What Management Style Exists In Canada

Working in a foreign country means getting used to new business culture. Similarities exist between Europe and Canada, and globalization has not destroyed all the differences between the two continents. To be successful in this new environment, you will need to understand what the management style in Canada is and its specificities.  

A Definition and a Word of Caution

According to Mary Parker Follet, a pioneer in organizational theory and the “Mother of Modern Management”: “Management is the art of getting things done through people.” A simple and clear definition that focuses on the objective of management but that purposely says nothing about the way to achieve it, acknowledging implicitly the existence of a multitude of management styles.

Culture is a key influencer as argued by Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede in his famous book, “Culture’s Consequences.” He demonstrates that cultural differences explain 50% of managers’ differences in the way they handle various situations. It is especially obvious and complicated in a cultural mosaic-like Canada, a nation largely built on immigration and a country made of ten provinces and three territories that all have their own identities. This said several distinctive traits characterize Canadian managers:

A Fair Manager

Egalitarianism is one of the 7 major values that structure Canadian society and has a direct impact on the management style in Canada. Managers are expected to treat every person in their team with equal respect. Pulling rank is ineffective and is even seen as a sign of weakness in the workplace. Everyone’s input will be valued, whatever their position whatever their level of seniority. Conversely, it also means that a manager will often seek advice from a member of his team, especially when someone has specific expertise on a topic. It won’t affect either the manager’s image or authority.

A Guardian of the Harmony

Harmony is another pillar of Canadian culture. Managers want to create a positive work environment so they make sure to remain politically correct and avoid conflicts. An article by the Harvard Business Review on cross-cultural management describes Canadian managers as “Diplomatic Leaders” who “tend to be polite and agreeable.” The authors add that “constructive confrontation needs to be handled with empathy” and “direct communication is seen as unnecessarily harsh.”

A Leader and a Facilitator

In Canada, a manager is expected to be a leader. They’re supposed to set the right example in terms of performance and conduct. One of their key missions is also to harness the talents of the team. Managers develop synergies and make sure that everyone fully exploits their skills for the good of the team and the company.  They can act as a mentor for younger employees, and more generally, create the conditions for everyone to grow professionally. The manager is also a facilitator, helping their team make the right decision based on clearly stated objectives and deadlines.

An Empowering Manager

With the start-up boom and the arrival of Millennials on the job market, flattened hierarchies have gained some ground in Canada recently. The relationships between the manager and his subordinates have become more informal (but still respectful) and are also encouraged to share their ideas. While the manager has the final word, they often consult their team prior to key decisions. Managers look to create an environment where people feel empowered.

A Cautious Critic

Canadians managers give regular feedback to their subordinates on their work. To address negative points, they tend to use “the sandwich method,” which can sometimes be a bit misleading for a French-speaker. In their desire to give constructive criticism while avoiding conflict, they often wrap their negative feedback between two positive comments.  As a result, people used to receiving more direct comments might think that they are being praised and miss the point of improvement identified by their manager.

Adapting to a new management culture is challenging. If you want to make your transition easier in a different workplace style, consider becoming a BC Talents member, and attending our workshops, events, and networking events.

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Aymeric Skalski built his career in a variety of roles and organizations. He's worked for both public & private sectors in market research, content marketing and international development. As a former solo entrepreneur, he thrives in an environment where work days are never twice the same.