What do you need to know about Canadian corporate culture?

As a new business in or immigrant to Canada, one of the things you’ll prepare for is adapting to the new culture or even “culture shock”. Culture is the norms, artifacts, behaviours, values and attitudes that a group shares - that group could include a country, region, club/association or a company. Culture shock is the mild to strong disorienting feelings, anxiety and isolation many people feel when immersed in a new culture. One way to reduce the negative aspects of entering a new culture is to learn about it in advance and understand what may be different from the culture you are used to.

Harvard Business suggests that studying about the new location including culture is a best practice not only for the individual but also any accompanying family. BrightGo Solutions consults clients on both Canadian culture and adjusting/creating their corporate culture in Canada. Forbes writes that the root cause of every failed merger or acquisition is failure to adapt for the different cultures. So what is Canadian culture? This article will explore both the research and some practical things you can notice and embrace to have your company thrive in Canada.

But first, a quick history and geography lesson for some context. Canada has two founding groups - Aboriginals or Indigenous people (Inuit, First Nations and Metis) and Europeans (British and French) with 2017 being celebrated as Canada’s 150+ anniversary. We are part of the Common-Wealth and have Queen Elizabeth II as our Queen while politically we are a parliamentary democracy. Our two official languages are French (more common in the east) and English. Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world, bordered by the Pacific ocean (west), Arctic ocean (north), Atlantic ocean (east) and the United States (northwest and south). We have a population of about 35 million and welcome about 300,000 immigrants a year. We are members of the United Nations, NATO, OECD, WTO and G7 - and we invented the United Nations peacekeeping concept. Plus we are ranked in the top 10 of the happiest countries in the world. Given our mix of many cultures from founding to today and the vast physical space we occupy, there are many sub cultures within Canada. And of course, each individual will have their own unique personality.

Let's get this first cultural icon out of the way - "Ice Hockey" or as Canadians call it... just "Hockey". It may come as no surprise given the freezing temperatures throughout the winter which make any outdoor water body into ice plus all the indoor ice facilities too. Not everyone plays hockey growing up (currently, like most countries, soccer is the most played sport) but there is a sense of identity to hockey not seen in other sports. Canada's coffee chain supports youth teams, there are equipment and fee supports available through groups like Kid Sport to ensure all kids get an opportunity to play regardless of family income and a whopping 48% of NHL players are Canadian (and this has been slowly declining). Speaking of sports, did you know golf is the most played sport by Canadian adults, both basketball and lacrosse were invested by Canadians and Canadian football has numerous differences compared to American football (and both are definitely not soccer aka what the rest of the world calls football). As you’ll see below, Canadians rank high on “indulgence” so having freetime to play sports or other leisure activities is important.

What does all that mean for your business? Consider sports as one way to connect to Canadians in marketing campaigns, building rapport with suppliers and customers, and connecting to your employees. In a sports infused culture, you may find sports analogies used and will find them quick shorthand to describe business and personal situations.

"As polite as a Canadian" is one of those world compliments that we are happy to be associated with. The province of Manitoba even has the slogan of "Friendly Manitoba". Warm, inviting and considerate of others' wellbeing are hallmarks of Canadian interactions. We typically stand orderly in queues, give up our seats to those in need and will put up with behaviour that others couldn't stand.

Don't take this as an invitation to only take, as we do have limits and the polite Canadian will eventually simply stop doing business with you. A large advantage of the friendliness is the welcoming and forgiving nature we have towards newcomers. Integration is the norm, not assimilation, so there will be more leeway in bridging any cultural gap both when starting your new business here, setting up a subsidiary or upon an acquisition.

On the research side, there are two seminal studies on global culture - the GLOBE project with a specific focus on organizations and the Geert Hoftstede theory of cultural dimensions. Both of their online websites have handy tools to compare different cultures - with Geert Hoftstede you select your country then select Canada to see where we are similar or different while with GLOBE it clusters regions of the world and digs into value vs. practice (i.e. what we want vs. what we do). This extra piece of information with the GLOBE project is quite useful as it may highlight discrepancies where Canadians say one thing but then do another.

GLOBE Project, 2017: http://globeproject.com/results/countries/CAN?menu=country

Geert-Hofstede Cultural Dimensions, 2017: https://geert-hofstede.com/canada.html

For your company in Canada, of particular note is low power distance, a high performance orientation with a value for even more performance though tempered with midrange task orientation (vs. process), a low long-term orientation, and a value for low uncertainty avoidance. For the typical Canadian, these will show up as a flatter organizational structure with merit based promotions / compensation, clear goals and milestones with regular honest feedback, a quick-win mentality, and the ability to take safe risks and innovate. Compare these to the culture you are used to, to see where your leadership style and internal processes may need to adjust.

Have more questions about Canadian culture or how you and your international company needs to adapt to Canadian culture? Wonder how your global corporate culture will fair in Canada? BrightGo specializes in Canadian business context, compliance and culture so we’d be happy to help. Contact us to learn more and start maximizing the benefits culture can bring.