Doing business in Australia

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Australia is the world's smallest continent but sixth largest country. The vast country has a relatively small population of 26.4 million and most people live in its coastal areas. Many expats head for Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney to enjoy a laid-back lifestyle. Australia ranks in the top 10 of best countries to live in the world by international comparisons of wealth, education, health and quality of life.

Although Australia is a polyglot nation, with over 100 languages being spoken by those sections of the population who have emigrated there, English is the official and by far the most commonly spoken language. It can take a while to get used to the Australian accent. The language is casual, with a tendency to shorten words. Well-known colloquialisms include “no worries”, “g’day”, “barbie” and “mate” but you’ll also hear plenty of other examples including “arvo/afternoon” or “doco/document”.

A strong, competitive economy, low import tariffs and a transparent legal system make Australia a great place to do business. Rich in natural resources, Australia has been a major supplier to the emerging Asian superpowers. It’s also regarded as a good base for the regional headquarters of multinationals that want to penetrate the Asia-Pacific market.

Business culture in Australia

The workforce is multilingual, multicultural and highly skilled – more than 50% of the population has some kind of tertiary qualification. While the workplace is relaxed and sometimes informal, respect, politeness and professionalism are still expected to succeed in business. First names are invariably used in all business situations in Australia. It would be very unusual to call a business contact by their surname. A handshake is the typical business greeting. While it is not as common as other countries, business cards may be exchanged after initial introductions. Gift giving is not part of Australian business etiquette.

Australia is a highly Individualist culture and the expectation is that people look after themselves and their immediate families. In the business world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and display initiative. Hiring and promotion decisions are based on merit or demonstrable achievements.

Australia is a very egalitarian society. While personal achievements enjoy respect, status and rank usually play only a small role. Australians tend to be distrustful of authority and can get quite cynical with people who seem elitist or snobbish. There is usually much greater respect for the ‘average’ person than for those of great wealth or power. Admired personal traits include modesty, casualness and authenticity.

As managers are not expected to see themselves as in any way superior to their colleagues an authoritarian style of management will be received very badly and as such may provoke outright hostility. ‘Tall poppy syndrome’ refers to a tendency in Australian society to try and cut down people who are considered to be too successful or prominent (cutting the tall poppies down to size).

It is much better to adopt a consultative style of management which is inclusive of every person’s opinions and which encourages an open debate of ideas. Indeed, challenging the ideas of the boss in open meetings is not seen as rude or disrespectful, but the sign of a fully committed, professional approach. Pragmatism is seen as a key attribute; getting the job completed quickly is more important than the niceties of protocol or hierarchy.

Meetings usually start with some small talk. People appreciate a sense of humour, but be careful not to overdo it, although Australian humour can be quite ironic and sarcastic. They often use this style to demonstrate disagreement or to tease someone. It is crucial not to take this style personally even if some of it might feel like you are being attacked. While one purpose of a meeting is to get to know each other, the primary focus will be on business topics.

Australians get straight to the point. Time and efficiency are of the utmost importance when conducting business meetings. Competence and ability are key traits that are valued above all else.

Presentations should be simple and straight-forward. A presentation full of excitement and hype will make your Australian audience suspicious and could become the object of ridicule. Digressing or giving excessive details will also not be well received. At the same time, Australians tend to respect people who express strong opinions, no matter whether they agree with them or not. Be careful not to appear condescending when expressing such opinions.

Due to a preference for a collaborative culture, the decision-making process involves top management consulting subordinates which may be slower than usual. This means it's important to win the support of top executives as well as influences in the subordinate roles. Most people believe in the concept of win-win, so they expect you to reciprocate their trust and respect. They tend to be bold risk-takers. Australians do not find it hard to say ‘no’, so the answer will be clear and straightforward.

Australia has a high cost of living. Monetary reward is an important motivator to perform well. Most Australians word hard and take pride in what they do for a living. They are generally motivated to work hard by incentives such as a competitive salary, bonus, benefits, fair and equitable work conditions, valuing of their work through recognition, etc. However, they desire balance in their life and appreciate that they spend more time with their colleagues than anyone else. Coffee breaks, after-work drinks and catching up with the people you work with is essential to an Aussie’s working day.

Alternative Description

Inspired? If you want to learn how you can work more effectively with your Australian colleagues, clients or supplier, contact us for a 'Doing business in Australia' sample course outline.  All training is tailored to meet your needs and delivered at a location of your choice.

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