When working with Mexican manufacturing partners, a general knowledge (at least) of cultural differences is prerequisite to success.

As a primary trading and business partner with the US, Mexico’s economy and workforce are subjects of great interest for US firms seeking to work with Mexican manufacturing partners – especially since the NAFTA’s passage twenty years ago. Partnerships in such endeavors in Mexico require a thorough understanding of the country’s main cultural differences vis a vis the US, particularly in the realm of human resources, which, to say the least, is an area that is critical to the success of any endeavor.

Human Resources
A proper understanding of cultural differences in the realm of human resources is paramount to the success of ventures undertaken jointly with Mexican manufacturing partners in the maximizing performance. Recruiting, selection, training, compensation, performance management, etc. require careful planning and organizing, and influence things that range from employee motivation and performance, as well as to empowerment.

The Hofstede and Trompenaars Studies
In 2001, a report was published by Dr. Hildy Teegen and Pramila Rao entitled, “Human Resource Issues: US-Mexico Joint Ventures,” which compiled and analyzed findings from exploratory ethnographic studies conducted on various relationships beween US and Mexican manufacturing partners in the realm of human resource issues. These studies graded Mexican culture according to four aspects developed by the two Dutch researchers, Hofstede and Trompenaars, who surveyed Mexican business climate and discovered four primary cultural traits attributable to Mexico’s workers. Understanding them is vitally important for US companies that seek to collaborate with Mexican manufacturing partners.

1. Power-Distance: Mexican workers scored extremely high on Power-Distance, meaning they were willing to entrust an enormous amount of power to their employer. Supervisor roles are clear and absolute, meaning Mexican employees do not prefer close relationships with supervisors or participating in decision making or managing, but see an invitation to do so as threatening, improper, and risky.

It can be said, however, that these traits have changed somewhat over the years as more US companies have Mexican manufacturing partners, and as the two sides have come to a deeper understanding of each others cultures and working habits.

2. Uncertainty-Avoidance: American workers, in general terms, have more of a tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty in the workplace. This means that Mexican manufacturing partners typically like to hire and work with people they know, or are acquainted with through friends or family members . Additionally, Mexican laborers are swifter to integrate work and personal life into the same realm.

3. Individualism vs. Collectivism: While Hofstede’s study in the 1980s found Mexican workers to prefer work, and to thrive, in team settings, rather than individual competition models, Trompenaars found in the 1990s that a shift was occurring towards individuality not unlike that in the US. Traditionally, Mexicans have shunned individual praise, preferring to be part of the team, whereas performance-based pay is becoming more and more popular in recent years, as US and Mexican manufacturing partners become further familiarized with each others style of doing business.

4. Masculinity: Mexico has a rather masculine culture, which, at times, may emphasize displays of authority and power. Titles carry significant importance, and employee perks are, in some instances, less about the benefits than about the status. Middle level managers are particularly motivated by rewards and special privileges in some instances.

When US firms seek a Mexican manufacturing partner, in addition to gaining a knowledge of the industrial capabilities of those with whom they may pair up with, US executives and personnel should enter any relationship south of the border with a general knowledge of the main differences that exist between their organization and that of their prospective Mexican colleagues.