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Deep Dive Into Culture Can Reap Benefits, Payroll Experts Say

June 5, 2020, 8:29 PM

Max van der Klis-Busink learned the hard way about using a red font in an email and looping in others midstream.

To his Dutch way of thinking, he was responding to a wide group clearly, not angrily, with the red font. But that was not how he was perceived and the action set back dealings with a colleague from Poland. But it also delivered an important lesson.

As a global payroll solutions manager at Shell, he has since learned how to better navigate cultural differences, and he urged payroll professionals to do the same.

Van der Klis-Busink and two other managers who deal with global payroll, shared their experiences June 5 at the virtual American Payroll Association Congress. They urged payroll professionals to become culture champions within their own companies by investing the time in learning about how culture shapes communications.

Sharon C. Tayfield, director global outsourcing in global payroll services at BDO, said the use of language in regard to time concepts is extremely important and can vary greatly. For instance, Tayfield, who is from South Africa, pointed to some phrases commonly used by South Africans.

There is “the present” (current), “right now” (something urgent that likely will happen, but may not), “now” (that means maybe it will happen), and “now now” (not immediate and may never happen), and “just now” (in the near future, but not immediately), Tayfield said.

Tayfield also said it was important for employers to recognize that different governments have different norms in releasing information that could affect running payroll.

“We as payroll professionals need to be aware how to run with particular cultural differences that arise,” Tayfield said. “For instance, in Africa you can have a change in legislation that is only been communicated months after the fact.”

Dealing with employees also is going to vary by culture. For example, soft-pedaling negative feedback may work in some countries, but in others it would not register the same way, said Kira Rubiano, head of international payroll at AUXADI.

The three called communication a key part of becoming more skilled in handling cultural differences and cited the eight scales that come from a book by Erin Meyer called “The Culture Map.”

Rubiano called the scales--communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling--powerful tools in understanding cultural differences within the business community.

In her own experience working for a company in Spain, Rubiano originally was surprised at some of the heated debates that turned out to be normal within that culture.

Tayfield said: “Look for something in each person that you can interact with that you can relate with. It’s very important that you are honest. People will see if you’re not genuine about it.”

“Look for something you can connect with--music, hobbies, interests--whatever it is to form that bridge because once that bridge is built it’s going to be much easier to build relationships but also to get deals,” Tayfield said.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, van der Klis-Businkv said.

Although it may seem overwhelming, the goal is not to memorize all the differences between cultures, but to learn how to recognize them and work with them, Rubiano said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Georganne Coco in Washington at gcoco@bloombergindustry.com.

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