Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

4 weeks, 4 countries, 4 cultures

Over September I spent the first week in NZ, then a week in California, 2 weeks in the UK and a few days in Hong Kong. Visiting 4 countries in 4 weeks really highlighted a couple of cultural differences that made me think about how we approach things in HR. The two big areas I saw that link directly to HR were the differences in how each country approached process, and how they approached customer care.

Have a read and see if you can pick which country is which. NZ, USA, UK or China?


Country A

This country had excellent processes for everything and people really seemed to believe in these processes. Going through the airport, going out for dinner – you always knew what was happening because it was explained or there were signs for it. People were direct and to the point in saying what needed to happen. The one downside was if you wanted to buck the system and do something unusual (like when we went up to the  counter to pay for our meal, rather than at the table) then the restaurant staff panicked slightly and were apologetic that they had missed seeing we wanted to leave and following the correct process of bringing our bill. It didn’t go down well to not follow the process.

Country B

There were also processes in place, but people seemed to follow them because that’s what you were supposed to do. They didn’t seem to really believe in them. They did them because they knew if a customer had an issue and complained, their manager would do something about it and there would be consequences.

Country C

There aren’t really any processes. We flew several different airlines, and this countries was the ONLY one who didn’t have queuing ropes up, and so the queue blocked others getting through. Where there was a process it hadn’t really been thought out what it should achieve. Going through customs there were different lanes for different passport holders, but the lane ropes ended a few metres from the scanning machines so everyone just mingled again. What was the point of the lanes??

Country D

The process wasn’t the focus here at all. It was about the outcome. If there was an issue (e.g. too many of us queuing) the staff instantly creating some new queuing lanes so that the pavement was clear. Or when checking in, assessed each group and seemed to create a new process right there to get customers dealt with as quickly and effieciently as possible.

All quite different approaches. Did you guess right?

Country A was the US, B was the UK, C is good old NZ and D was Hong Kong.

The other big difference we experienced was customer care/service. Again, see if you can guess which is which!


Country A

We went out for dinner. The waiters seemed more interested in chatting and hanging out by the kitchen than giving us a table. After we had ordered, our pizza came and was put on the table with no comment. The bottom of it was burnt. We were hungry. We ate it. It wasn’t very good. The waiter never came to ask about dessert. When we paid, the waiter wasn’t really paying us any attention and didn’t ask how our meal was.

Country B

There was a process of where to stand to be seated. Our server talked through the specials. When the pizza was brought out, one of the kitchen staff came out with it and explained that they thought it was okay, but the bottom was slightly brown so if we tried it and didn’t like it, just let our server know and they would make us a fresh one. After a couple of minutes the server came and checked if it was okay (and it was delicious!). She also checked on us about drinks and dessert. A couple at the table behind had ordered something and it wasn’t what they expected, so the server sorted out another option. And all done with a smile.

Country C

There was absolutely no hello, or rapport building. We were taken straight to a table and then asked ‘What is your order?’. No extra words were used – the whole focus seemed to be on providing whatever service or product you wanted quickly and efficiently. When we tried to ‘chat’, we were looked at like we were crazy!!

Country D

The customer service was adequate, polite and fairly efficient. We didn’t have any really bad experiences, but no really good experiences either. It was fine.

What do you think this time?

Country A was NZ, country B was the US, C was Hong Kong and D was the UK.


I found the US really enjoyable. People said what they meant, there was good processes and people were still really friendly. But I know lots of NZer’s who have also visited and said they don’t like it. Hong Kong was even more different – the focus is so on results rather than pleasantries which I did feel slightly uncomfortable with. Interestingly the US had compulsory tipping.

However I think in NZ I think we’re so far the other way. We hate process and will deal with customers only if we feel like it (which might be related to not having tipping). I think we could learn from the other countries approach and be far more productive if we did.

And if we had to map which HR is most like? Is your HR function more like the US, UK, China or NZ for process and customer? And is that what it should be like? If not, perhaps it’s time to change the culture.


3 comments on “4 weeks, 4 countries, 4 cultures

  1. amandasterling
    October 6, 2014

    The US is reasonably easy to pick out and I have to say this is one thing that I really enjoyed about our visit this year, the excellent service. Wherever you went people were extremely attentive and responsive. I had the best experience of buying jeans I have ever had – an expedition that is usually quite traumatic for most woman with thighs. However, they want you to be happy and buy stuff because most of them are on a commission or survive on great tips. In some places, particularly Vegas, that level of artificial attention was quite disconcerting. It made me miss NZ where, if people are nice to you, it’s because they genuinely want to be and not because they’re being paid to be.

  2. amandasterling
    October 6, 2014

    And contrast that with Mexico where people are genuinely nice to you because that’s just how they are and they’re blown away when you give them any sort of tip. It’s quite humbling.

    I love Mexico, and I’m not talking tourist mexico either.

  3. Vaughan Rivett
    October 7, 2014

    I’m not sure that I agree with the summary of New Zealand process. However, I do agree with your summary of New Zealand customer care.

    On both counts, there is so much that New Zealand businesses can do to improve both process and customer care. We are starting to see more of this happen as New Zealand business return to customer centricity.

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This entry was posted on October 6, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , .
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