Research by Harvard Business Review found that
“between 10% and 20% of all U.S. managers sent abroad returned early because of job dissatisfaction or difficulties in adjusting to a foreign country.”
One of the primary adjustments to make as a manager in a foreign country is adjusting one’s bodyclock to the culture’s time perception.
As we’ve learned these past few weeks, polychronic and monochronic cultures operate according to clocks that have been set very differently – not just in two different time zones, but more like in two different space-time continuums.
Polychronic cultures have a more fluid view of time, while in monochronic cultures, time is linear.
If you’re sent to manage a company in another country, you might need to acquire – or at least adjust to – their view of time.
But you can’t just reset your watch, so how do you make these adjustments actionable?
Being a Monochron
For those coming from a polychronic culture into a monochronic culture, you might proactively focus on these aspects of time perception:
- Punctuality and organization – both the manager and the staff know their schedule in advance and are expected to be prompt at meetings. Punctuality is key to keeping everything else on track, like a well-oiled machine.
- Time management tools – many countries in monochronic cultures use time management tools to keep joint calendars as a team and stay on task. Tools like Scoro, Asana, and Trello come to mind.
- Linear activities – monochronic time systems move one step at a time. Once one task is completed and accounted for, an employee can move onto the next, ensuring focus and efficiency.
- Individual drive and achievement – individual successes are celebrated, both personally and by the company (think “employee of the month”). This motivates personal drive and performance.
- Meeting deadlines – deadlines in monochronic cultures are hard stops. Work is expected to be completed promptly by deadline in a task-oriented fashion.
If you, as a polychron, can tune into these time- and motivation-related aims, you will be a more successful manager in a monochronic culture.
Being a Polychron
For those coming from a monochronic culture into a polychronic culture, you might proactively focus on these aspects of time perception.
- Interaction – relationships and personal connections are a normal part of the workday. While tasks are set, personal interaction with colleagues and clients is expected and often prioritized.
- Integrated activities – multitasking is common, and tasks are completed in an integrated and often leisurely fashion, with those who have finished their tasks pulling in to help others.
- Group effort – as mentioned above, tasks are more often a group effort, as polychronic businesses often have a flat management structure where peer support is encouraged. Thus, individual recognition isn’t so important as group recognition.
- Flexibility – there is a more flexible agenda in polychronic cultures, with employees not worrying too much about a hard deadline.
- High context communication – all crucial information is shared, along with background information, and often in a manner where tone and visual cues are emphasized and interpreted.
When stepping into another culture’s time perception, making pointed actionable adjustments will help you adjust your bodyclock in a concrete way to a foreign culture.