Case Study – Quebec vs. France

A Wisconsin-based technology services company operates offices in both Montreal, QC, Canada and Lyon, France.

The executive team chose to manage the French office through Montreal and ignored the vast cultural and linguistic differences that exist between these unique places.

These situations are never one-dimensional; it was initially difficult for the team to pinpoint from where profit losses and employee/client discord stemmed, but I worked with the CEO and his executive team to identify the areas of opportunity in order to re-calibrate HR practices, adjust translation errors, adapt sales techniques, and amend management issues that arise from a lack of proper localization efforts.


PROBLEMS

  • Overgeneralizing: assuming the Montreal/Lyon management and communication expectations are the same because both markets speak French.
  • Generic Translations: people identify strongly with their regionalisms and local slang; not only is the French between Canada and France drastically different, but neglecting to respect the regional language quirks for the cities of Montreal and Lyon will make your content seem generic, if not straight-up wrong.
  • Lackluster Sales Pitches: we like to get right to the point here in America; hitting partners and customers with this typically-American style will ultimately hurt their confidence in your pitch.
  • Ineffective Employee Performance Reviews: “You’re doing a great job and we appreciate your presence in the office. You should consider being more timely in responding to customer quotes and we’d like to see an increase in monthly sales. But, all in all, keep doing good work – we’re happy to have you on the team!” While this kind of pitch does wonders to the American ego (while still getting the point across that there is room for improvement), it falls on deaf ears to French speakers who prefer more direct methods of feedback.

SOLUTIONS

  • Individualization: treat the Montreal/Lyon offices as entirely separate entities with their own strategies for management, internal communication, HR practices, etc.
  • Localized Translations: both Canadian French and ‘standard’ European French use anglicisms in business, but to vastly different ends; your copy will read natural to your B2B and B2C clients when you infuse adapt the language structure and vocabulary to them (and this is extra important when your English content employs jokes and idioms…).
  • Structured Selling Techniques: the French appreciate learning the intellectual framework of your arguments before you hit them with your final pitch. This way, they’ll know that you’ve put in the work to justify your results! Delve into your R&D processes with them to build trust before going further.
  • Tailored Performance Reviews & Feedback: the ‘compliment sandwich’ has no home in the French-speaking world; your French employees need to be directly and unabashedly told of their shortcomings for them to make changes; inversely, Quebeckers operate more like Americans in the culture department and respond to a gentler approach.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of viewing speakers of one language as a homogeneous group or assuming that Western countries adhere to the same cultural mores. When in doubt, think about how quickly you can spot someone from the city x or y, or how easy it is to figure out if a coworker grew up in the big city or further away.

It’s imperative to reevaluate each aspect of your brand and its message to understand how to adapt it to new markets without sacrificing your identity.