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The International Entrepreneur – Globalization Bashing and other Populist Pastimes

Globalization

Globalization and the lowering of trade barriers has been a defining force for more than a generation. Freer trade has meant expanded business opportunities for large and small companies alike and an expansion of wealth that has reach from the richest to some of the poorest people on the planet. From centuries ago when Adam Smith originally wrote about why bilateral trade benefited both countries involved to today where exports raise the standard of living for many, the overall effect of globalization is a net positive for human kind.

As a free trade advocate, I feel like I should have seen this latest populist anti-globalization movement coming. When Congress cut funding to the U.S. Export-Import Bank, this was a proverbial canary in the coalmine, an omen of bad things to come. There was literally no legitimate policy reason to do this. The ExIm Bank provides services to American exporting companies both large and small. It guarantees some foreign transactions that benefit US business. And it provides loans to bridge the time between shipment and payment from foreign markets. It acts as oil to grease the wheels of trade.

In the last American presidential election, major party candidates are vocally protectionist instead of actively looking for ways to expand markets for American products and services abroad. It’s a populist notion without a strong basis in the facts. It plays on people’s real pain of losing jobs and whole factories in parts of the country, then blaming China or Mexico instead of technology gains and shifts in global competition. Instead of looking forward into the future full of evolving technology and market needs, populists of all stripes look to the past for some nostalgic sunny version of a bygone era. They pine to bring back jobs that no longer make sense in today’s technology-filled world. There are no longer rooms in companies filled with secretaries typing letters. There are no longer factories teaming with workers performing repetitive functions. Many other countries are experiencing their own populist backlashes against globalization in favor of protectionism.

So how do we prepare ourselves for this future that by all accounts is already here?

  1. Education. Yes, that’s right. We need serious retraining for those most affected by the shifts of globalization. Smart governments provide these programs for free or nearly free. For those still in school: get a college degree of some type, do at least one study abroad program to better understand the world, learn technology, languages and critical thinking skills. We don’t know what jobs will be created tomorrow, but we do know that they all need these skills instead of the ability to manually tread a tire or transcribe dictated business memos.
  2. Look Outward, Not Inward. It’s easy to get focused on one little corner of the world. But globalization compels us to look to other markets for customers. That means understanding culture and languages. The American-first orientation market puts unnecessary trade barriers in our own way.
  3. Learn about Big Trends and Keep Focused on the Future. When I meet with a new company, I can usually tell within minutes if they are more focused on their own past history or on the future. Those in the past tend to get stuck in the past. Those looking forward watch for industry and global trends to leverage their company’s strengths to take advantage of trends in their favor (ex. Exchange rate fluctuations or a fast-growing country’s economy) or prepare for a coming threat (ex. Presidential candidates espousing populist rhetoric to buy a few more votes from scared citizens).

Before anyone chooses to warm up their keyboard with an angry rebuttal about globalization’s impact on the environment, please let me confirm that globalization is far far from perfect. There are products created and shipping overseas that truly have no value to most people. As a human race, we need to make smarter decisions about what we choose to consume. We need to keep production in many cases closer to consumers to avoid unnecessary ocean and air shipping. Nowhere is this truer than in our global food supply. Working within this imperfect system still allows us to balance politics, economics and the human condition around the world.

With free trade, we allow each country, each company to find their markets and create jobs to support their society. As a wise futurist recently shared with me, technology may eventually mean that there literally aren’t enough jobs to sustain our capitalist-based economic system. He suggests that we may as a world eventually move beyond the need for money, where people will have more leisure time to pursue other non-work interests and projects.

I don’t know if such a world will exist in our lifetime, but I do think that trade helps to improve the standard of living for many. Open trade encourages sustained peace over long periods of time. And it encourages innovation in the face of competition. Let’s be smart and globally move forward.

Onward and upward,
Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur – Keeping that Entrepreneurial Spirit in Growth Stage Companies

The International Entrepreneur discusses how to keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive in a growth stage comapny

 

If you have ever worked in a startup company, then you know:

  • Entrepreneurs are normally in a constant fight for the survival of their fledgling venture. They offer high risk with the potential for high reward if the company succeeds.
  • Entrepreneurs are always stretching the boundaries of what is possible – in terms of innovation, business practices and often sanity.
  • Early partners and employees are bound to have a variety of offbeat and somewhat awkward bonding experiences.
  • While for many professionals, this sounds like a stressful and uncertain work style, entrepreneurs tend to thrive on this combination of urgency, risk, and constant string of problem solving.

The good news for workers at more established companies is that every successful mid-sized and large company has survived its initial startup stage. Sure, larger companies can still fail (and they do), but finances are much more stable because larger companies have much more access to capital for financing growth and weathering economic downturns.

Entrepreneurial energy and engagement often gets lost in that transition to growth stage. It can happen when a charismatic founder leaves the company as part of a negotiated investment deal. Maybe it’s when the pressure to make “payroll” is no longer a driving motivator for high productivity. Or it could be the hiring of new employees who just weren’t part of the earlier struggle. But something happens between the nearly full engagement required to get a startup company off the ground and the low employee engagement that dominates larger companies. Gallup’s annual report shows that consistently 33% of American workers and 13% of workers worldwide consider themselves engaged in their jobs.

How do you hold on to that entrepreneurial sense of engagement after the company succeeds?

First, I wouldn’t wish a lifetime of startup entrepreneurship on anyone. Yes, it’s a thrilling ride. Yet it can be utterly exhausting and often requires untold sacrifices born not only by employees, but their loved ones. Some entrepreneurs love the adrenaline rush that comes from beating the odds. If that is your personality type, then I wish you well in all your endeavors. But for the rest of us, there is some relief in finally making it to the company’s growth stage. Even dropping down a few notches in effort is still a far cry from the unengaged masses.

Now here is my advice on how to keep that entrepreneurial spirit while moving forward as a company:

Hire Engaged Employees

Everyone is enthusiastic in their job interviews. No one is going to tell you that they spent the final six months of their last job surfing the Internet or playing Candy Crush. Ask interview questions about someone’s final project with their last employer. An engaged employee normally gets challenging projects. Staff that have “checked out early” are often given routine, reactive assignments. Ask for examples of how the candidate proactively improved their company’s outcomes. And also consider hiring former entrepreneurs. They know how to work hard, are proactive and are excellent creative problem solvers.

Share the Vision and the Greater Context

Many companies create some kind of a vision statement, but then file it away somewhere to rarely be mentioned again. One of the reasons why entrepreneurial ventures are so engaging is that everyone on the team knows exactly what the company is trying to accomplish and what part their own efforts play in serving that vision. It’s powerful. Every employee in your organization of any size needs to know that the company vision is worthy of pursuit and that their efforts help move the whole organization towards that vision.

Set High Individual and Team Goals

While not the same motivation as surviving another month as an entrepreneur team, higher productivity comes when goals are set high enough for employees to stretch to reach them. Encourage creative problem solving and initiative as core traits you want from your staff. Then support your staff with resources to help them achieve their individual as well as the team’s goals.

Ideally you want to leverage the positive aspects of those startup months, but settle them into a longer, more sustainable employee engagement strategy. Leaders who spend time and effort to cultivate an effective work culture will always outperform their competitors in the global marketplace.

The International Entrepreneur – Why Globalization Needs to Survive and Thrive

International Entrepreneur - Why Globalization

This is the year when Globalization Backlash is reaching a fevered pitch. It’s been building for decades as whole groups of workers are excluded from the windfall profits of trade. As a Midwestern girl, I have seen my region of the United States come to be known as the “Rust Belt” for all of the abandoned factories and displaced low-tech manufacturing jobs sent overseas to lower-paid workers.

All the while, company CEO compensation has increased on the whole to obscene levels and Wall Street barely skipped a beat during the Financial Crisis of their own making. Income disparity is now at levels not seen since the Robber Barons in the early 20th Century. American culture demands some level of fairness and access to opportunity. Politically, we see the wave of anger fueling Brexit, Donald Trump’s candidacy and the backlash against trade agreements.

But Don’t Write an Obituary for Globalization Yet!

Business Insider reporter, Ben Moshinsky, recently wrote an article: Globalization is slowing dying. Trade has been part of commerce for centuries. There have been other time periods when trading has shrunk. Protectionism and rising tariffs are normally associated with troubled times. When U.S. leaders heeded the calls for protectionism in the early 1930’s, they helped to deepen what in the U.S. is called the Great Depression.  Eventually cooler heads prevailed and the U.S. swung back towards more open trade. Now globalization is fueled by technology, communications and capitalism. We won’t see globalization die except in an extreme scenario, like a zombie apocalypse.!

Time to Speak Up for Trade

Never has it been more important for business professionals around the world to speak up for the net positive benefits of trade AND to fight for fairness and to assist those who globalization leaves behind.

  • Opportunities for Companies of All Sizes. The reality is that the U.S. enjoys relatively high employment rates and that is part due to globalization. Selling goods and services to customers in other countries means jobs back at home. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 90% of American exporters are small businesses. Trade agreements and globalization mean that companies of all sizes have access to world markets.
  • Globalization is NOT a Zero-Sum Equation. Many populist politicians today treat trade like it’s a zero sum game. That means that for you to gain, I have to lose the same amount. The reason why globalization is such a powerful force is that the net gain is positive for all. I sell you my tomatoes and you sell me your radios and we both gain something we want and don’t otherwise have. This production specialization is the foundation of globalization.
  • World Economic and Political Stability is Not a Trivial Matter. The world has not experienced a global-scale military conflict since 1945. One factor in this relatively peaceful period in history is globalization. There is greater motivation to work through conflicts when countries would lose trade. It also gives us a greater interest in working together on economic issues. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are actively working to increase global access to the Internet for billions of people. Those people could become Facebook users and also consumers of a variety of online products and services.
  • Going Backward is Not an Option. A few years ago, there was a big “Buy American” movement. I think they largely gave up and realized that consumers and businesses were less interested in where a product was made and more interested in the value received compared to relative cost. For all of those interested in “bringing jobs home”, it would come at a tremendous price and still not achieve what you want. Those jobs are gone. The good news is that there are new quality jobs in their place for those willing to learn new skills. I don’t mean to trivialize this – it’s a daunting task to radically change your career. But it can be done (I know because I need to do this).
  • Globalization Allows for Sharing of Knowledge and Ideas. By doing business in other countries, companies gain new perspectives on how to approach a challenge or opportunity. Sometimes smaller strategic partners will share technology and resources in order to go after larger deals. There are of course risks in sharing, but also gains and insights to be had.

A Final Few Thoughts on Fairness

The negative effects of globalization need to be much better managed than they are today. Displaced workers need training for new in-demand jobs. The environment has paid a heavy price for our increased consumption, leading to many damaging and potentially irreversible effects. I think that a carbon tax on goods (based on the energy and other resources needed to produce them) is a step in the right direction. And finally, executive pay needs to better align with the rest of the company. Capping compensation on the top side of the company as a reasonable multiple of the lowest pay rate may be a good place to start. With some smarter policies, globalization’s negative effects can be tempered.

A Manifesto to International Entrepreneurs Everywhere:

I encourage you to continue to go forth to:
Invent new ways to make the world a better place
To find opportunities wherever they may be in the world
To build strong, ethical companies to support your families and the families of your employees
And to learn from new people and places things in order to gain insights and wisdom.

Onward & upward,

Becky Park 

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Maximizing the Potential of a Global Strategic Partnership

Global Strategic Partnership

 

I glanced up from the conference phone positioned in the middle of the table to catch the expression of quiet resignation in Hector, my client’s new Strategic Partnership Director. Hector’s Sales VP was talking on speaker phone to a potential strategic partner’s sales and partnership team. I realized in that moment that Hector knew what was going to happen.

Hector’s Sales VP was ignoring all of the research and analysis on how to make the most of the fortuitous opportunity to partner globally with a company expanding into the same markets that was in no way a direct competitor. The opportunities for these two companies to leverage each other’s strengths made for an extensive list – a list that was literally on the table in front of Hector’s Sales VP. But that’s not what was being discussed.

Instead, we had a one-way discussion about how the potential partner could fit neatly into my client’s international channel distributor program. No matter how Hector, the other company’s team or I tried to steer the conversation towards other strategic collaboration points, the Sales VP veered back to his single-minded agenda. The potential partner was far from impressed and the conversation soon ended with a few token follow-up tasks. Hector and I glanced again at each other. We both knew that the opportunity had passed.

The Sales VP seemed genuinely proud of himself in showing us how these partnership conversations should happen. Now I understood Hector’s expression more completely. This company’s leadership didn’t understand what strategic partners were. Until they figured it out (or listened to any number of sources) they were doomed to cripple their partnership potential.

International Distribution Partners are NOT the same as International Strategic Partners

This is far from an isolated situation. We see it all of the time, companies that underestimate the value they can get and receive from partnering for further international expansion. Since strategic partnerships normally fall somewhere either under sales or marketing functions in most companies, they tend to stay close to the known well-trodden paths such as channel distributorships. 

Strategic partnerships should never fit into one specific model. Instead, they should fill in the weak spots where the partner has strengths. Here are examples:

  • Partner B has excess capacity in their overseas production facility. They rent out their facilities to Partner A for a reasonable compensation (monetary or perhaps a trade of some kind).
  • Partner A will be exhibiting at a key international trade show. It’s a sizable investment. Partner B only needs to meet with a few key prospects at the show. Partner A gives an exhibitor pass to B’s Sales VP to have access to those prospects.
  • Partner A has access to a government grant in their country that supports research and development. Partner B sends a key engineer to work for 6 months in Partner A’s overseas facility. The technology is used in both companies selling into their own respective markets.
  • Partner A has a strong presence in Europe while Partner B has built up the Asian market. Since they sell different products to the same market, they agree to help each other make key introductions to potential clients in their strong markets.

The possibilities are endless so long as there is benefit to both partners and the risks are manageable. Strategic partnerships work best when both partners are dependent on each other and breaking up would be painful.

Here’s an approach to maximizing the potential of your partnerships:

  1. Spend time up front to develop a trusted connection with partner’s key staff. This is critical to long-term success. There has to be trust between company leaders or the partnership will quickly fall apart. This means spending time together preferably in person or at least in video conferencing. There may need to be cultural adjustments in this process depending where your target strategic partner is based.
  2. Ask open-ended questions about the other side’s goals, capabilities, challenges, etc. You’re looking for opportunities and challenges here. What is happening in their business that would also help your company? Is it best practices? Specific expertise? Access to capital? Client base? Key connections? Successful marketing channels? What are the challenges that they face in terms of internal limitations or external threats? The more you know, the better you can position your negotiations.
  3. Inventory what your side can offer in exchange. In looking for what your company has to offer, think of what would be easy to give. Space in a trade show booth is a great example. So are some introductions to some of your client accounts where it makes the most sense. But look further into areas like production, talent, finance and logistics for opportunities to build off of excess capacity.
  4. Look for creative trades that benefit both sides. In international expansion, one company may already have a foothold in the market, creating the opportunity to share knowledge and initial connections. If both companies want to enter the same new market, there is an opportunity to collaborate on research, saving time and staff resources.
  5. Continue to evaluate and renegotiate over time. In any partnership, it is smart to periodically revisit the projects or programs that are still benefiting both parties and those that should be discontinued because they have become ineffective or irrelevant due to changing circumstances. This is also the time to see if new collaboration opportunities have surfaced.

For growing companies, global strategic partnerships are a way to acquire new competitive advantages in most cases faster than developing those same assets your own. It does require company leaders to put egos and fears aside to talk about what would truly propel the company forward towards long-term goals. As for Hector’s company, leadership has yet to get past their own internal roadblocks, but Hector remains hopeful that they will. 
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The International Entrepreneur – 5 Tips to Motivate Global Telecommuting Workers

International Entrepreneur - Tips to Motivate Global Telecommuting Workers

 

Sam checked the time on his phone – 5:00am. As he sipped his coffee, Sam prepared for his phone call with Chloe in Ireland, his EMEA Regional Director. Since his software company expanded globally last year, Sam needed to manage new employees in new markets.

Sam’s problem was that he never felt like he could trust these new workers like he could his on-site staff. Sam had tried to solve this by implementing a detailed reporting process. That way, he would know exactly what Chloe and her counterpart in Hong Kong, Yang “Oliver” Jun, were doing with their time. He also invited them to daily leadership conference calls, which they both regularly attended.

Sam wanted these foreign employees to feel included as part of the team, even though meetings were well outside of regular business hours. Sam felt the bristled tone as he and Chloe exchanged greetings. But how could Sam motivate his global remote-based workers to the productivity levels of his home office staff?

 

The Promise & Perils of Global Remote Employees

International employees in remote offices around the world present interesting opportunities and challenges. Companies are realizing that they can access a much larger talent pool when they offer telecommuting positions. When expanding into new international markets, remote-based staff can be incrementally added based on a growing understanding of a new market’s potential for market access, supplier access, capital access, etc.

As Sam is discovering, managing from afar is not as simple as it appears. A leader does not have the same level of access to their telecommuting staff. Throw in a half dozen time zones to cross and timing becomes an additional hurdle to online collaboration and supervision. The trick is to focus productivity and performance outcomes. With that in mind, here are:

 

5 Tips for motivating your global workers:

1. Set Clear Expectations and Stretch Goals. This is particularly critical for global employees because local business rules and culture are always different than at the home office. For instance, American companies have to set strongly worded company policies that comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), else American company offices could face harsh penalties and criminal charges in the United States.

Setting quantifiable goals for all staff that takes the focus off of  “how” things are done and instead focuses on “what” needs to be accomplished. In other words, build whatever type of boat you want, but sail it to Port A by Tuesday.

2. Hire employees overseas with a successful telecommuting track record. Add it to the job requirements and to the interview questions for candidates. Working remotely takes self discipline and independence. Not everyone is meant for this work environment.

3. Conference Calls and Complicated Reporting do not increase engagement, only resentment. Conference calls take away people’s ability to read non-verbal communication signals. When navigating between work cultures, these signals give international staff instantaneous feedback so that they can make real-time adjustments to communications. Without that, remote staff are flying blind and likely frustrated.

Reporting can be a helpful management tool. But more reporting rarely improves results. One EMEA Regional Director complained to me that he spent every Friday just creating the complex reports for his American home office. The extra reporting not only reduced his productivity, but his motivation as well.

4. Face-to-Face Video Conferencing builds trust and fosters problem solving. Time and again, a 1:1 video conversation with an employee is the best forum for asking and answering questions, setting expectations and reacting to updates – both positive and negative. To make the most of video time, send updates ahead of time for staff to read and digest the information. Regularly scheduled video calls several times per week are best when it’s practical.

5. Don’t set your foreign employees up as independent contractors. Most countries do not allow employees to work separately as contractors because it circumvents local labor laws and employer taxation. Imagine what it would feel like when your company’s first request of you is to do something illegal on their behalf. Instead, either register an in-country subsidiary or hire them through Global Employment Outsourcing (GEO).

Back to Sam, our software company CEO and his new Asian and European Directors. He needs to call back Chloe using a video call to allow for face-to-face dialog. This will help him build greater rapport. Sam can ask questions about her progress on building her region for the company, as well as how it’s going working remotely. By asking the right questions, now much of the extra reporting can be eliminated, adding to Chloe and Oliver’s productivity. By receiving the review of yesterday’s management meeting, Chloe will have had time to think about how decisions would affect her region and is able to formulate better questions for Sam. Now both Sam and Chloe feel like their conversation is moving issues forward and improving their working relationship.

In time, a successful director will need to add local staff in an overseas market. But these first few employees are critical to long-term overseas growth. Their engagement needs to be a leadership priority.

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The International Entrepreneur – What’s Missing Globally in the Connection Economy?

International Entrepreneur Global Connection Economy

A few years ago, Seth Godin famously introduced the Connection Economy into our lexicon to describe how connecting people, companies and resources was a source of increasing value creation in our world.

Since you’re reading this article, that means that you are part of this global technology revolution and probably interact with it frequently. Here are just a few of my own examples of engaging this Connection Economy from this past week:

  • I collaborated via email with my client’s Malaysian country manager to reach her target leads using calls, emails and social media.
  • I took a call from a company in New York looking for an Uruguayan business culture expert. They found my website through Google. I referred them to an Uruguayan contact whom I have never met face to face, but regularly network with in social media.
  • I Skyped to mentor a Canadian rising star in the international marketing field, who is building a consulting practice.

On a personal level:

  • I sent my teenage son, Nathan on a foreign exchange with AFS Intercultural Programs. That means that he will stay with a host family in Italy for 5 weeks whom we have never met before, but were vetted locally by AFS.
  • My Brazilian exchange student, Matheus came home safely from a gathering with friends via a ride from an Uber driver.
  • I took a few daydreaming moments and surfed AirBNB for a nice house rental near the beach in San Diego for Labor Day Weekend in September.

 

When Seth Godin originally described the Connection Economy, he said that it required four pillars:

  1. Coordination. This may be coordinating between people as in the case of Uber. It could coordinate the exchange of money as is the case of crowdfunding. And often it’s the coordination and exchange of information.
  2. Trust. The parties involved need to have a reason to trust each other. Trust is normally built on a foundation of consistent words and actions by people and companies. Now we are trusting partners and vendors whom we may have never actually met before in person.
  3. Permission. In the Connection Economy, we voluntarily surrender our information, but only after trust is established.
  4. Exchange of Ideas. This blog (and everyone else’s blog) are part of that exchange of ideas. So is a review site that tells me what current and past employees think about working for a company I’m considering as a partner.

 

Without these pillars, companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and countless other Connection companies including my own would not exist. But let’s get out of the American-only point of view and expand to…

 

Bringing a Global Context into the Connection Economy

This may seem confusing to some. After all, isn’t the Connection Economy by its very nature borderless, allowing for seamless access to markets and resources from anywhere in the world? Ideally – yes, but in reality – no. Here’s some context:

 

Access to Connectivity is Far from Universal

 As of 2019, 4.4 billion people in the world had access to the internet.  This still leaves  almost half of the world population still without access.  There are some sizable barriers to improving access to conduits of information and opportunities that include education, disposable income to buy the necessary tools and services, and even interest.

 

Language and Culture Create Information Silos

The Connection Economy had the perfect solution to bridging language gaps and reaching new markets: Google Translate and other translation widgets that could quickly convert English content effortlessly into dozens of other languages. How clever! Those who tried it soon learned that language is much more nuanced and complex than first thought. Literal translations yield some major mistakes that have cost companies dearly.

Culture is even more complicated. It underpins what determines whether a company or person is worthy of Pillar #2: Trust. Cultural rules run deep and when someone unwittingly violates these rules, the business relationship might never resume. Think of it another way. For all of the interactions you have had over the years with international contacts where you thought the other side was being unreasonable and disagreeable – 90%+ of those negative reactions were probably cultural misunderstandings. The solution is to hire a culture coach to help navigate the norms in key markets and relationships.

 

Regulations Often Protect Entrenched and Local Interests

The Connection Economy has displaced more than a few cab drivers and telephone book printers. It has upended whole industries. In many places around the globe, those who profit from keeping things as they are have invested in supporting laws that protect their interests. Before doing business in a new country, be sure to consult with country specialists who can advise you of any problematic restrictions.

 

Expect the Next Great Connecting Concepts to Come from Anywhere in the World

While we tend to see many Connection companies rise out of industry clusters like Silicon Valley, London, Boston, Santiago, Mumbai and Tel Aviv, ideas can come from anywhere. As part of the exchange of ideas, we need to encourage and support new startups with great concepts with our patronage and investment capital – regardless of location.

 

As the beneficiaries of the Connection Economy, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no global standard. We need to increase overall access to the Internet worldwide, providing new opportunities to billions of people. It’s important not to mistake your home market’s perspective, language and cultural rules as the world’s norm. Be prepared for reactions to change in various corners of the world. And watch for the next great advancements in our technology revolution.

Onward & upward

Becky Park 
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The International Entrepreneur – Trump and other Branding Issues in International Business

 

International Entrepreneur, Branding Issues in International Business

Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Jos? Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and others watch the overtime shootout of the Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich Champions League final (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I was waiting on the platform for the train from Bedford to London Heathrow. It was October 2004 and I struck up a conversation with a local businessman (staying true to my American stereotype of perpetual friendliness). After a few minutes, the gentleman asked me what was really on his mind.

What could Americans be thinking to not only have elected President George W. Bush once, but to be poised to reelect him for a second term?? To most Brits, it seemed ridiculous.

I remember standing on the platform trying to explain how our media had splintered into audience segments where an American could hear and read literally only the point of view that they already held. That the United States was politically split in half – sometimes leaving friends or family members on the other side of the opinion divide. My new British acquaintance seemed generally satisfied with that answer. But I was left to ponder about the effect that my country’s leader was having on American business in overseas markets.

Four years later, I was in Beijing and was surprised by the adulation the Chinese openly felt for Barack Obama. I see the same widespread enthusiasm for leaders like Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau and Pope Francis. It’s the type of branding that helps to open doors to new diplomatic relationships and in the case of the pope, new ideas.

This country “branding” issue/opportunity is not universal. Larger countries garner more regional and international attention than their smaller neighbors. Every country has local and regional issues, whether they be fishing rights or an upcoming presidential election. As Americans traveling internationally, we notice that our presidential elections receive press coverage literally all over the world. When a candidate like Donald Trump says something controversial meant to keep him as the top news story in the U.S., it is heard around the world and interpreted in many ways.

 

If all of this sounds like a distraction to most international business – it is.

 

Most of us avoid talking about politics, religion, and certainly any hot button issues when doing business abroad. We want to achieve our business goals. And alienating potential clients or partners with strongly-held contrary opinions is a recipe for disaster on any continent.

 

Here is advice on how to manage country branding in business:

  1. Most important: Do no harm. Don’t bring up controversial topics that need not be breached. No conversations about the refugee crisis with Europeans. No conversations with Brazilians about their recession. No AIDS talks with Africans. The list goes on, but this is where controversy stays in personal conversations rather than in business talks.
  2. Don’t take offense where none was intended. The temptation to react to statements about your country’s leaders or issues is understandable. It’s much more personal to a German to talk about Angela Merkel than for me to bring her up into conversation. Your German counterparts likely had a vote for or against her party’s election. When you would normally react, stop and first gauge the intention of the offender.
  3. Ask about the filters that color someone’s opinion. When an entire business dinner in Jordan stops talking and eating to hear your opinion of gun violence in the U.S., you can answer with the universal truth – it’s complicated. Then immediately start asking questions to learn what your fellow guests have heard and what they think about the issue. This will help you to carefully frame your answers to stay true to yourself and diplomatic to your fellow guests. If this sounds like too much hassle compared with a direct answer, remember that media, culture and personal experiences frame all of our perspectives. Do I know what a Jordanian thinks about this issue? Not until I ask.
  4. Always learn a country’s basic information before travel and doing business. This includes the country’s leader, their economic and social topics, and hot button issues. This takes the pressure off of your own country’s branding (if it’s negative) because you can ask questions about topics that your hosts should appreciate. It also is a signal that you have a basic respect for places where you do business (for more on showing local respect, please read my articles on Respect and also Social Corporate Responsibility).
  5. Pull the conversation back to how the subject impacts business and trade. As business professionals, this is usually a common area and one with less friction. And most leaders and topics can usually be tied back to it. For example, Are new immigrants helping the U.S.? Immigrants represent a significant number of working adults in our economy. Most are bilingual with the capability to serve multiple markets. While there are adjustment issues, the U.S. has always absorbed immigrant populations successfully. So I would answer yes. It’s a business answer to a question that has social, political and cultural implications. If the topic is a tricky one, then this business focused answer is a helpful bridge into another business topic that furthers building the business relationship.

 

No matter your political, cultural, social or economic views, managing key conversations helps further your international business dealings. Remember to (1) do no harm, (2) avoid taking offense, (3) ask for others’ opinions to understand their perspective, (4) know a country’s basic information and (5) pull conversations back to business topics as needed.

For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

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The International Entrepreneur – Tips for Being an International Distributor

Tips for Being an International Distributor

A Kenyan distributor recently wrote to me asking for advice to build an in-country distributor business. He was interested in representing more products in the Kenyan market and wanted to find the right suppliers for his business. That is a great topic especially given both the opportunities associated with reselling globally-branded products and the risks of working with new supplier partners. Here is my advice:

 

Specialize by Client Profile and Seek Related Products

I remember traveling once in Italy and visiting Pisa with its famous vertically-challenged tower. The sky filled with clouds and all at once a heavy shower drenched every tourist in sight, sending everyone running for cover. The nearby Ethiopian entrepreneurs tucked away their packs of postcards just in time and switched to selling umbrellas covered with images of famous Italian sites. I still have my emergency Pisa umbrella purchased that day. These Ethiopians knew their target market: tourists like me. Our changing needs were their new opportunities.

This is true for business-to-business markets as well. All companies look for resources to help them find smart solutions to their challenges. Whether your clients are hospitals, schools, young tech companies or any other profile, learn what they need through conversations in order to identify the types of products you should be representing. If your company wants to expand to serve more diverse sets of clients, consider adding staff or even teams to address this new market rather than spread resources too thin across a disconnected base.

 

Define Your Geography

Distributors normally cover a specific region. In a large country, this may be a handful of states or provinces or even as small as a metropolitan area if the local product demand is high. But in some areas of the world, a distributor may be able to cover a much larger area because clients are located far from each other. In the case of Africa, a distributor with headquarters in Nairobi may hire employees or contractors in neighboring countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania to help him sell products in those countries. But whatever the size of the distributor’s covered territory, it is vitally important that they are able to support sales throughout the whole area with local language, on-site visits, etc.

 

Focus on Business Relationships Over Transactions

As a reseller for an international product, your business depends on both your relationships with both your suppliers in another country as well as the relationships with your clients. Transaction-based sales assume that you do not care if you do business with this client again. Relationship-based selling includes:

  • Building Trust. It takes time to earn a client or supplier’s trust. One of the most important components of trust-building is consistently delivering on what you say you will do.
  • Building Reputation. Your reputation is how others would describe you and your business. Do they see you as someone who delivers product on time? Do you work hard to find new potential clients? Do you contact target accounts regularly to find out their needs? A good reputation always leads to referrals to new suppliers and clients. It is a key long-term investment.
  • Caring about both suppliers and clients’ success. Long-term relationships as a distributor and supplier always should focus on how to help your suppliers and clients succeed. If you serve the hospital market, then how do your clients define success? What keeps them from being more successful in your market? Even if you can’t solve a problem like the need for investors, a lack of qualified medical staff or new government health regulations, it shows great concern and understanding to acknowledge challenges they face and to be looking for ways to help them be successful.

 

Find Suppliers You Can Trust Now and Later

Start on the right footing by carefully choosing companies and products you want to represent. Have a clear explanation about how each supplier and their products fits with the rest of your product offering to your clients.

Build international supplier networks with those you feel you can trust. Even the best product fit must also be met with a trustworthy staff. Does the supplier take time to talk with you? Do the company employees follow through with what they say and do?

Before signing on as a distributor, be sure to check a company’s reputation in both their country and yours. A third party investigator can verify this for you. Also, you can ask to talk with other distributors currently working with the company.

 

International distributors is a popular option for growing companies to reach new markets. It is equally beneficial for those companies in the overseas markets wanting to represent new offerings. As a distributor you will want to focus on a specific client profile and geographic region. Focusing on identifying and building business relationships with overseas suppliers is more important than those early sales. Only work with those you can trust!

The International Entrepreneur – Improving Employee Engagement in Your Global Workforce

Improving Employee Engagement in your Global Workforce

I knew from the way that Pedro in the Mexico City office answered the phone that something had turned for the worst. Pedro’s voice sounded low and muffled – preoccupied and low energy compared with our recent interactions. Pedro and his colleagues had recently been missing key details in our shared projects. They just seemed disengaged from their tasks. I picked up the phone to call someone I knew from the company’s leadership team.

A Pandemic of Disengaged Zombie Workers

Pedro and his colleagues are not the exception. They are unfortunately the norm. Studies by Gallop, Deloitte, Dale Carnegie and others all point to the staggering lack of employee engagement in the United States. These studies all show 70%+ of workers surveyed consider themselves unengaged at work.

As a company breaks through from startup to growth stage, its leaders often discuss how to preserve that “entrepreneurial culture” – its key success factor. Translated:

We don’t want to lose that sense of individual employee contribution and drive to beat the odds.

We’re talking about the essence of employee engagement. According to Dale Carnegie Training, U.S. companies with engaged employees outperform non-engaging companies by 202%.

Globally The Disengagement Issue Compounds

Most growth-stage companies eventually start taking global markets seriously, opening overseas offices and hiring local staff. Here is where the employee engagement challenges start to compound. A disappointing 13% of international employees feel engaged in their jobs according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace.

There are factors to consider to improve global worker engagement, productivity and accountability:

  1. Motivators Vary – Money is often a strong work motivator world wide. If paid what we feel is a fair, market rate for our efforts, then we are likely motivated. But most of us want more than that. We may want opportunities to learn new skills, job stability, and career advancement. Most of us want some work-life balance and a good work environment.
    But beyond that, motivators may be quite different. For instance, in group-oriented cultures team projects are preferred to individual efforts (Japan). Some cultures expect a relaxed atmosphere (Jamaica) while others want intense work time and a shorter workweek (Germany).
  2. Management Styles Vary – For most Americans, the most energy-draining management style is being closely supervised while also verbally reprimanded in front of peers over seemingly minor mistakes. Yet this is common in India. Indian managers overseeing non-Indian staff learn to modify their style via coaching or negative results. Likewise, American managers are not always viewed in the same way as they would be in an American-only environment. Engaged employees normally trust their leaders, but building trust changes based on culture. Know what’s expected.
  3. Language and Communication Styles Vary -“Are you sitting in your seat?”, is a curious question at the onset of my colleague’s international team calls. While an interesting way to ask if everyone is ready, there are other linguistic challenges that cause breaches in trust and motivation. One of the bigger challenges in communications is between indirect and direct communicators. Direct communicators (ex. Dutch, Israeli) often say what they are thinking and value sincerity. They find indirect communicators annoying. Indirect communicators (ex. Japan, Ghana) typically avoid saying anything embarrassing to themselves or the other party. They value courtesy and respecting others. They often find the direct communicators to be rude and untrustworthy. Working with those you can’t trust reduces engagement.

Who in the Organization Should Fix This Issue?

Disengagement is often a company-wide issue, affecting operations, financials, customer engagement and other key functions. It needs to be discussed at the executive level. The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) has a key role to play in offering solutions in terms of hiring criteria, employee onboarding, cross-cultural communications training and conflict resolution. And finally, local office managers need to be coached on global management skills.

How to Increase Employee Engagement Worldwide

All is not lost to office zombies! Here are my ideas to re-engage:

  1. Hire the right people overseas. Even within an overseas market, there is always a wide candidate pool variance. If your company values high energy staff or a connection to your mission or customer focus, then search for that match in international hires too.
  2. Ask the right questions and then listen to the answers. When an office or staff member seems out of alignment with the rest of the company, it’s the time to ask: “What do you think about…?” “Can you see a better way to do….?” “What would help you to feel more engaged in your job?” If it’s possible to fix the situation by conversation, then it saves the company the cost of replacing another employee.
  3. Learn the cultural basics of your global offices. Instead of assuming sameness, find out what the differences are to head off future conflict and energy drains. An easy Internet search will provide basic information on a country’s business culture.
  4. Take input from all locations for company goals and employee reward systems. Part of employee engagement is ownership in the company’s outcomes and processes. Solicit input and credit great ideas from outside of the HQ office.
  5. Explain why decisions are being made and how a decision fits into the long-term strategy. Since business rules change from country to country, it helps to explain that context in which your company leaders make their decisions. Decisions that don’t seem to make sense are a major demotivater.

Often executives of growing companies assume that global offices and employees are all from the same home culture. Few international employees will speak up when they feel that internal culture clash for fear of losing their jobs. Disengagement sets in. Instead of accepting zombie employees as an inevitable byproduct of company growth and success, it’s time to use knowledge and communications to engage and inspire throughout your organization.

Onward and upward,

Becky Park

 

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