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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 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 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 a 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 efforts to cultivate an effective work culture will always outperform their competitors in the global marketplace.

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 had expanded globally last year, Sam was needing 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. And 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 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 takes the focus off of the ?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 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 in the 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 as 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 had time to think about how decisions would affect her region and was able to formulate better questions for Sam. Now both Sam and Chloe felt like their conversation had moved issues forward and improved 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 a Uruguayan business culture expert. They found my website through Google. I referred them to a 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 Mark Zuckerberg will tell you, there are 4 billion people in the world with no access to the Internet. 4 billion is roughly half of all people on the planet. 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 keep 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 DeStigter
For more information about growing and supporting your international company, join the International Trade Tribe:

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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? well? 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 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 top?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 greater 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 – How to Manage International Ignorance in Business

Mexico City ready for international trade

?Marie? has been traveling frequently between clients in Tucson and nearby Phoenix, Arizona, USA. She works with mid-sized expanding technology companies and has for many years around the globe. But Marie confessed to me that lately she is struck by the lack of interest in and understanding of Mexican markets that sit just minutes or hours from a company?s door on the other side of the U.S.-Mexican border. These company leaders seemed locked in a limiting assumption that Mexicans are all poor, uneducated and certainly could not afford American technologies.

For anyone wondering, Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world as ranked by the IMF, United Nations and World Bank. It?s GDP per Capita is $17,000, which is above the median country by $5,000 (IMF 2014). Every year more Mexican professionals join the workforce in fields like computer science, engineering, and business. And Arizona?s share of this lucrative export market in both B2C and B2B industries is disproportionately low especially considering it?s a state bordering Mexico.

 

Now before any of us should start judging these or any professionals about their world business knowledge, I think it is critical to start with the following truth:

 

We are all operating with an imperfect set of information formed by what we have learned and then understood within the context of our cultural framework.

 

No one can be a true Know-It-All because it is just not possible to learn all that can be learned. Nobody really likes people who act like they Know-It-All, because it?s incredibly annoying. But we can manage ignorance in those we work with and especially in ourselves to the benefit of all. Here are a few key tips:

 

How to Handle Wrong Assumptions in Others

When I last lived abroad, I heard plenty of stereotypes about Americans. We live in skyscrapers. We watch TV all day long. We all wear cowboy hats and boots. And we eat McDonald?s hamburgers every day. These all sound ridiculous and narrow to anyone who has lived in the U.S.. Luckily these stereotypes are all fairly harmless. If you heard someone say that all Dutch people live in windmills or wear wooden shoes, you would probably react with a chuckle. But a word of caution? no one likes to have their limiting assumptions exposed. We all have these assumptions and risk losing face. Here?s how to help others while staying professional:

 

 

  1. Ask Questions About the Assumption

 

? ? ? Instead, consider asking questions around the false assumption.

? ? ??Have you visited the U.S.? Did you see more apartments than houses where you visited??

?????Do we as a company know the size of the Mexican market for our products or industry? Could we find out??

Open-ended questions like these allow the person to rethink their statement and its underlying assumptions. It lets them have the chance to evolve past the assumption based on some new information or additional research. This is particularly important and sensitive when the faulty assumption is coming from your boss, investor, or client.

 

  1. Provide Published Data Supporting the Myth Bust

While some assumptions are trivial, others may be significantly limiting the growth of your company. If there is a chance that you may have a Mexican-size market nearby that is currently underserved, then gathering data and opinions about this opportunity can help to build interest to internal stakeholders.

 

  1. Ask Permission to Take it Further

Once it?s been established that the assumption is false, now there is a brief window of time to reframe understanding around the clearer picture. I like to also change pronouns from ?you? didn?t understand this before to ?we? didn?t understand the implications. But now that we do, we can take full advantage of this new understanding to excel further as a company.

 

Confronting Our Own Limits

To become better global business professionals, we need to constantly be challenging our own limitations. I would encourage you to:

  1. Read magazines, newspapers and other media from a variety of sources that are likely to share contrary points of view. A local newspaper can be supplemented with The Economist Magazine or a translated online version of another country?s main newspaper. Even exposure once a month will quickly show the variety of points of view on a single subject.
  2. Put yourself in new situations where you will meet people from different backgrounds. Travel is a great way to do this. So are local ethnic meetup group events.
  3. When new information challenges your previous assumptions, stop to think through all of the implications. Let your understanding of the world grow just a little bigger in that moment.

 

I think most of us in the field of international trade run into this false assumptions issue much more often than we would like to admit (certainly to our clients and bosses). The goal is to help clients be more globally competitive. That starts with the clearest possible understanding of the global environments in which companies operate.

 

Wishing you success in all of your global markets!

Becky

 

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 the phone that something had turned for the worst. Pedro?s voice sounded low and muttled – 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? well? 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 where 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. 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 (ex. Dutch, Israeli) often say what they are thinking and value sincerity. They find indirect communicators annoying. Indirect (ex. Japan, Ghana) typically avoid saying anything embarrassing to themselves or the other party. They value courtesy and respecting others. They find the direct communicators often 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. Instead, 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 DeStigter

 

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

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The International Entrepreneur ? How to Help HQ Staff Become More Globally-Focused

HR, global, international business, international entrepreneur

As I walked around the tech company?s office over the?weeks I spent on site, I heard quiet?complaints about international leads and clients from some of the?client-facing staff.

?That accent was so thick that I couldn?t understand her.?
?They don?t know how to follow a normal buying process.?
?I really don?t like dealing with people from _________.?
And a disturbing confession: ?I put the international follow up at the bottom of my task list.?

The top leadership of this software company, including the CEO and the CHRO, lived and breathed inclusion in all forms and were planning for the company?s impending global expansion. But neither realized the pervasiveness of anti-international passive aggressive actions from?on the front lines of the company.

This is not an uncommon problem as companies grow beyond their early domestic-only stage to accidental exporter. But the issue often doesn?t stop there. It continues on as companies realize the untapped potential of their overseas markets unseen because decisions are made subtly by often young, less experienced sales, marketing, client services and finance staff.

It would be simplistic to say that this is just a human resources issue. But it affects many company functions:
? It affects marketing in that new customer data is skewed away from international.
? It affects sales because potential clients are left underserved or ignored, leaving unrealized revenue.
? It affects customer service department performance ratings when international clients are left to wait longer.
? And it affects long-term financial planning where market demand is a key metric for deciding where to allocate resources.

So what can be done to ensure that your staff is ready to make the most of ALL opportunities? Here are a few ideas:

1. Expose staff to cultural differences.
While there may be some well-traveled, multicultural staff on your front-line teams, there are likely many that don?t have that background or perspective. If it can be worked into the budget, send a representative staff member to your newly opened overseas office to better understand the business style differences and to explain how the headquarters? processes. This could mean an up-and-coming sales rep gets to visit India for a week to dig into the differences between sales in the two markets in order to find best practices from both. Your staff member will likely return with many stories about his or her experiences, as well as be able to give perspective on Indian selling. One experience by one less-traveled staff member tends to have a multiplier effect ? sharing perspective with many peers and understanding that other cultures will look at the same situation in a completely different way. This approach can work well, but choose employees who would appreciate the experience and naturally share with others.

2. Incorporate Engaging Cultural Elements. Travel is the best but is not always possible, so another exposure option is to highlight a key market for a day. If India is a key market, then India?s Republic Day is January 26, Independence Day is August 15 and Gandhi Jayanthi is October 2 ? all good choices. Besides catering in Indian food for lunch and piping in Indian music, it can also be a day to highlight key Indian clients, leads, and market potential for the company. Staff pay more attention when they think something is important, particularly to leadership.

3. Train Staff on Cross-Cultural Communications.
Overall, foreign clients take more time to communicate, more time to build trust and have a higher chance of misunderstandings. So learning to interact successfully most of the time has direct payback. One of the highest ROI actions is to bring in a cross-cultural trainer to work with your staff. There are key differences and the right trainer/coach can zero in on issues staff are facing and give direct advice. This suggestion works well when international leads are growing significantly and also when a company is opening new sales offices abroad.

4. Acknowledge the Cross-Cultural Challenges.
Since many international challenges remain hidden, it is beneficial to bring up questions in department, team and/or individual performance meetings. Has anyone had a challenging interaction with an international contact for the company? What was the incident and how did the individual deal with it? What was the outcome? Is there any possible explanation for what happened?

It is natural to blame others who don?t follow our own business cultural rules. The Thai company executive may feel offended to be talking with a young person in the sales department. We may be frustrated with a Dutchman who we perceive as being rude when he interprets his comments as just being honest and open. Talking about challenges openly leaves room to troubleshoot and find best practice approaches for next time something similar happens.

When an employee stands out as the ?top international seller? or often stays late to call the leads from halfway around the world, the extra effort should in some way be acknowledged and rewarded. How this is done needs to fit in with your company culture, of course.

The company?s investments in cultural exposure, training and acknowledging top international interactors – all pay off as you continue to create your global culture. This is a conscience choice to develop values that support a multi-cultural staff. ?International customers and global business expansion is a natural progression for most companies. International accelerates growth and exposes the company?s staff to new ideas for product and process improvement. While it may be easier to see these benefits from a strategic level, it becomes critical to bring all staff along for the ride.

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The International Entrepreneur – How to accelerate global expansion

accelerate global expansion, international entrepreneur, international business

It?s ironic. Anyone who has spent time and energy expanding their company into international markets can tell you that the process is anything but fast. Global expansions are notoriously slow, especially when compared to what American and Canadian companies are used to as their domestic time to establish a new business. Registering a new business in some American states can take 30 minutes online and US$50. In contrast, some business registrations overseas can take over 2 years and cost US$20,000+.

In North America, we build our business processes and expectations around speed. Speed to market. Speed up the sales cycle. Speed in product development. Anything that slows us down is the target of constant complaint. Ask anyone who has been through a U.S. Food and Drug Administration?s approval process.

Despite frustrations, there are many compelling reasons why a company would still choose to expand internationally. There are new markets and customers overseas. The market may be global and market share requires doing business internationally. Global markets may balance out seasonal or economic cycles to keep the company?s revenue and growth on a steadier path. There may be strategic advantages for global talent, cost savings or a whole host of other reasons to go global.

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REALITY CHECK: No matter how compelling the reasons to keep expanding into new global markets, you still need to expend the necessary time and resources to bring success. If you can?t commit to at least 2 years? worth of work to get a new market off the ground, then I recommend that you don?t take your company global.

 

Here?s my advice for speeding up the international expansion process:

  1. Consistent Commitment. Nothing (and I mean nothing) will slow down your company?s global expansion more than the mixed messages of wavering leadership and financial support.
    This happened earlier this month to an international expansion director in the southwest United States. He had made all of the arrangements to meet with potential Middle East partners on a crucial trip. His company?s Board of Directors froze all travel and other international expenses for a short-term gain. ?Now when this director can finally return to this high-potential market, he won?t find the same level of welcome or interest in doing business.
  1. Travel to Your Markets. If you truly want to expand quickly, then put your company leaders and expansion staff on planes to your chosen target markets. Face to face meetings with potential partners, clients and other influential stakeholders in country dramatically speed up the time taken to form these key relationships.
  2. Consider Strategic Partnerships or Mergers & Acquisitions. While partnerships and M&A take substantial time up front to establish the relationship and agreement terms, they can expedite market entry where they already have established client base. So for instance, let?s say my company wanted to enter the Thai market. I don?t speak Thai or know this culture which is quite different from my own. But if there were a compatible partner company, I could reach potential Thai customers by piggybacking on the partner?s products or services as a point of entry. I could learn from my Thai partner about the market and the best ways to sell my offering.
    On the M&A side, buying or merging with a company in a key market means that you buy their assets and also their internal processes and market knowledge. This, of course, is also dependent on keeping existing staff happy post-M&A so that the knowledge stays with the company. Obviously M&A requires support from your current and future financial resources.
  1. Laser Focus Normally Beats the Shotgun Approach to Market Entry. Many companies take the reactionary approach to international markets ? they wait for foreign clients to find the company online and approach them with business. I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad starting point, but at some stage serving customers in 13 countries is less efficient than focusing on the 3 best markets and doing it at higher revenue and profit margins.
  2. Practice Agile Processes in Your International Expansion. Instead of starting and stopping every time there is a new challenge in a global market, I recommend using an agile process. Agile is a leading approach in software development where changes are made to code frequently to constantly improve the quality of the product. Marketing adopted agile because it allows for incremental performance evaluations and changes instead of annual reviews. I think this applies just as well to global expansion, where incremental changes can vastly improve results and speed up the process rather than waiting for a review from a large country roll-out.

While international expansion is an investment for companies with a longer investment time frame, there are definitely steps that can speed up the process. Consistency in support is a required foundation. Armchair expansion is much slower than sending staff into the field to meet and develop relationships with key in-country contacts. Focusing on key markets and partners is faster than waiting to see what drops in your lap. And always be ready to make changes based on the new insights you pick up during the new market entry.

I wish you all the best of success in all of your markets.

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The International Entrepreneur ? Interview with Safeguard World International?s CEO, Bjorn Reynolds

Bjorn Reynolds, Safeguard World International, GEO, global HR, This week I have?the pleasure to interview company founder and international entrepreneur, Bjorn Reynolds. Bjorn started his international payroll and HR management company in the UK. Now the company has grown to serve 165 countries.

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The International Entrepreneur (TIE)- Bjorn, since many may not know about Global Employment Outsourcing as a fast track to foreign market entry, can you describe how it works??

Bjorn Reynolds (BR)- GEO allows our clients to outsource their international employment responsibilities. From local employment contracts, to paying the actual employee and managing the statutory payroll deductions and managing and providing guidance on any HR issues ? all managed through our network of carefully vetted and in-house partners in over 165 countries. What this means for the end client is that they can outsource the entire employment responsibility and process to SafeGuard, all without having to register a local entity and navigate the bureaucratic headaches that such a process typically brings.

 

TIE – As the originator of the GEO employment model, can you tell us how you and your team at Safeguard World International found this market need and innovated the GEO solution?

BR – Our identification of the GEO market was primarily two fold:

1)??????We observed a demand from our clients for contingent labour that they could deploy on their medium and short term projects. Historically multinationals have turned to Independent Contractors, particularly in countries where they do not have an entity established, agreements of which frequently fell foul of employment law due to unfamiliarity with local rules and regulations. We devised the service to help our clients hire individuals on a temporary basis and in a compliant manner, removing them from any potential risks and fines associated with the utilization of IC?s.

2)??????Clients were encountering difficulties going global and expanding their business into new countries. Expansion into new territories if often a daunting and complex task ? setting up bank accounts, registering entities with the local authorities and navigating local rules, regulations and cultures is a considerable undertaking for any organisation, no matter their size and amount of available resource.

 

 

TIE – ?What is the biggest challenge you currently hear from companies expanding their global talent teams?

BR – The biggest challenges that we continually hear pertain around ?how to? and navigating the local rules and complexities that are frequently encountered when expanding into a new country for the first time ? even for large multinationals. From an appreciation and understanding of cultural, time zone and language barriers to understanding what needs to be provided to employees both from a statutory and customary perspective in order to attract and retain the best talent. Coupled with the daunting prospect of completing all the necessary registrations and tax remittances, companies are often deterred from following through on their intentions to expand into a new country.

 

TIE – As a leader in your field, can you give any advice to companies who are planning their first international expansion?

BR – Many organisations often feel like expanding internationally is out of reach ? they don?t have the resources or expertise in order to grow their business on the international stage. This simply isn?t true. While it?s certainly worth noting that international expansion should be a carefully considered and evaluated decision, especially when exploring the time it would take to expand and register your business in a new country, by partnering with the right expert, such as SafeGuard, SME?s and startups should no longer fear taking their business into new territories. With GEO the world becomes truly borderless and I love helping companies not only make their first foray into foreign markets, but also reap the benefits that international expansion can bring to an organisation.

 

About Bjorn Reynolds

Bjorn is the Founder and Chief Guardian of SafeGuard World International. A recognised industry leader and strategist for the global payroll markets, Bjorn?s passion for payroll is the driving force behind SGWI?s vision, strategy and culture, instilling his enthusiasm for Service Excellence and success throughout the organisation. His?entrepreneurship led SGWI to a prominent?position in the U.K. Sunday Times ?Virgin Fast Track 100? and he has been personally recognized in the ?Payroll Top 50? by?Payroll Magazine?and?as a ?Game Changer? by?WorkforceMagazine. During his early career, Bjorn worked for HFC Bank (part?of the Global HSBC Group) where he was quickly promoted to branch?manager after one year in post ? the youngest ever Branch manager at HFC?in its history.??He later?ran marketing and channel functions within the HR and payroll space for one of the top three global payroll and HR service providers.

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The International Entrepreneur ? Keeping Your Global Project Staff Locally Compliant

global HR, international compliance, international trade, GEO

Tim was a chemical engineer just starting his career. ?He was working for a beverage additive company in Milwaukee, USA. Having already studied abroad for a year at the Instituto Tecnol?gico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (M?xico), Tim was open to the idea of moving to east Germany when his company proposed it. He and his four engineer colleagues went to investigate setting up a production facility near Dresden. Why Dresden? The German government was providing incentives to foreign companies to invest in the former East Germany to build up the economy.

Tim was excited about this opportunity to help his company expand internationally, but one thing kept nagging in the back of his mind. The company hadn?t done any paperwork to get Tim and his colleagues work visas for Germany. Even as a novice to the work world, the lack of proper documentation was a clear risk to Tim as a project engineer. Tim brought it up to management and to the HR department. ?We?re working on it? ? was the response.

Tim stayed in Germany for six months helping the team to evaluate facility options. But the company still didn?t seem to care about the glaring compliance issue. Tim decided it was time to move on to another job at a company where he wouldn?t be put in this type of compromised position.

Later that year, the German authorities confronted the American team, asking to see work visas and other registration paperwork. The company was issued hefty fines. A few of the staff?had returned to the U.S., but the German government caught up with the last two engineers as they were leaving. They were initially detained and individually fined and required to leave Germany.

 

Why would a company not issue work visas to staff working overseas?

This beverage additive company was obviously negligent of their duties under local laws as well as to their employees. But up until a few years ago, companies had to form an in-country subsidiary to legally employ workers in Germany or any other country for that matter. That involves registration processes, a series of fees, legal work, and who-knows-what-else. It can be a time-consuming process that also locks a company in to doing business in that market until the entity is dissolved (which also costs time and money).

The Milwaukee company was not sure if the Dresden project was going to even be successful. It turns out that it wasn?t. ?So they took a chance with their employees to avoid registration. But it was a big risk not only for the company, but for those employees as well. This was in Germany ? a country of clear-cut rules. What if this had been Bolivia or Egypt where government application of rules is not so consistent?

 

GEO can keep your global project staff compliant

Now companies don?t have to register a foreign entity to send their project engineers and other staff to work overseas. They also don?t need to know the exact local employment laws either. A few years ago a new service was born ? GEO (Global Employment Outsourcing). In this service,?the GEO company hires your employees in the foreign country where they?ll be working and assigns them back to your company. The GEO company is the Employer of Record, providing payroll services. The employees are paid in the local currency and your company pays in one of the major world currencies like US dollars, British pounds or Euros. The GEO makes all the proper payments to local government for any social costs and stays fully compliant with local requirements.

The?cost of GEO is typically far less than country subsidiary registration and eventual country exit. It?s ideal for implementation projects and researching a new potential foreign market. GEO was pioneered by Safeguard World International, and has spawned a new industry.

 

Final word to internationally deployed project staff

If you don?t already know, be sure to check your employment compliance. All countries have rules related to how much time someone can stay in country working without applying and receiving the right work permits. Most companies do not yet know about the GEO compliance/payroll option, I encourage you to share that with your employer if you suspect a compliance issue.

Tim, the young chemical engineer, did the right thing. He told his superiors and HR department. In the long run, it?s not worth working for a company that would put you at financial and legal risk in a foreign country.

 

As a footnote, today Tim is a successful Vice President of Marketing and Sales for a growing US Midwest engineering firm. He travels extensively for work around the world.

 

Becky DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur

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