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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 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.

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

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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? Рits 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


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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 ? My 2015 Top International Business Blog List

international trade, top blogs, international strategyHere are some of the best international business-focused blogs I?ve read this year:

Beyond Brazil Blog from Sunny Sky Solutions ? editor & author: Gabriela Castro-Fontuora. Gaby has moved back from the north of England to her native Uruguay. She writes about all kinds of international trade and practice advice for doing business in Latin America.

Consilium Global Business Advisors ? editor & primary author: Ed Marsh. Ed focuses on B2B international sales and marketing particularly for manufacturing and financial sectors. Ed cuts right to great practical information.

The Culture Mastery ? editor & author: Christian Hoeferle. Christian does an excellent job bringing cross-cultural communications to the surface. His blog includes both articles and podcasts. Originally from southern Germany and now living in Tennessee U.S.A., Christian navigates effortlessly between many cultures.

GlobalEdge ? editor: Michigan State University. MSU?s GlobalEdge program has been generating quality global business blogs on a variety of topics for many years. A search will find you almost anything.

Professor Michael Czinkota?s Blog. Dr. Czinkota is an international business professor at Georgetown University. A prolific writer, he has a strong focus on strategy. Dr. Czinkota is that rare academic who has a keen understanding of the business world.

Shipping Solutions International Trade Blog ? editor: David Noah. David has assembled a great group of international trade experts, with special focus on trade logistics and finance. Pay particular attention to articles from Mr. Noah and also Roy Becker.

Trade Ready ? editor: FITT marketing team. The Forum for International Trade Training based in Ottawa, Canada is quickly gaining its own international foothold in international trade certification and training. This blog has assembled a savvy group of international trade experts.

Tradeology ? editor: International Trade Administration. If you?re an American doing business internationally, the ITA has a great site particularly for updated trade agreement information and opportunities. Use the search function to find your industry.

Now it?s your turn. If you feel that my list has missed an important blog that is worthy of mention, please tell us in a comment below. My only rule is that you cannot recommend your own blog (if it?s a good one, then others should be recommending it for you anyway). Happy reading!

The International Entrepreneur – How to Globalize Your Business Networking Style

international business networkingSam stood at the back of the room taking stock of the evening’s networking event. As a Business Development Manager from Kansas, was his first international industry trade show and he wanted to make the most of it. But the more he tried to appear friendly and helpful, the less that people seemed to want to talk with him. Sam had been to dozens of trade shows and meetings in the United States where people generally considered him charismatic and engaging. What was these people’s issue?

It is important to ask the right questions before you can find the answers that you really need. That is often true in international business. Here are a few that Sam might ask to get closer to the right answers:

  • How important is business networking internationally compared with outbound selling and marketing in the U.S.?

  • How might people be interpreting his approach?

  • Is there anything that Sam should change in his international networking approach for better outcomes?

Networking and Connections Are a Necessity

In the United States, when two parties want to do business they sign a negotiated contract legally defining their relationship and obligations to each other. That’s not how the rest of the world works. Instead, the business relationship is based on a professional relationship based on mutual interests and trust. This is why replacing your Latin American sales director can mean losing many clients. The clients follow the person they know, not your company.

The American Business Reputation

Actually, my countrymen have earned a business reputation that is wide and varied. Some places love us just because we are American, while others revile us for the same reason. Most are someone in the middle. Watch for body language to know if there’s a significant Country of Origin Effect.

Americans are considered a friendly business culture: leading with smiles, eye contact and handshakes for everyone. That doesn’t always match up with other cultures’ expectations. In Russia, the smiling person is considered to be an idiot. In Germany it can be seen as insincere, arousing suspicion. In the Middle East and India, a man should never extend a handshake to a woman. It is considered aggressive. That is not to say that we shouldn’t act within our cultural norms, but we should also be aware of any signals we give off that can be counterproductive.

American also typically make grandiose offers help to others while networking. This is in part because we want to build trusting relationships as quickly as possible. Others may grow suspicious of so much offered after just having met each other. It seems just too good to be true!

Tips for Better International Networking

Getting back to Sam from Kansas – what can he do to improve his effectiveness in this high-opportunity room?

  1. Research the Attendees. You should always know who you want to meet and have a plan to meet them. For instance, if you want to meet a major distributor in Latin America then learn about this contact as well as those who could introduce you to him. In the English-speaking world you should Linkedin for contacts’ profiles. Also, read translated pages from their company websites.
  2. Don’t Rush the Conversations. Accept the slower pace of business relationship building that is standard in most of the world. That means that you should take cues in the conversation from your counterpart. Wait for them to bring up specific business questions. Instead, they may just want to socialize. That’s progress too.
  3. For God Sake, Follow Up! After an event, the smart professional follows up with each contact to say that it was nice to meet them and that you would like to stay in touch. It’s standard best practices and yet many people don’t do this simple step. What’s worse is if you made any promises of introductions or other business favors and don’t follow through. People will remember if you are reliable to your word.
  4. Know the Basics of Cross-Cultural Communications. If you have a specific cultural audience (Germans, Chinese, Brazilians, etc.) then do deeper research. But here are a few basics that everyone should know:
  • Showing the soles of your shoes is highly offensive to Middle Easterners.
  • Don’t cross your legs and point a foot at a Malaysian.
  • Chinese will compliment you during a conversation. You need to NOT say “thank you” but instead politely reject the compliment and immediately find some way to return a sincere compliment (“I like your tie.” “Your English is very good.”, etc)
  • Don’t make sports references like from baseball or American football.
  • Generally men should wait for a woman to extend her hand to shake.
  • Some cultures like to stand close when talking. Whatever you do, DON’T take a step back.
  • Avoid sarcasm. It can often get lost in translation.
  • PLEASE don’t drink excessively, even if other people are bringing you drinks or pouring them. Stay in control at all times.

Now Sam can get back to doing the networking he needs to help him be successful. With a few minor adjustments he can find connections that could eventually become business partners.

If your staff struggles to make the right types of connections in international markets to move your company forward, consider cross-cultural training. It is normally a small investment that opens many doors to international opportunities!

If you are ready for a 30-minute complimentary consultation, please contact me.

Best wishes,
Becky DeStigter
The International Entrpreneur

The International Entrepreneur – How To Hire International-Ready Employees

Hiring International, International Business, International MarketingEmily sat at her desk and cringed as she opened the latest email from her Asian office general manager. She knew it would be about the latest online marketing campaign and that he wouldn’t be happy with the approach that headquarters was taking. Honestly, she just wished that her company would pass over these international markets and focus on the American market. It would make her job so much simpler and straightforward.

Last year Emily was hired as a Senior Content Marketing Manager by a Seattle-based mid-sized software company. She was an experienced marketing professional. She came highly recommended by trusted sources in the local American Marketing Association chapter. She had studied for a semester of college in Spain, so Emily and her boss both assumed that the international side of her job wouldn’t be a problem. Emily came in with such enthusiasm for the job. But when it came to the international markets that her predecessor had supported so well, Emily just seems to clash with many of the international teams.

Since Emily took over, conversion from international markets had dropped. The Vice President of Marketing couldn’t say that this was all related to Emily, but her attitude towards the international teams didn’t help. When asked, Emily said that she just didn’t understand what some of the international offices wanted from her or why they needed such trivial and costly changes to her team’s campaigns.


Setting up for Failure

Visit any of the major job search sites – Indeed, Monster, Linkedin, etc. and read mid-level job postings from international companies. What you find is that fewer than 5% of these postings for jobs working with international operations or markets require or even recommend cross-cultural skills or experience. This is even the case for many positions with International or Global in the job title! Unbelievable.

And then we wonder why an otherwise capable employee flounders in the face of complex cross-cultural communications or localized marketing variances?

In the case of Emily from Marketing, she is clearly not prepared for the international aspects of her job. What’s more, she is avoiding opportunities to grow the skills needed to be successful. The bottom line is that the Senior Content Marketing Manager needs to be an internationally competent professional.

Why Do International Skills Matter?

Savvy companies today know that international markets not only hold large number of potential customers, but new innovative ideas and global talent pools. When your staff knows how to effectively communicate and serve these markets, they can:

  • Increase the speed to market and reduce sales cycles
  • Avoid costly mistakes from misunderstandings
  • Run operations more smoothly and profitably

All of this makes for a stronger, better-functioning organization that is positioned for greater growth.


Hiring for Today’s Target Markets

Your company may already know that Canada and Mexico are both key markets. You have local sales teams in key metropolitan areas like Vancouver and Monterey. It makes sense to seek future hires at headquarters to have in depth experience with these markets, as well as French and Spanish language skills. Consider offering promotions from the local country teams into your headquarters and visa versa. The better the working relationships and market understanding for key markets, the more successful your company will be.


Hiring for Future Worldwide Expansion

To be a truly global company it starts with a global work culture. It may sound simple, but I think that starts with hiring employees who are naturally curious about the world. International markets are complex and cross-cultural communications even more multifaceted. Effective internationally-oriented employees ask the critical questions of Why? and What if? especially when expectations don’t match to the reaction of foreign colleagues or market outcomes.


Final Tips

Here is additional advice on how to build the best workforce for your international company:

  1. Shake up your typical interview process with some unconventional questions or scenarios. This could also include adding international team members to the selection team.
  2. Look for flexible candidates – those who have a varied professional background and have moved around to different locations.
  3. Consider candidates who have already shown their success through full cultural immersion experiences. This includes full-year exchange students, Peace Corps experience, and any bi-cultural experience you can legally ask in the course of interviewing.
  4. Most professionals in North America at some point study a foreign language. But those who have picked up an additional language typically have a strong aptitude for not only language but culture.
  5. Even open-minded, naturally curious staff need training to be truly effective in cross-cultural communications. Include training and international research trips into your company budget.

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To truly grow into your company’s international potential, you need great staff who are ready to approach challenges and opportunities with cultural competencies. Here is wishing your company all the success in its international endeavors!

I hope you found this article helpful to growing your company.
Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur – Damage Control for a Cross-Cultural Team Disaster

cross-cultural team disaster, international business

Susan let out a deep, anguished sigh as he looked at the competitive intelligence report generated by her global intelligence-gathering team. It wasn’t what she was expecting to read and certainly not what an International Marketing VP would want to pass on to the company CEO and the Board of Directors. Instead, it read like something a college sophomore would write before heading to the bar to drink with his buddies. It was poorly written, with only some superficial competitive analysis and no strategic insights from the team members based in different offices around the world. Susan had handpicked this team from her most promising marketing stars from the various offices. She had assigned leadership to her right-hand man, Derek. Now Susan needed to find out what went so wrong on such an important company initiative.

Derek was clearly uncomfortable as Susan knocked on his office door holding the CI report in hand. As the company’s Director of Business Insights, Derek had such a strong command of data collection and statistical analysis. But this project had gotten out of control. The team members had given it little more than a passing concern. They didn’t provide any information that Derek couldn’t have collected from some basic website searches. Derek wanted to collect data from across the entire global operations to better understand where sales were losing to competitors. But no information was searchable by any commonly defined fields in the company’s CRM or product development software.

Derek was at a loss to why he was unable to motivate this team to help him. Susan realized that she should have been paying closer attention to the details of this project and its progress updates over time. It was easy to get lose in the day-to-day operational issues and constant changes within the company. Here are some issues that were uncovered and how Susan might address them:

Important Projects Need a Clear Executive Mandate

Many international companies today rely on matrix organizational structures to geographically manage people and functionally manage projects. This can get confusing especially when the team member feels most accountable to their local boss rather than for the results of a company-wide project. A project as important as Competitive Intelligence needs the International Marketing VP’s sponsorship. Susan should reach back out to the teams members and their country managers to reaffirm her interest and expectations of the project. This leads Susan to another key issue:

International Teams Need Clear (& Realistic) Project Objectives and Scope

Derek may not necessarily be the right person to lead this group. Data analysis is valuable when data can be uniformly collected from across the company and the market. Now many companies have invested heavily to align internal systems across all of their international operations. And there are normally industry analysis reports available for purchase. Derek might also be able to outsource the CI work to a firm specializing in this type of data collection.

But like most companies this one is hoping for at least some organically-based CI collection. Then CI team members need very clear and realistic project expectations, including the types of information they should collect and how they should collect it. For instance, CI can come from asking new clients about the other competitors that lost the business to your company. CI includes environmental shifts in the market. What are the in-country trends in key markets and even peripheral markets? The company doesn’t need widely available information already published in the media. It needs actionable information that keeps the company ahead of the competition.

Shine the Spotlight on the Local Team as a Reward for Great Insights

One of Derek’s challenges has been that his CI team has never actually met in person. They not only don’t know the rest of the team well, but don’t feel loyalty to its leader. They associate instead with their local team and its success and failures. Susan and Derek can use this affiliation preference to their advantage.

CI insights can come from a variety of sources and it works best when everyone is on the look out for the next important clue to the local market and competitors. The local team member may not want to be highlighted as different from their colleagues (especially in parts of Asia). Instead, a local team might be recognized by company headquarters for their superior collection of CI and share their best practices company wide.

I hope you found this article helpful. Tune regularly for new articles on how to help your internationally expanding company. If you need help with your global expansion, please contact me.

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Managing Common Intercultural Team Flash Points

Multicultural team, international business, international entrepreneurSara sat in her office contemplating the challenges of her new team she’d inherited in Strategic Marketing. With software developers located in various tech hot spots around the global and marketing teams concentrated in Vancouver, Dubai and Luxembourg, Sara needed to navigate both the business challenges facing her company and the cultural differences of her team members.

Cultural Confrontation

Trouble was brewing between Mike, the Development Team Lead in the Vancouver office and Ahmed, Marketing Regional VP in Dubai. On the most recent team call, Ahmed had asked how Mike was doing. Mike tersely replied that he was not doing well because of unrealistic expectations of software enhancements from a Middle Eastern client. The exchange had become heated and defensive for a minute before Sara intervened and asked to take this into a separate conversation.

From then on the rest of the team on the conference call grew increasingly distant and detached from the conversation. What was wrong with these people? And why were they either openly hostile or withdrawn?

Here are some ideas to Sara:

Dig into the Heart of the Issue(s)

What is the reason for Mike and Ahmed’s obvious hostility? Is it Mike’s terse accusation when Ahmed was trying to be open and establish rapport before beginning discussions? Did Ahmed feel personally attacked because the Middle Eastern client falls under his responsibility? Do any of the disengaged team members from Luxembourg know how this team arrived at its current state?

Some issues result from cultural misunderstanding. A little coaching and both sides start to understand each other better. But thanks to human nature, this works only part of the time. Pride can oftentimes be a downfall. Here are some culture clash points to watch for:

  • Direct communicators speaking their mind and being interpreted as rude and disrespectful
  • Indirect communicators not wanting to share what is awkward or embarrassing (this includes anything that is going wrong in the project)
  • Privacy-prizing team members not wanting to share about themselves to get-to-know-you staff
  • Misunderstanding arising from assumptions around status of someone in a higher position than you, so my opinion counts more than yours.
  • The opposite issue where the intern believes he has as much valid input to share as a company executive

Bring it All Back to the Team Mission & Goals

I often recommend dissolving teams that don’t have a clear and critical mission. Let’s assume that Sara’s team mission and goals are worthy of serious attention. Focusing all team communications around that mission and goals can bridge over some of the cultural dissonance especially that which is caused when the team has never met each other in person. (If you can bring the team into the same room, it helps build rapport more than dozens of calls!) Whenever steps away from that main focus, Sara as team leader can help to bring the group back towards productivity.

Hit the Reset Button

The first question Sara could ask is: Are these the right team members to start with? We’ve all experienced a team where we honestly asked ourselves why we needed to be involved in the first place. Are there opportunities to replace team members? This might help re-energize the team. If things have gone beyond the point of any team effectiveness, then dissolving the team completely, creating a new team with a similar mission and new name could help too.

I hope this article was helpful to you. If you need help ironing out cultural or business issues in your multicultural team, please contact me at [email protected].

The International Entrepreneur – Identifying Cultural Issues in Business

Culture, international business, international negotiationsChief Legal Counsel let out a deep sigh when the subject of China came up in conversation. We were seated together in a board meeting for a local university international business think tank. I knew his company had invested heavily in manufacturing operations in southern China and was asking about how things were going. Apparently, not well.

George told me that it had started to fail right from the start. The contract had been carefully negotiated, but was ignored almost immediately by the Chinese partners. When quality assurance tests on factory outputs failed, no one in the management meeting wanted to talk about what was wrong. It was a nightmare. Finally the American manufacturer gave up and took their operations elsewhere.

In international business we know this is a common tale. There are many who pull out of a country based a lack of local cooperation and understanding of our business goals.

But before the Nativists chime in with their chorus of See! I Told You So!, let’s talk about how to identify the cultural issues so that we can decide how to move forward productively and profitably.

Always Do Your Cultural Homework

If George had done a little more research, he would have understood that contracts are viewed very differently in China. George and other company leaders might have invested more time and energy gaining the trust of their Chinese team as a strong foundation of business in Chinese culture. George would have discovered that Chinese managers will never point out embarrassing issues or mistakes in front of the group because it involves losing face, a form of career suicide. Instead George and the other executives might have talked privately with managers with whom they had developed a closer relationship to find out what was really going on.
Sources of cultural information include online articles (from reputable sources), cultural business coaches, government export agencies and in-country trusted partners. The main point is to come prepared so that the simple cultural clashes between team members and partners can be easily avoided.


Analyze the Early Points of Friction Between Team Members

I recently ran into a business culture clash of my own. Tension built over the course of three weeks. There were symptoms: stress, aggravation over seemingly simple interactions, and that feeling that we weren’t speaking the same business language. Like many of us, I tried to ignore these symptoms. But culture plays a greater role than we often realize.

In the end, it came down to a culture where process was valued over results. While I think that most of us find a balance between a focus on business processes and producing the expected results, this was a culture where process trumped all talk of results. In fact, it was made clear that I shouldn’t push so hard for results. As a consultant, that’s not a typical expectation. It sounds easy to say this now, but it took quite a bit of analysis to figure out the cultural dissonance. Sometimes it even takes an outside perspective to find the problem. Again, a cultural consultant can help.


Never Underestimate the Power of One-On-One Conversations

The first barrier is often distance. When it’s possible, travel to the source of the cultural conflict. If the factory has issues in Guangdong, then fly there to find out first hand what you can learn. If you are in a country and culture where people meet socially, this can help to bridge the divide and find the source of misunderstanding. Another option is to use a trusted intermediary. This is common in places like Brazil. The intermediary meets with both sides and helps to undercover the issues so that both sides can address it and move on together.

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