Educational background and intellectual dexterity are important commodities in France.
French government and industry have traditionally had a closer relationship than has been in evidence in many other industrialised nations and this has resulted in many senior civil servants taking senior roles in industry.
Long-term planning has been a central tenet of the French approach for many decades and leads to detailed forward planning by companies.
In keeping with the centralist tendencies apparent in France, most major French companies have their HQ in Paris – where most major decisions will be made.
The CEO (or PDG) of a French company is usually a highly charismatic leader who guides the general direction of the company in an authoritative manner.
French companies tend towards rigid hierarchies with clear upward reporting and decision making lines.
Socialising across hierarchical lines is quite unusual.
Promotion is gained through a combination of seniority, educational achievement and demonstrated competence.
Management style is often directive with instructions being given to subordinates in information style meetings.
Little open dissension with the boss will be witnessed in open, formal meetings. Any such disagreements will be aired in pre-meeting lobbying sessions.
Peer-group competitiveness can make cross functional project teams difficult to manage.
Logic is expected and respected. Any lack of discernible logic could be interpreted as sloppy thinking or lack of intelligence (or both).
There is less job-hopping than in some other countries. The French have traditionally been one-company focussed in their professional life.
First names are often used amongst peers (especially amongst the younger generation), although surnames are often reverted to in more formal situations or when dealing with superiors.
Eloquence is an important attribute and French managers will often try to dominate people through the force of their rhetoric.
It is important that any written communication is produced in a grammatically correct format.
Humour is based on wit and the intelligent use of satire – neither of which translate very well. The French are less likely to use humour in very serious situations in business than some other nationalities.
A strong separation is made between business life and private life and between business time and family time.
Business lunches can be long and not necessarily for the discussion of business. They are more a relationship building occasion than a place to discuss the finer points of a contract.
Punctuality is variable – possibly better in Paris than in the provinces.
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: