When it comes to professional training, Mexican managers and companies seem fascinated with anything that comes from more developed countries, especially the United States. From leadership courses (so many that one wonders who is left to be led) to negotiation techniques, the Mexican market is flooded with pitches from U.S. companies offering training programs. It is as if Mexican businesses were unable to develop their own kinds of managerial educational tools.
Undoubtedly, too many Mexicans suffer from what sociologists might call “mental colonization” – a process by which people adopt ideologies originally used to conquer them or to diminish them. For example, the models you see in most advertising in Mexico are fair-skinned and blue-eyed, in a country where most people are not.
Many of our symbols of beauty are defined in terms of what is not Mexican. When it comes to managing, a similar feeling exists: We have to learn from others how to manage and run our companies.
Unfortunately, this is an inefficient and non-productive course of action. First, this attitude blinds people to the many positive characteristics of Mexican workers in general and Mexican managers in particular. I have stated many times in previous columns that our nation “hides” a treasure in human resources. Mexican ingenuity is real, but largely unexplored. When Mexican workers and managers feel appreciated and justly rewarded, not only will they go the extra mile, but will become extremely creative and produce original solutions to many problems.
The second reason why this form of what we have locally come to term as malinchismo is counter-productive is that companies will invest significant resources on programs and procedures that simply do not work in Mexico, for both social and cultural reasons. Case in point: One of my local clients recently bought and implemented a system that presumably maximizes personnel efficiency. A central feature of this program is that teams are ever-changing, so that people will work with different people every other week. This program may work well in cultures where people feel comfortable working with folks they don’t know, but it definitely does not work well in a culture like Mexico’s where people need to get to know each other in order to feel comfortable working together.
Regardless of how efficient the program might be, the fact is that the vast majority of the Mexicans who participate in it feel very unhappy. And as a universal management principle states, unhappy people usually lead to miserable results.
Finally, in many cases, programs created for different markets often simply do not work in Mexico. I have found this is especially true of management performance techniques that are based on the availability of reliable information in your market. As almost anyone who has worked in Mexico knows, information is often unavailable or unreliable, so managers have to depend on intuition a great deal more than if they worked in an information-rich environment like the United States.
I am not ruling out a healthy exchange of ideas and information on what others are doing, but before programs are blindly adapted to the Mexican market, it is important to analyze the extent to which these fit the local reality. If they don’t, either make the necessary changes or look for other programs.
Last, but not least, there are a number of highly successful Mexican companies from which other businesses can learn. Seeing what they are doing might offer answers in terms of which kinds of training programs work for Mexico. And what is more important, managers and companies will learn that the grass is not always greener on the other side.