Doing Business with the Netherlands and Dutch Business Culture

What You Will Learn:

  • Some basic facts about the Netherlands and the Dutch.
  • Dutch business culture compared to the surrounding countries.
  • Practical tips on doing business with the Netherlands.
  • The difference between the Netherlands and Holland.

Let’s Start With the Last Point: Holland versus the Netherlands

In this hilarious 4 minute video, the differences between what is meant with the Netherlands and Holland are well explained:

Basic Facts About the Netherlands

  • The Netherlands, also known as Holland and part of the Low Countries or Low Lands.
  • Population 17+ million (2019 estimate).
  • Area 41,543 square kilometers (16,040 square miles).
  • GDP (according to the IMF): $912,899 (only preceded by Spain, Italy, UK, France & Germany in Europe)

Why does GDP get a place in the basic facts? Because we’re talking about doing business with the Netherlands. Should you want to know more facts and figures, check out this link.

Dutch Business Culture

When we’re looking at the first four primary dimensions of culture the Dutch score as follows, compared with a couple of other countries in the world.

HierarchyLoyaltyGoal OrientationPredictability
The Netherlands34811750
Germany37656768
France65754988
USA39906345
India74486543
Sweden3374726

As you can see in this short sample, only Sweden follows the same cultural pattern as the Dutch do. All the other countries differ in one or more dimensions.

So, is doing business with the Netherlands comparable as doing business in Sweden (or Nordic culture in general)?

The answer is yes; Dutch business culture is very comparable with Nordic business culture.

Let’s go over each dimension and see what the impact is on doing business in the Netherlands.

dutch business culture Water

Hierarchy

In the Netherlands, the boss is only functionally different from his subordinates. It is normal and easy to approach your boss and usually, there is a so-called open door policy, making your boss readily available for questions you might have.

In general the Dutch are born with an “authority conflict“; meaning that anything that “smells” of a hierarchical discrepancy is disliked. In addition, if the boss puts a request to one of his/her subordinates, it is often met with the question “Why?“.

Loyalty (or Individualism)

The Dutch score high on this dimension. Comparable to other West European countries. They are very individualistic and many things are organized around their agenda; A spontaneous meetup is generally rare.

The Dutch business culture is very task driven and a lot less relationship-driven compared to India and China. This might make them seem as superficial by more collectivistic cultures. Within the work-context, this means that a lot is done “by the clock“.

Goal Orientation

Doing business with the Netherlands and the Dutch is much more Process driven than it is Goal Oriented, as it is in the other countries in the table above (with the exception of Sweden).

One important implication is that Dutch business culture doesn’t know any “heroes” or people that “stick out“; either on a company/organization level or in general in Dutch society. A famous Dutch saying is “Just act normal, that is crazy enough” (doe maar gewoon, dat is gek genoeg).

Predictability

A score in the middle. Which means that the Dutch like a certain amount of structure and rules, but also not too many.

Dutch Business Culture and some General Points

  • The main task of a Dutch manager is to make sure that his subordinates enjoy their work and workplace.
  • When doing business with the Dutch, don’t brag about yourself, your product or your company. The Dutch don’t like that.
  • Rules are seen as general guidelines and not as strict rules as they would be in Germany.
  • Big is not necessarily Better.
  • The Dutch have an opinion about everything. Even if they do not have an opinion.
  • Authority is frowned upon.
  • Too much positive feedback is seen as suspicious.

Conclusion

Doing business with the Netherlands is generally seen as easy and transparent. Also when it comes to official rules and regulations. Dutch business culture is different from other cultures in the world, with the exception of the Nordic countries.

If you want to be successful it makes sense to prepare yourself.

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Chris Smit

I'm passionate about Cultural Difference. I have been helping organizations save time and money when they work Internationally for the last 19 years. I have had the fortunate opportunity to hold lectures, workshops, and consulting projects on this subject World Wide. It has made me understand my own culture much better, and appreciate the differences around the world.
I have a Master's Degree in Organisational Psychology and have lived in the USA, the Netherlands and, currently, in Belgium.
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Chris Smit
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