Attitudes and values form the basis of any particular culture. They reflect both the ways people think and behave. Some knowledge of these can therefore be of significant importance if you wish to communicate with your counterparts effectively. Ignorance of these issues can result in a cultural barrier that may inhibit the communication process, thus having a detrimental effect on the success of your activities in a given country.
Corporate social responsibility
Whereas Corporate Social Responsibility has long been centre stage in Nordic countries, in Iceland its importance has not yet been fully understood. However, the social and environmental standards followed by EU countries are also followed by Icelandic companies. One of Iceland’s strong points is its huge natural resources which could become important for its future if the focus on sustainability is something that could bring Iceland back into the game after the banking crisis of 2008. Because CSR is believed to foster Iceland’s competitiveness and trust, Icelandic businesses have been encouraged to incorporate CSR into their strategies, so CSR is now a hot topic. The Icelandic banking crisis resulted in a lowering of confidence in banks and other large companies who are now facing demands for greater transparency from Icelanders. Although Icelandic companies’ standards on issues such as human rights and environmental protection are high, good and ethical standards of corporate governance were not something that had been focussed on too much before the banking crisis.
When it comes to time keeping Iceland is similar to other Nordic countries. Punctuality is highly valued and if one is running late for a meeting it is both polite and recommended to let the host know about the delay. In fact, when going to a business meeting it is good to arrive in advance so that one is ready to start at the agreed time.
It is also recommended that appointments are scheduled in advance if possible, and in order to avoid misunderstandings that come from communicating in a foreign language, a 24-hour clock should be used when scheduling appointments.
Icelanders often invite visitors to their homes and when one receives an invitation he/she should take a small gift. A bottle of wine is something that is always welcome even though Iceland has domestic wineries that have been operating for more than 1000 years. Also small gifts from the visitor’s home country are always appreciated.
Business dress code
Icelanders are highly fashionable people and it is normal to put lots of effort into the appearance. When doing business, most Icelanders dress smartly and although there may be some who dress casually, it is expected and recommended that a foreign visitor dress formally and in a way that is considered appropriate for a business environment.
If unsure of the dress code and what to wear it is perfectly acceptable to ask a representative from the company. It is often better to find out in advance, so that you can make any necessary changes to your clothing before your introduction to the company. This will put you at ease, and you will be more relaxed in your encounter with the company.
Bribery and corruption
Bribery and corruption is generally taken seriously in Iceland and Icelanders value transparency in business dealings. Although Iceland is highly ranked in the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index as the 13th least corrupt country in the world, the banking crisis of 2008 has clearly left a mark as in 2005 Iceland was the top-ranked country of the index. However, despite this Iceland still comes before countries such as Japan, Germany and the USA. (In 2011 New Zealand topped the list followed by Denmark, Finland and Sweden).
The Icelandic government is committed to working against corruption.