Post Brexit Markets & UK construction companies – Cultural engagement matters

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The hunt is on. DIT (Department of International Trade) is partnering with leading construction companies to seek out new contracts in the world’s emerging and mature economies beyond the EU’s 27 members. The Infrastructure Exports (IE-UK) project comprises 20 companies working with DIT to bid for global infrastructure projects worth an estimated 15.5 trillion US dollars by 2030. As just a relatively small example, 15 UK companies visited Argentina and Brazil in March to bid for $10 billion in regional infrastructure contracts.

The budget looks fine and no one doubts the overall energy and quality of the British construction industry. However, coming to terms with different management styles and communication systems of overseas partners is something else.

Time and time again constructors complain about the failure of local partners to conform to health and safety standards, even not wearing hard hats on site.  Complaints are heard about different working methods – when you start, when you go home and at what time you take a break. British project managers get frustrated at how long it takes to get sign-off from higher up the command chain for relatively straightforward operations. Problems of language also arise.

Misunderstood instructions cause frustration but worse still can put people in danger. On one project the project manager had to pull labourers off a railway line because they couldn’t understand simple shouted warnings about trains approaching.

Such problems are operational but lead to delays and can result in penalties for late delivery and in some cases cancellation.

Problems could be easily avoided if construction companies invested time in cultural due diligence as well as financial due diligence.

Cultural due diligence involves understanding what motivates your business partner and learning to understand their communication, operational and leadership styles. Understand these and not only construction companies but anyone working in new markets will save millions in time and operating costs and build the relationships that will lead to more contracts and business opportunities. Cultural engagement is one of your keys to post BREXIT market success. Enough said?

Barry Tomalin

Author: ‘World Business Cultures – a Handbook’

Barry is Cross Cultural Lead, Fortis Consulting London. He is also a Lecturer at the Academy of Diplomacy & International Governance, Loughborough University London and a Visiting Lecturer at the London School of Economics.

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