Decentralisation and the need to consult widely are central to both political life and business life in Switzerland.
Individuals are expected to display high levels of diligence and technical competence in their approach to their jobs.
Swiss companies tend to be decentralised with high levels of autonomy being given to each business unit.
The Swiss desire clearly definable systems, which help people to understand both their personal roles within an organisation and their relationship with that organisation.
People have tended to remain fairly loyal to one organisation with little evidence of employee mobility or churn. This chimes with the Swiss desire for order and conformity.
As a whole, the Swiss are uncomfortable with change which needs to be introduced slowly and explained fully.
Contrary to the stereotype, Swiss companies tend to be less hierarchically structured than comparable organisations in countries such as Germany or France.
It is important to be unpretentious in Switzerland. Don’t let people think that you think you are somebody important. Reserve and objectivity are valued highly.
It is important to be seen as being technically proficient and to be able to demonstrate this proficiency. Being a jack of all trades in Switzerland is not a virtue.
Although key decisions are made at the top, senior management will actively seek the approval of other levels of the organisation – knowing this to be imperative for successful implementation of new ideas.
Meetings tend to be formal, even stiff from some viewpoints. Agendas are produced and followed methodically.
Punctuality is of critical importance. Do not be late for meetings, it reflects poorly on your professionalism.
In meetings, speak about those areas which are pertinent to your functional expertise – don’t wander into areas which are grey to you.
People are expected to be well prepared for meetings. Do not turn up and hope to be able to get by. Lack of pre-planning can reflect badly on you.
Direct communication is expected and respected. Plain speaking is essential if the correct answer is to be found.
Direct communication should not be confused with rudeness or aggression. Confrontation and direct debate are different beasts.
Teams consist of a group of individuals who expect to be allocated tasks and then left alone to get on with them.
The Swiss tend to be multi-lingual and are often at ease in meetings in three or four languages.
Business and private are not interchangeable. Meetings rarely begin with personal small talk and it can take time to create a close relationship with key Swiss contacts.
Food is important, so it is not always a good idea to talk business at mealtimes – be guided by your hosts on this.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
Switzerland must rank as one of the most politically and economically stable countries in the world. It has for years managed to deliver ongoing prosperity for its highly educated, multi-lingual population and, although the country did feel the impact of the banking crisis, the long-term signs seem very positive.
Switzerland is a land-locked country yet despite that seeming disadvantage it is an extremely successful export economy with sector strengths ranging from advanced manufacturing through to high-end financial services. As well as being export-oriented, Switzerland has also been able to attract massive levels of inward investment through a combination of fiscal incentives and a very high standard of living.
Recent years have seen large numbers of immigrants entering Swiss society and whilst this has led to some internal tensions, it has also allowed Switzerland to benefit from the arrival of highly skilled workers who have helped Swiss industry remain at the forefront of innovation and productivity.
Switzerland is a high-cost, high-skilled economy which must be an attractive proposition for many international organisations who are looking to grow their business by entering new markets. Don’t be put off by the seemingly high costs – Switzerland is worth a closer look.
However, Switzerland is a culturally complex country – as you would expect from a country with four official languages. Before starting to do business in Switzerland you would be well-advised to develop a good understanding of the significant cultural differences you can find within the country. Don’t be fooled by the fact that so many people speak good English – their fluency in English doesn’t mean they don’t think, act and behave in a Swiss way.
This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Swiss business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on: