How much do you match the Dutch business culture? (Part 2)
In the previous post, we have learnt that the Dutch business culture is equal and direct, which generally means that Dutch people are often informal and straightforward at work and also in daily life. Now, what else that you should know about the Dutch business culture before deciding to start your own career in the Netherlands, or your internship, or work exchange, or basically because you would like to learn a new culture?
Besides equality and directness, the third characteristic is “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg” (Show normal behaviour, that is strange enough). This means that Dutch people do not appreciate when people behave out of the ordinary or try to be different. One of the reasons can be because the Dutch culture lacks competition. Specifically, Dutch children are taught to be humble and solidary with their friends rather than being standing out with high grades and starting to think that they are better than their friends. In the Netherlands parents would rather see their children with growth in social skills than in scores, which is completely different than in many Asian countries where children are expected to study hard to be on the top of their class. This characteristic reflects equality and easy-going of the Dutch people.
Another feature of the Dutch business culture is Punctuality. The Netherlands has a linear-time culture, which means if you have an appointment at 9.00, you are expected to be there at 9.00 sharply. One or two minutes late would be acceptable, but when you expect yourself to be at least 10 minutes late, it is polite and necessary to let the relevant person be aware of that and what time you will be there. Do remember that frequent lateness can affect your reputation with individual or companies. The focus on work is therefore to complete the deadline and stick to the schedule, rather than being flexible.
This brings us to the next attribute, which is Long-term planning. To build an organized system, the Dutch always plans everything ahead, not just in weeks, but months in advance. Don’t be surprised if you receive an email for an appointment somewhere next year or so. That’s also the reason why you may have to make an appointment in advance almost everywhere, from work to personal life (e.g. a social meeting with a colleague). This may sound rigid, compared with flexible time culture like in Asian countries, but it allows an ordinary person or the government to have things manageable. Learning this characteristic is up to you, but it is good to know the differences between your culture and the Dutch one or cultures similar to the Dutch and select what best suits you.
Now, let’s talk about practical things in Dutch business: Meetings and agenda. These two things have a close-knit relationship with each other. Once you are invited for a business meeting, you are likely to receive an agenda prior to the meeting, which sets out ahead of time explaining, in the form of a list, when exactly the meeting will start, what subjects will be discussed in what order, and sometimes an actual number of minutes allocated to each topic to ensure that the meeting can end at the pre-set time. If you are asked to make an agenda for the coming meeting, or just wonder how it looks like, have a look at Figure 1 below as an example.
Figure 1. Dutch business culture: Meetings and agenda
In the meeting, the chairman/woman starts the meeting and coordinates throughout the meeting. There is a secretary or a note taker who writes down everything discussed in the meeting. Everyone joining the meeting is expected to express their opinions on all topics, thus it is better to prepare before the meeting, by for example, looking through the agenda points and attachments belonging to a topic to brainstorm ideas and questions. Although the process may sound formal, the atmosphere is kept informal, and a meeting can involve different levels of the company. There will be consensus as well as disagreements with your opinions (because people are free to speak their mind), so a tip is to keep calm and open-minded, carefully consider all ideas and speak up your final opinion.
Well, I guess this tells you quite a lot about the Dutch business culture. To thank you all for reading until this point, below are some bonus tips for you:
- Don’t stand too close when talking with Dutch people. Don’t interrupt when a Dutch person is speaking. Don’t give presents; only small souvenirs will be accepted.
- Do show your enthusiasm, proactivity and curiosity at work and study. If you don’t know or understand something, ask! Do what you say or commit doing.
- Break the ice at work from your first day: offer everyone (your department, the receptionist, other departments if you feel like) coffee/tea, have a small talk at the coffee machine, have lunch together with your colleagues (keep in mind that Dutch lunch is often basic, with bread, ham and cheese, yogurts, etc.).
Erin Meyer, (2014) The Culture Map.
Series The Dutch business culture
The Dutch business culture (part 2): punctuality, long-time planning, meetings and agendas.
The Dutch business culture: Equality and Directness (Part 1)