Doing Business in Australia: A Multicultural Engine of Growth

Those of us in the Anglo-West don’t often pay a lot of attention to Australia unless the Olympic or Commonwealth Games are being held there, or an Australian film star is in the news (Russell Crowe, by-the-way, is a New Zealander).  Shared Anglo roots give us the false impression that we know the country, but surface similarities can be deceiving. When doing business in any culture not our own, we must always try to go deeper than common stereotypes.  Stereotypes never impress.

Some Facts About Australia

  • Australia is the 13th largest economy in the world, and until a recent slowing down has had 25 years of uninterrupted growth.
  • Australian citizens are in the top five among the world’s wealthiest.
  • It is the 5th largest economy in Asia-Pacific.
  • The World Bank ranks Australia as the 7th easiest country in which to set up a business, and is in the global top five countries on the Index of Economic Freedom.
  • Australia is rich in natural resources like iron ore, coal, gold, and natural gas which attract substantial foreign investment.  It’s resources sector has grown from 5% to 10% in the last decade.  Many of Australia’s top 10 exports are from the resources sector, but it should also be noted that 70% of Australia’s economy is service-based, e.g. tourism, education, and financial services.
  • Distances can be a challenge.  Australia is as big as the USA and covers three time zones; its eastern cities are about 24 hours away by plane from the UK (over 19 hours from the US).  Time differences between the UK and Australia are between 7 and 11 hours.  The center of Australia is 14.45 hours ahead of the center of the USA.
  • As of May 2017, the population is estimated to be 24.5 million; it is expected to exceed 28 million by 2030.

In 2011, census residents were asked to describe their ancestry.  The top ten nominated ancestries were:

  1. English (36.1%)
  2. Australian (35.5%)
  3. Irish (10.4%)
  4. Scottish (8.9%)
  5. Italian (4.6%)
  6. German (4.5%)
  7. Chinese (4.3%)
  8. Indigenous Australians (3.0%)
  9. Indian (2.1%)
  10. Greek (1.9%)

Forty-three percent of Australians were born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas.

Multiculturalism as a policy emerged in the 1970s.  The 2015 Mapping Social Cohesion survey found that 86% of Australians agree that multiculturalism has been good for the country.  Multiculturalism in Australia doesn’t mean cultural relativism.  Any right to express one’s cultural heritage comes with responsibilities, i.e. a commitment to parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, equality of the sexes, and freedom of speech.

Australia’s Place in the World

Australia is said to live with an inherent contradiction – a Western identity, but Asian geography.  Australia has a duality of interest – leaning toward the West for security while learning toward the East for economic gains.  Chinese is now the second-most common language spoken in Australian homes, and China is the biggest source of foreign students in the country.  Chinese investment in Australia leapt 11.7% in 2016: commercial real estate attracted 36% of Chinese investment, infrastructure 28%, agribusiness rose threefold in 2016.  Asia is definitely increasing its profile in the Australian mind.

Look at Australia’s list of top 10, two-way trading partners:

  1. China
  2. Japan
  3. USA
  4. Republic of Korea
  5. Singapore
  6. New Zealand
  7. United Kingdom
  8. Malaysia
  9. Thailand
  10. Germany

Between 2011 and 2012, nearly 60% of Australians saw its alliance with the US as very important.  By 2014, that number had dropped to just over 40%.  Young people especially are disenchanted with the USA.  This year, Australia’s first ambassador to the People’s Republic of China said in a speech: “In America now we have Donald Trump, and that is the biggest wake-up call for clear thinking about America at least since the Vietnam War years.”

Some Tips for Working with Australians

Communicating

  • Make your communications short, simple, and straight-to-the-point.
  • Be aware that Australians do not find it difficult to say “no” directly.
  • Demonstrate a preference for acting over contemplating. Australians can be impatient when things appear to be taking too long.
  • Be prepared for Australians to bring any unspoken issues out into the open where they can be dealt with quickly.
  • Expect greetings to be casual and relaxed with immediate use of first names. Don’t use Australian phrases like “G’day” or G’day mate.  You may come across as patronizing.
  • Do not confuse the informality of Australians with disrespect; informality is a way of developing ‘mateship – an Australian term (especially among men) to signal friendliness, equality, and mutual support (I’ll look after you.”).
  • Don’t take it personally if Australians want to argue with you. They like debating, and will sometimes use provocative statements to trigger a lively conversation.
  • Don’t be surprised if you hear many swear words in meetings. Cussing in a group is a way of rapport-building and expressing solidarity.  The boss is expected to join in as it shows a healthy disrespect for rules and formalism; it demonstrates that “You are one of us.”

Leading

  • Treat everyone fairly. Expect to hear the term “a fair go” which means “fairness to all.”
  • Work hierarchies are relatively flat. Differences are minimized, and hierarchy not displayed openly.
  • Do not brag or come across as self-important. Australians are well known for “Cutting down the tall poppy,” i.e. cutting down people who want to standout above the rest.

Demonstrate the following values when leading Australians:

Competence: Leaders should be highly competent in their field, while also being driven toward achieving outcomes and objectives. They must also act with honesty and integrity.  Becoming a leader in Australia is earned rather than being associated with a position.

Ambition: Australian leaders should be ambitious and inspire others while demonstrating modesty.  Leaders should not be showy and overly charismatic.

Broadmindedness: Australians desire to be led by leaders who are open to new ideas, innovation, and change.

Caring: The leader should treat people as individuals, demonstrate empathy, and encourage mutual support.  IQ must be matched with EQ.

Cooperation: Australians prefer a high level of team participation.  In the GLOBE project, 96% of Australians deemed it necessary to gather and collaborate to achieve maximum output and develop cultural cohesion.

Visit www.countrynavigator.com for more information on working with Australians. Head to our Facebook page and share your personal experiences with working with Australians.

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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