Most senior management in most French companies were educated at the Grandes Ecoles which are the elite schools of France.
These colleges champion an intellectual rigour in their students, which is rarely matched elsewhere in the world. This produces a highly educated management population, which approaches leadership with an unusual degree of academic precision. Intellectualism is something to be cherished rather than sneered at and a comment once attributed a French manager sums this up well – ‘that idea seems alright in practice but will it work in theory?’
Thus management becomes an intellectual challenge to be mastered and thought about in terms of detailed analysis, the complete mastery of complex concepts and the eventual application of rational decisions. More pragmatic issues of buy-in, motivating staff etc. (in the Anglo-Saxon understanding of these terms) are not as prominent in French management thinking.
Decisions, once taken at senior levels, will be passed down the chain to lower management for implementation. This directive approach can be seen, especially by those from a consensus oriented, non-hierarchical background, as being overly authoritative and lacking in the necessary team-building elements.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
France represents both a challenge and an opportunity from a business perspective. It is a large modern economy with a highly educated workforce, a sophisticated consumer base and a solid industrial base of successful companies spread across a range of industries. France is also a country where protectionist policies have proven very hard to remove and where change comes slowly at the macro level.
Recent political changes might indicate that France has recognised the need for a new vision for the country to help propel it into the future. Indeed, we have recently seen the strange sight of France standing up as a guardian of free trade and globalisation whilst the USA looks to retreat into a more isolationist and protectionist approach – a strange situation from a historical perspective.
It certainly seems that France is at a crossroads and only time will tell which route the country choses to take. In the interim, France remains too big an economy to ignore. If you are not doing business in France at the moment you should probably be looking at entering the market in the near future and this country profile is designed to help you understand the cultural landscape you will find when working with French colleagues or customers.
The French have a distinct and unique approach to many aspects of working life and anybody considering doing business in France would be well advised to research some of the specifics of French business culture before embarking on any commercial activities.
This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of French business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on: