Both ethnic (Italian and US) and functional (Sales vs. Engineering) cultures clash when trying to construct a winning proposal for a client’s photovoltaic system. With meetings running long, deadlines shifting, and procedures changing, there are challenges and cultural misunderstandings for this technical – business team to get the proposal finished by the deadline.
We were creating a proposal for a photovoltaic system for a client. I, John, was working on the technical portion of it with an Italian business development manager named Enzo who was working the sales/financial portion. My boss assigned the proposal to me and interacts on a regular basis with Enzo’s boss. He gave us one deadline and didn’t assign who was the lead on the proposal. This caused us both to share the lead on our own parts, however each of our parts relied on the other’s to complete. Often I’d be waiting on him to get his part to me, like when he needed to get the costs from our suppliers so I could decide which equipment to use on the project. He would promise to give the supplier a call, but didn’t give me a timeframe of when I could expect those prices.
Many of the problems that arose during our work were based on culture. Since Enzo is Italian, I could see how he values reason, family ties, charisma, and freedom. I noticed right away the importance of his family when he showed me pictures during our first meeting, and his emotional style with gestures is very charismatic. As an American engineer, I value time (quicker the better), work-life balance, competition, and challenges. I like keeping my work and social life separate so I don’t think Enzo appreciated it when I didn’t really open up. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so closed off, but I found Enzo’s style intrusive.
Enzo was very social which really helps in sales, but didn’t help him keep on time to meetings. In meetings he was constantly answering his cell or stepping out to talk to a colleague. The meeting could be scheduled for just an hour, but by the time we got through everything with the interruptions it would last a couple hours. In meetings with clients, Enzo was all business and would take control of the meeting. I wished I got the same respect in our meetings as he gave to the clients. I constantly had to reschedule other meetings and apologize to other coworkers for my tardiness.
Soon Enzo and I were having heated discussions over deadlines. I wasn’t given much notice on any of the deadlines because he would discuss timelines with the client without informing me. He would then ask me for things when he got around to it which would put me in a pinch for time. His attitude was always carefree, as if there were endless amounts of time, even if a deadline was approaching.
I would put all my information that Enzo needed in a report or email, but he still felt the need to come by and discuss it with me. Sales are always “running” around, traveling, working long hours, and multitasking as if everything they are doing is highly important and has to be finished right now. As an engineer I like procedures, agendas, and working on one task at a time which wasn’t a good fit with Enzo’s seat of the pants style.
To see how this case study ended, go to Epilogue
John, U.S. Engineer
- Linear organization of time, punctuality and deadlines are valued
- Builds rapport by focusing on the work that they share
- Respect is felt when his time is used within expected boundaries (punctual start times, enough time to meet deadlines)
- Roles are assumed to by same level on the project “different by equal”
Enzo, Italian Sales Manager
- Fluid and overlapping (multi-tasking) organization of time with team mates, but punctual for clients
- Builds rapport by blending social and personal with work
- Assumes higher rank (due to manager title and relationship with client), so he leads the project and John
- Agility is valued, enabling one to respond to people and situations creatively with excitement rather than stress.
John, U.S. Engineer, to work more effectively with Enzo:
- Rapport: Be more open, personally, so Enzo can get to know me and feel comfortable with who he is working with.
- Meetings: In meetings, I will have a mental idea of what I want to cover, but expect him to jump around on topics. To reduce my stress level, I will leave more time after our meetings to account for them running long, and bring my computer so I can work while he is on the phone or running late.
- Email: Give him a paper/email, not assume he will read it, and expect to discuss it. The paper trail will be my way of tracking that I completed my portion.
- Deadlines: I will try to get a commitment from him, and remind him whenever I pass him in the hall. If this doesn’t work, then I can go to my boss and ask him to lay down some milestones (although this would be a last resort.)
Enzo, Italian Sales Manager, to work more effectively with John:
- Rapport: Talk about the roles we have, and how I expect to lead this project. Let John know about other projects I’m working, their importance, and how that can impact our project.
- Meetings: Set up a calendar of project meetings, and notify John if I will be late.
- Email: Let John know whether you prefer phone calls to email.
- Deadlines: Set milestones and discuss them with John as they approach, inform him ahead of time if deadlines need to change.
RFP Deadline Met, How about a Beer?
In the end, we got the RFP completed and submitted on time, although I was a little stressed by the end of it all. However, Enzo seemed completely at ease and satisfied with how it turned out. I asked him if we could discuss it. He agreed but said it had to be over beers because we had to celebrate the completion. Over beers I explained how I needed more guidelines for tasks, and he laughed a bit and said “You need to roll with it more!” He made me realize how everything did work out without sticking to straight path. By understanding his Italian culture and multi-active personality I know what to expect and feel better prepared to work with him again in the future. I hope that I can keep learning from his style because it will be great asset when I move into a management position at work.