Some Organisational Differences (USA and Europe)


A study (1980 to 2000) of 11 successful Australian organisations (Brambles, Harvey Norman, Lend Lease, Macquarie Bank, National Australia Bank, Qantas, Rio Tinto, Salvation Army, Telstra, Westfield and Woolworths) concluded that common elements shared by these organisations were

Effective execution after very careful planning

Alignment between systems, procedures and people

Flexibility, in that there was willingness to diversify into different fields and activities; current activities and strategies were not confining factors

A clear/fuzzy strategy: a clear view about where the organisation is heading but at the edges opportunism lurks

A leadership, not leader, focus

Looking outside, not just in: willingness to chase opportunities outside "core business".

Getting the right, not necessarily the best, people, such as people who fitted the culture and business, and consequently, there was long tenure of core staff

Managing downside when things get tough

Ability to balance everything, such as the demand for flexibility and some risk-taking

1. Compared with USA studies, Australian organisations:

Are more conservative and risk-averse, ie undertake more careful planning before implementation, with much time spent on getting the detail right and focusing more on managing the downside possibilities

Tend to think less big

"...American business tends to think very big. There is a lot of flexibility in US management thinking and a capacity to accept that doing the things usually requires a lot of disruption, for your workers and for your shareholders. The concept of doing something big and believing you can handle the disruption is an important difference..."

Laura Tyson as quoted by Geoff Kitney

Have a greater fear of making mistakes

Are less keen to be assessed

Rely less on vision and mission statements, such as doing it for Australia, for success

Have a greater focus on finding a cause that is worthwhile and achievable, rather than a challenge, ie less emphasis on having bold and challenging goals to rally the organisation. Australian workers prefer to work for an organisation in which they feel their work is worth doing, rather than being challenged to reach unattainable goals. In America, business feels less

"encumbered by social policy, by community hindrance to significant change......soaring levels of corporate remuneration in the US are reflecting this attitude that businesses don't have a community responsibility beyond their own success"

Laura Tyson as quoted by Geoff Kitney, 2005

Since the GFC there has been pressure on high corporate remuneration to be significant reduced. Whether this pressure is successful in yet to be determined.

Other Australian-US differences:

In Australia it is less about charismatic leaders, big breakthrough ideas or high pay levels and more about team performance.

The style of leadership in Australia is more of a captain-coach approach with leaders working with the staff rather than working from "on high" as in America

More of a blame culture in Australia - this means that mistakes are less likely to be admitted and/or confronted in Australia. However, in USA, failure can be perceived as a badge of honour, ie with "Chapter 11" allowing firms to work their way out of financial difficulties. On the other hand, since the GFC, there is less tolerance for mistakes in USA. On the other hand, the Government's rescue and/or backing of several large financial corporations is re-enforcing the concept of 'too big to fail".

On the other hand, Australians have a "have-a-go" attitude - it is better to try and fail than to not have tried. Linked with this attitude is the need to be flexible and adaptable owing to the small size of the Australian market. Furthermore, in Australia there is a scarcity of specialists or available help from large-scale corporations, which encourages the "having-a-go" approach.

As flexibility, adaptability and inventiveness are critical for success in Australian management, Australians are keen to challenge the rules or operate outside of them.

Australians prefer the "little Aussie battler" stereotype which suggests we can achieve much in spite of the handicap of not having the right background, training, equipment or sources. Even the large Australian-based organisations like to present themselves as "little Aussie battlers punching above their weight". Furthermore, Australian organisations have been very determined and tenacious to succeed and generally success takes time to achieve.

Australians prefer to be part of a team rather than to operate as individuals working for themselves, which includes handling the risks and responsibilities

It is important for Australian managers to find common points of interest with all stakeholders

"There is a culture of mateship, where you are expected to find a common bond"

Walter Jennings as quoted by Fiona Smith, 2005b

For example, a chairman and skilled tradesman are expected to find a common interest. It is important to break down barriers to familiarity via small talk; this is most likely to be around the topic of sport.

2. The European Situation

A study of successful European organisations (Christian Stadler, 2007) found that the basis for their success was

- exploiting existing assets before exploring for new ones

- diversifying business portfolios in order to maintain a wide range of suppliers and a broad customer base

- remembering mistakes and retelling stories of past failures so the mistakes were not repeated

- being conservative about change

- recognising/assuming that corporate culture does not make the difference between a good organisation and a great one

Some Leadership Differences

Comparing the different leadership styles of America, Britain and Australia

American preference

  • Brash and confident
  • Can-do attitude
  • A general tendency to do-it-your-way
  • An in-your-face drive to success
  • A consultative approach to decisions
  • Respectful of authority and hierarchy
  • Free express feelings and wear "heart on sleeve"
  • Enjoy charismatic people
  • Celebrate success
  • More philanthropic than most

British preference

  • Accept a stratified hierarchy or "class" system
  • Respectful of authority
  • Like protocol and order
  • Prefer the collaborative approach
  • Not direct and dislike being upfront
  • Hardly ever "frank" and dislike conflict
  • Like to have all facts/issues agreed upon before meetings
  • Anticipate that people will read "between the lines" on what has to be achieved

Australian preference

  • More likely to tell it "like it is", especially how change is regarded
  • Display high levels of emotional honesty
  • Don't hesitate to tell someone to "bugger off"
  • Difficulty imposing change and seek consultation and agreement
  • Resist the urge to use "big stick" approach
  • Willing to challenge, ie "you'd better have a good reason to ask me to do that otherwise I'm going to argue !"
  • A healthy disrespect for authority and political figures
  • Subscribe to an egalitarian ideology and a "fair go" for all
  • Informal and more laid back in style
  • Support the tall poppy syndrome and relative equality
  • Believe in principles of mateship
  • Self-sufficient
  • Find negative feedback harder to deliver


They are rooted in traditional Australian leadership values and hold onto the cultural values of "mateship" and "fair go". Most likely educated and/or lived in Australia. Subscribe to egalitarian ideals and focus on leadership in a unified process - an "us" approach to leadership (as in perceiving a leader as a member of the team)

NB Need to be careful of stereotyping

(source: Colin Rymer, 2009)


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