Ambiguity is the name of the game for businesses operating in a global world. Learning to exercise good judgment regarding when to adapt like the bamboo; and when to stick to your guns like the oak requires developing a strategy, testing it over a period of time and accumulating the necessary experience to function in a global environment.

Creating an organisation that rewards ethical behaviour in a world of cultural ambiguity is no easy task–for it calls on us to know ourselves, to know another and then to negotiate an outcome that is acceptable to all the various parties in question.

We cannot do that if we dominate the conversation or impose our views and our ways on cultures that are intrinsically different to ours.

1. Know Thy Absolutes

Once an organisation has made a decision regarding its ethical standards, it cannot sway like the bamboo–neither at home nor in an international context. Adaptation is not the same as appeasement. British Prime Minister Chamberlain learnt that the hard way in the 1930s.

A strong organisational compass cements a culture where what is celebrated and tolerated is differentiated from what is unacceptable. This holds true regardless of the dollar value of the transaction. Small oversights have a way of leading to big oversights if gone unchecked over a period of time. If we close one eye to small issues, we are setting the stage for big issues to take on gigantic proportions later down the line.

An organisation cannot be bulletproof–but that does not mean it should not invest in a bulletproof vest.

2. Know Thy Terms

Will your organisation do business with any customer or supplier? What if a customer is working off a modus operandi that works in his or her home country and not in yours?

Each organisation is founded within an ecosystem that it can never fully transplant to another country. We will have to tweak and make changes to the way that we do business if we want to remain relevant.

However, we can still specify that certain conditions be uniform across the board–especially if we strongly adhere to those principles in our organisation’s mission.

It is one thing to adapt. Another thing to appease.

3. Support Thy Terms

Moving to another country does not mean that you can–or should–try to change their local regulations or laws. This is a big one. Many foreign players think that they can change the status quo of their host country; and this can lead to conflict, sanctions and even set precedents for other players from the home country who are looking to invest in the future.

Before an organisation decides to invest, adequate research must be undertaken to see if the host country’s modus operandi complements your own. This will save a lot of heartache and headache further down the line.

4. Truly Hear Thy Neighbour

A society’s values are often unspoken. If you are fortunate, someone will both explain and translate the terms for you in a context that you can understand. Context is imperative in understanding why a particular culture functions the way it does.

Don’t preach or be patronising with the locals. Many cultures pride themselves on hospitality towards their guests and may not tell you when you have committed a cultural faux pas. A close friendship does not give anyone the license to complain about the state of their host country’s home.

Remember, you are a guest till you decide to call it home.

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