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
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Switzerland. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Switzerland and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: