Moving to the United States for work on an E2 visa
An Italian manager's personal and professional advice to successfully enter the American workforce
ExportUSA helps European companies enter the U.S. market, and on our site we have extensively covered, among other things, all the technical issues related to obtaining work visas for the United States.
What is missing, however, is a testimony on the experience - not so much professional as human, personal, and family-related - on how to deal with and prepare for a job transfer to the US.
We talked about this with Alberto Salamone, in America since September 2016, currently Vice President of Incal Technology Inc. in San Francisco and first General Manager of ELESIENNA, LLC - USA, a company of the Italian Elemaster Group Electronic Technologies, with offices in South Carolina and Georgia. Alberto Salamone has recently published a book about his experience: he is the author of "An Italian Manager in America" [ISBN 10: 8868492253 / ISBN 13: 9788868492250] published by Edizioni Anteprima in 2021.
Below is the full interview of Lucio Miranda, president of ExportUSA, with Alberto Salamone
Q) Alberto, the first question I would like to ask you is this. What advice would you give to an Italian who needs to prepare for this move? Give us two pieces of advice on a professional level and two on a family level to someone who has gotten an E-2 visa and is about to leave for America.
A) On a personal level, the first thing to remember is that when leaving with family, the role of the partner is crucial. If there is no desire to embark on this adventure in the United States together, the manager will not be able to focus on work because of the chaotic family dynamics. In addition, if the children do not see excitement in their parents, they may suffer, expressing their discomfort in various ways, such as refusing to go to school or whatnot. In short, small problems can create great discomfort and also put a strain on the couple's relationship. The second is that you need to be adaptable, and have a desire for adventure. It is much better if one is fascinated by the American world.
From a professional point of view, the first mistake you can make is to judge things only from your own point of view. This is a mistake I also made, because I initially fell into the "you're wrong, I'm right" reasoning, failing to look at problems from different perspectives. So my first advice is that one must first observe, listen and learn to understand how the system works. From a business perspective, we need to avoid centralizing control and imposing Italian processes and organizational system on the U.S. branches, thinking that we are successfully replicating an already tried-and-true system, and thus neglecting contextual differences. We must dismiss the idea that our way of doing things is right and any other is wrong, because it is a harmful approach especially for a company that is aiming to expand in the United States. The manager on mission in the U.S. is essential to build a bridge between the two cultures and seek integration between the American branches and the Italian headquarters. To work with American colleagues but also and especially to make the headquarters aware of the different context. There is a completely different way of doing things, and this is especially true for HR.
Q) What about the diversity in conflict management in the United States compared to what happens in Italy?
A) I have to say that the Italian culture is more direct in handling conflict than America. It may sound strange, but it actually is. While it is true that in the U.S. the boss-employee relationship is less hierarchical and it is also easier for an employee to tell the boss that they disagree with a decision, it is also true that rules are respected, whereas in Italy we interpret, we are more flexible, and conflicts can be greater. Another piece of advice I want to give is about feedback and how to handle conflict with employees: in America we say "great", "excellent", "good job" etc. so many times, and each of these expressions has its own specific value. As a result, the scale of compliments in the US tends to be shifted upward. It goes without saying that the Italian manager in the U.S. must know how to translate judgments; so, for example, a good job should be defined as "excellent" with one's American colleagues, and not "it's ok", which, mind you, would mean mediocre work to an American. In handling feedback in the U.S. you have to be careful about how you say negative things, and you especially have to make it clear that there is more than just the negative. I use the metaphor of "hot dog feedback" in which the negative feedback is always surrounded by at least two positive comments, one at the beginning and one at the end, which in the metaphor would be the top and bottom slices of bread, while the negative part of the feedback would be the meat. A negative criticism without a side dish of positive comments could be interpreted as a very negative signal by an American. Conflict management must take this into account.
Q) Do you have anything to point out in terms of motivation?
A) American culture is a more short- to medium-term oriented culture and is more individualistic than Italian culture. In incentive management, for example, I see rewards and bonuses as much more short-term. I would avoid group bonuses, favoring individual incentives. Compared to what happens in Italy, where the award or bonus may be received three years later, in America incentives are linked to the time sensitivity typical of that culture. At the level of intrinsic motivation, then, I don't think there is that much difference between the two cultures.
Q) What is the optimal type of leadership to be successful in the United States? (We are talking about a leader who needs a team to achieve an operational goal, such as a Country Manager)
A) Great question. Beyond the literature that values those basic qualities that always apply everywhere (such as empathetic leadership, for example), here you always have to look at the dynamics of the U.S. workplace, such as unemployment in the U.S. versus Italy. If you want a cohesive group working for the company, you have to try to understand and hit the individual goals of your employees. A dissatisfied American employee will easily find an alternative in the much more dynamic job market compared to Italy. And if they leave the company, it does not always mean that they no longer share the company's values or that they were not as attached to the uniform as our Italian colleagues, who leave companies less frequently, but that it was probably the manager who failed to listen to their individual needs. Attention to the individual development of one's employees should also be considered when letting go of an employee: it may not happen nearly as often in Italy, but in America it is common practice, for example, for an employee to point to the current boss as a reference attached to a resume when looking for a new job. In short, to hold onto the group, it is essential to have an open and honest relationship with employees, being attentive to the individual development and personal needs of one's staff.
Q) Where do you think we Italians are typically lacking in management?
A) No doubt in time management and adherence to planning, which in Italy uses a very "creative" approach. We tend to interpret the rules, and I will give a practical example. When we have a meeting in America, the participants want to know exactly what the conclusions are, the outcomes, the ABC of what needs to be done next; the dynamics of the meeting in the two countries are extremely different: in Italy we interrupt each other often, cell phones stay on, and it is socially acceptable to leave to take a call. Meetings do not necessarily end with a definite plan of action. In contrast, America is the country of action; after discussion comes execution, not criticism at coffee machines of what has just been shared. Managing emergencies or contingencies comes naturally to the Italians who don't even feel the need to meet to revisit the plan. They interpret and improvise. The American on the other hand does not do this, but is much better at following a plan.
Another example: there is a delay, a critical delivery issue. In Italy we are concerned with finding a plausible explanation, possibly pointing the finger at external causes, to get away with it in front of the customer. In America such an approach would be viewed negatively, as an attempt to grasp at straws. The fairest approach is to admit the mistake and immediately propose a recovery plan. The value of honesty is seen differently in the United States than in Italy: in Italy you resolve the problem somehow, but not necessarily by admitting you are late. However, if you behave this way in America you can be seen as a "liar" or a "cheater", which is a serious thing.
I conclude with these tips that I hope will be useful:
Communicate clearly and simply. Repeat the points discussed and agreements made, even by email after a meeting. The U.S. is a "low context" country in terms of the type of communication. The unspoken is not there. If you are an expert in a field, say so without fear of coming across as arrogant.
Americans are moderately indirect in the way they express criticism. If you have to make a criticism, add positive points on the side and be careful about the way you phrase the criticism. Americans are also less confrontational than Italians.
Finally, start with the conclusions in your presentations. In the US, practice comes first and theory second.
We hope that with this short interview Alberto Salamone has succeeded in his intent to facilitate the relocation of Italian companies to the U.S.