Doing Business in the Netherlands

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The Netherlands borders Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the west and north. The name ‘Netherlands’ means ‘low lands’ in reference to the nation's topography as an alluvial plain. The country is indeed low-lying and remarkably flat. Approximately 2,500 square miles of the Netherlands consists of reclaimed land, the result of a process of careful water management dating back to medieval times.

Along the coasts, land was reclaimed from the sea, and, in the interior, lakes and marshes were drained. The Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces. Amsterdam is the capital, but the government meets in The Hague. Utrecht is the transportation hub, while the port city of Rotterdam is the economic heartland. These four cities together with a string of interconnected towns form the Randstad (‘rim city’) which has a population of 8.4 million.

Famously liberal and modern, the Netherlands is a global trendsetter in governance, banking and commerce, and consistently ranks as one of the top expat destinations. With a rich culture and friendly accommodating people, it offers an excellent quality of life.

Dutch company hierarchies reflect a preference for flat structures, where senior managers provide guidance, dispense information, and coordinate decision-making. Working in teams is highly valued, often transcending traditional reporting lines. Authority can be vested in executives at lower levels, and individuals are held accountable for decisions only after consensus has been established.

While decision-making can be time-consuming, winning support at various organisational levels is imperative. Once a decision is made, implementation follows a linear, swift, and efficient path, showcasing the Dutch commitment to effective execution after thorough collaboration.

The Dutch are also known for being direct in conversation. They do understand that their openness and straightforwardness can be difficult to other cultures where understatement and politeness are the ‘norm’. At a first meeting, however, such directness would not extend to purely personal issues such as their religion or family issues.

Meetings in the Netherlands follow a structured approach with a blend of efficiency and informality. Typically commencing with a few minutes of 'small talk,' Dutch professionals appreciate a monochronic work style, emphasising systematic pursuit of goals and a dislike for interruptions. While humour is used, it's essential to tread carefully, as the Dutch may not always appreciate ironic remarks or complex stories during business discussions. Maintaining a focus on logical arguments and concrete examples is key, steering clear of exaggeration or aggressive sales pitches. The Dutch generally value well-prepared, knowledgeable discussions that avoid delving into private life or personal comments.

Project schedules and deadlines must be adhered to. Lateness, absenteeism and postponements are signs of untrustworthiness and will put a strain on relationships.

Motivating Dutch colleagues involves embracing a collaborative mindset, as the Dutch generally believe in achieving mutual success. Overt competition is discouraged in favour of a more cooperative approach, emphasising information sharing as a means to build trust.

Reciprocating trust is crucial, demanding a respectful and cooperative attitude. While bargaining is not a preferred tactic, leaving room for concessions and preparing alternatives can foster positive outcomes. Successful motivation in the Dutch business context requires a focus on both short-term and long-term benefits.

When managing conflict, the Dutch default to assuming trust unless it has been broken. Resolution is sought through collaborative discussions, and a direct communication style may be misconstrued as occasional aggression. Confrontation is not shied away from if challenged, and attempts to gain advantage through pushiness are counterproductive. In disputes, achieving resolution entails concentrating on logical reasoning and facts, aligning with the Dutch preference for a pragmatic and evidence-based approach.

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Inspired? If you want to learn how you can work more effectively with your Dutch colleagues, clients or supplier, contact us for a 'Working Effectively with...' sample course outline’.

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