leadership roles, there are numerous cultural variances that exist from country to country and even region to region. Navigating and understanding those differences is key to a company’s success as they integrate their corporate culture into the new host country.

Below we explore five ways cultural competency plays a critical role in the development of a company’s EHS programs during a global expansion.

1. Improves understanding of local EHS requirements

EHS rules, regulations, and best practices can vary widely from country to country, with some requirements being driven by cultural factors such as local customs, political climate, and environmental issues.

To grow your understanding of local EHS requirements:

  • Research the country’s history and get up to speed on current events. Comb government websites and information portals as well as local news publications to get up to speed on the country’s history, politics, economics, culture and hot-button issues. For example, is there a focus on management of workplace stress? Is air quality a deep-rooted concern?
  • Get connected with local compliance experts, or contact the local embassy to find information on legal requirements.

The knowledge you’ve gained from this research will serve as a foundation for understanding local requirements and designing an effective and compliant EHS program.

2. Enhances communication

Expanding companies know that overcoming language barriers will be a necessary yet difficult challenge. But these barriers can be even more complex than they seem on the surface. While a country may have an official language, oftentimes languages and dialects vary by region—presenting language barriers even within the country.

As you tailor corporate EHS programs to meet local needs, partner with an experienced EHS consultant with subject matter expertise and native language fluency. This will guard against communication breakdowns, as well as ensure that EHS rules and regulations are properly conveyed to local staff.

3. Builds trust between corporate headquarters and local employees

When companies overlook or fail to fully understand or consider a country’s unique culture, they run the risk of creating an EHS program that alienates local workers.

For example, in Japan it’s considered inappropriate for women to serve in leadership roles on committees that include men. If your company plans to create such committees, understanding this nuance will allow you to avoid making assignments that conflict with local cultural views.

Taking the time to research and understand local cultural traditions and attitudes in the workplace ensures your EHS programs will be embraced and enforced not only at the corporate level, but locally as well. This will show your local staff that you understand and care, building valuable unity and trust in the workplace.

4. Reduces potential for delays and duplicated efforts

Creating an EHS program without the proper knowledge and understanding of local culture could require you to rework your whole program, adding more work and negatively impacting both your timeline, relationship with local staff, and ultimately your bottom line.

Map time and resources for cultural research into the very beginning of your expansion. This will ensure that important cultural factors are taken into account at every stage of your planing.

5. Protects and promotes your company’s reputation

Entering a new country or market puts your company in the local spotlight, with your new neighbors, customers, and prospective workers watching closely.

Start by showing your workers that you understand and care about their unique culture. Failing to consider or understand local culture can lead to an adversarial staff—the people who are your main champions in the country. If they’re dissatisfied or offended, word can travel fast.

Using the knowledge you’ve gained from your research or the local help you’ve received, build an EHS culture that ties in corporate and local compliance requirements, and infuses cultural considerations. This will show your employees that they’re an important part of the company—something that will inspire them to positively promote your company in the local community.

Do you want more EHS facts and tips for global expansion? Learn more about Antea Group’s EHS Passport, or check out our interactive EHS Passport adventure!

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