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The International Entrepreneur – 5 Tips to Motivate Global Telecommuting Workers

International Entrepreneur - Tips to Motivate Global Telecommuting Workers

 

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

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

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

 

The Promise & Perils of Global Remote Employees

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

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

 

5 Tips for motivating your global workers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pandemic of Disengaged Zombie Workers

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

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

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

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

Globally The Disengagement Issue Compounds

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

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

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

Who in the Organization Should Fix This Issue?

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

How to Increase Employee Engagement Worldwide

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

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

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

Onward and upward,

Becky Park

 

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

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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, this 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 look on 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 Park 
The International Entrpreneur

The International Entrepreneur – What Makes a Great Leader… Anywhere?

Angela Merkel, Germany, International Entrepreneur, International Business

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel

This week I accept the challenge from long-time professional contacts, Sandip Sen and Linda Hughes to write about what I think makes for a great leader. As many of you know, anything I write needs to be as applicable in Buenos Aires as it is in Helsinki. With that in mind, here is my criteria for a great leader:

Great Leaders Build Trust
How people build trust varies between cultures. But one thing is for sure: a leader knows how to most quickly and effectively build trust in their own culture. For instance, a leader in Germany will focus on logic and facts to show his or her expertise. That might help in other places too, but in Mexico a leader builds trust by showing his or her ability to show compassion and take care of others. In India a leader is trustworthy by showing how much he cares about outcomes. Whatever the culture, trust is the common characteristic.

To build trust, you also need consistency. Followers need to know that they can count on their leader. How much trust would there be if a leader lost his composure when the company’s key client decides to go elsewhere or when the investor walks minutes from when they were supposed to sign the papers? That’s when the rubber meets the road and you learn exactly what type of leader is in charge.

Great Leaders Drive the Train
Sometimes there is confusion around a leader’s true role. But the bottom line is this: a leader sets the vision and the direction. They decide which track the train is going to ride. They don’t collect the tickets and they don’t fetch coal from the coal car. The leader needs to bring in the right resources to keep train moving towards its destination.

Sometimes it may be hard for a leader to let go of certain functions they’ve grown used to managing. This is especially true for many entrepreneurs. They used to write the code or answer online chats. And now they focus on resources like the next round of investment funds. Even a great leader can slip backwards into tasks they should be delegating. But it’s never too late to focus on the track and arriving at the destination safely and on time!

Great Leaders Communicate the Right Messages to the Right People at the Right Time
That’s actually a very tall order. But great leaders master this art of message and timing. It’s about communicating vision and strategy. But it’s also about communicating hope and the plans in times of crisis. Recently my company decided to walk away from a bad investment deal. It was the right decision, but had serious implications for staff who were counting on increased budgets and additional staff. Our Founder and CEO brought everyone together in a company-wide meeting. He told us the news and then put it into context that we could understand why it was better for the company in the long run. The CEO answered questions about how the news would impact employees and various projects. No one left the company from the news and everyone continued to work hard moving the company forward.

Some rules for this messaging: First, anything written or said must be sincere. People know when they are being misled or else they eventually find out. Communications need to be clear and focused. And there needs to be a way, direct or indirect to find out if the message was received in its intended way. Feedback loops are key and often ignored by most leaders.

I hope you found this article interesting. Please feel free to comment to add to this discussion!

Best wishes in all of your business efforts,
Becky

The International Entrepreneur- An Interview with Global Talent & Leadership Expert, Joanne Flynn

Joanne, Flynn, Phoenix, Strategic PerformanceToday I have the honor of interviewing Joanne Flynn of Phoenix Strategic Performance. Joanne is a thought leader in the areas of strategic organizational alignment, organizational agility, business resilience, human capital gap analysis, leadership challenges for the new workplace and change management. Here is what Joanne had to share:
Q1: What are the biggest mistakes you see companies making in terms of global talent management?

Over the decades the same, obvious mistake continues to happen. We don’t take into account the cultural nuances of the international business culture we are either doing business in or with. From an American perspective, we continue to think that other cultures will naturally adapt to our American business culture and we stumble every time. We must understand and then acknowledge the differences, teach them and then incorporate them into the business operating style, mentality and practice of every person responsible for interacting on a global level. If employees can’t make that leap – they should not be allowed to play on the global playing field.

 

Q2: What are the traits you look for in a successful global corporate leader?

I look for a global citizen with global business acumen, cultural business acumen and the ability to adapt leadership style and practices to the local cultural needs. If an organization is committed to global growth, it needs to develop a bench of global leaders before there is a specific need. A crash course in working globally doesn’t necessarily create the true multidimensional global / cultural mindset that a true global leader needs. The worst scenario takes place when an organization has a global post that needs to be assigned. The leader assigned is a home office SME but has never worked internationally. This person is “immersed” in everything local in the 2 weeks prior to being reassigned, and we consider that person fit for purpose? Consider that an emergency measure, not a long-term global strategy.

 

Q3: How important is cultural competency in international business hiring/promotion decisions?

Cultural competency is a fundamental strategic and operating skill. If that skill is missing, then the strategic business impact can be both damaging and derailing. I have seen instances where lack of cultural competency sidelined an organization’s growth for 5 years. Can we afford those types of mistakes in a highly competitive global marketplace? I don’t think so!

 

Q4: In your opinion, which works better: moving expats into key overseas positions or hiring local?

If your operation is a start-up, you should begin with moving culturally sensitive, well-versed expats into the new organization. They bring with them corporate knowledge and the network to get things done quickly. However, you need to immediately plan to onboard local talent as quickly as possible.

If your operation is sustainable business, then hiring local talent should be the goal, only using expats when necessary and for the short term.

 

Q5: What advice can you give a growing company about hiring locals for positions in foreign subsidiaries?

If you can find local talent who can understand your organization’s goals, it is best to hire locally. However, you must bring that person into your central operating hub so the local hire has the advantage of learning about your organization first hand and understanding your operating culture. I have seen examples of when the local person is hired in and then left to figure things out. That normally does not end well.

If you cannot immediately find local talent, then you must send a non-local employee to start the process but immediately construct a plan to find and develop local talent. Be sure that whoever the non-local employee is, they have the ability to work in a local and global environment.

 

About Joanne Flynn

Joanne Flynn is the Managing Director of Phoenix Strategic Performance, a strategic human capital advisory firm. She focuses on human capital relative to strategic initiatives, business growth, value creation and business development. Since 1989, Joanne has headed up the consulting practice of Phoenix Group International. Previously, from 1980 to 1989, Joanne was Vice President of Global Learning & Development for Goldman Sachs, Inc.

Joanne is experienced in all aspects of organizational development and training on a global level. Her consulting engagements have included the design and delivery of training and development programs on the topics of strategic leadership, business development, client account management, strategic selling, management development, and executive coaching. Her consulting clients range from global investment banks, small private equity / venture capital firms to small to mid-sized companies.

Joanne holds a Master of Arts degree in Business Management from the University of Oklahoma. In addition, she graduated summa cum laude and holds a double degree major in History and German from the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey. She also holds certificates from a variety of leading professional training and development organizations.

The International Entrepreneur – 3 Ideas for Building Rapport with International Contacts

international business rapportHave you ever been working with an international partner or client and suddenly found yourself in an unexpected conflict? This often happens in cross-cultural communications. It can lead to awkwardness and strain in the business relationship. This happened to me last year when working with a team of Chinese business professionals. Unfortunately I couldn’t directly ask the group what was wrong, but clearly things had gotten off track. It took a while to realize that what I had requested from the group’s leader was actually impossible to get and caused him to lose face. The entire group dynamic was shot for the day and I worked furiously to get us back to a pre-embarrassment point.

The good news is that when you spend time to cultivate strong bonds, many smaller conflicts and misunderstandings can be cleared up based on built-up goodwill. Likewise, some misunderstandings never come to pass because communication lines are more open. In the long run, building rapport saves time and money with faster deal making and more effective conflict resolution.

Here are ideas for building rapport that are proven to work:

  1. Consistent Contacts

When I say consistent, I’m talking about both periodic visits to meet with the contacts face to face AND keeping the same people connected to the relationship. I see many tech companies missing both components. Video conferencing, phone calls and emails can never take the place of building rapport in country. And when there is a major problem, it helps greatly to travel to the source of the issue to help resolve it. It shows great commitment to the partners, clients and suppliers involved.

The second critical piece is keeping the same company staff connected to key accounts or suppliers. Even when Joe gets a promotion from sales manager to VP Sales, he should take an active role with accounts he cultivated. Otherwise, the rapport building starts over. In most of the world, relationships are between individuals, not companies.

  1. Learn the Cultural Rules

This may seem like a given, but you’d be surprised how much today’s execs don’t necessarily know about their international counterparts. Last year I spoke with an American CEO who was baffled by the English. He had been spending time south of London with a company they were acquiring and stumbling through simple cultural differences. For example, don’t ask an Englishman about his life outside of business. It’s considered none of your business.

  1. Never Underestimate Shared Experiences

Share experiences can take on many different forms depending on the cultures involved. Some prefer to build rapport outside of work. For instance, the Chinese like to take their special guests on tourist trips to get to know the area. The Japanese like to go out drinking (the Russians as well). Businesswomen all over Latin America often watch Mexican Telenovelas. Others focus on joint business activities. German counterparts may like to do some sales calls together. Regardless of the activity, getting to know your contacts will serve you well during any challenging times!

The International Entrepreneur – Leadership in International Teams

international leadership, international business, The American department leader stands up to give his opening remarks to the department’s new fiscal year. He confidently strides to the front of the room. His staff has been flown in from around the world to develop a sense of unity with the company headquarters and to energize the staff for the coming year’s goals. As he begins his speech, the home office staff laughs appreciatively at his jokes and appreciates his style of confidence mixed with casualness. But among the international staff members, this leader’s comments make him seem less like a leader and deflate energy. So what’s going on here?

Never All Things to All People

Many leadership traits are culturally defined. The French want their leaders to be all-knowing and never admit to a lack of information. Indians expect their leaders to be conscientious to the point that they’ll verbally reprimand their subordinates for any mistakes. Latin American leaders must personally know about their staff. But in Great Britain, don’t ask about anyone’s personal time spent away from the office. Filipinos want to be told what to do at work, while the Swedes want to have more equal input with their bosses.

As a leader of an international team, you’ll never please everyone. So here is some advice that helps to balance out an international team and get the most out of all staff.

  1. Build off of the company culture.

Even within any given culture there is variance among its members. Hiring practices should help to choose those people within any culture who can more easily fit with your specific company.

  1. Focus on the Company Goals & Objectives

This may sound obvious, but setting and communicating shared goals is the cornerstone of international business leadership. No matter the cultural differences, everyone needs to hear and understand the company and department’s goals. Business cultures have vastly different ways of reaching goals. A German colleague may spend more time in planning than execution. A Chilean may multitask several projects but still finish them all on time. But as leader, it is your job to make sure that these goals are set at the right level and that everyone is working towards their completion.

  1. Know the Cultures Involved

If your company has staff from just a few countries or a concentration from a single country, then focus on knowing the leadership expectations from that culture. For instance, many IT companies have an office in India. India is a much more hierarchical work culture, where the boss is not normally to be questioned. That means that you may have difficulty getting straightforward feedback from employees because they don’t want to deliver bad news. Research the business cultures in your company mix to better understand what adjustments might need to be made or expectations set.

  1. Input from Team Members

As a leader, it is so critical to have the information and perspectives necessary to make important decisions. This is why it is important to build relationships and communication patterns with these staff members. When part of your team is from a foreign office, it’s helpful to have an office/country manager who can act as an interface between the headquarter’s culture and the local team. Use whatever blend of techniques between cultures that works most effectively for communications. This may include private meetings, visits to foreign offices, and reporting.

  1. Internationalizing Team Communications

Now back to the original American leader speaking to his entire international staff. When speaking to a larger group of your team or company, there are some general adjustments you can do to make it more internationally friendly (compared with American only). First, error on the side of formality over casualness. The American business culture tends to be less formal than most of the world.

Next, assign no direct blame and admit no guilt for things gone wrong. These conversations should be reserved for private meetings instead of group shame. Many cultures “save face” and any blaming will backfire.

Tell no casual jokes or make local references to sports or movies. Humor varies greatly from culture to culture. It tends to create confusion, along with American cultural references.

I hope you find this article useful. Please contact me if you would like to talk about your company’s international leadership.

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The International Entrepreneur – 5 Tips for Improving International Customer Service

Courtesy of Biswarup Ganguly, Kolkata

Courtesy of Biswarup Ganguly, Kolkata

The products have been conceived, developed and commercialized. Marketing has identified potential clients, sales closed the deals and accounts receivable has collected payments. Now is when we reach the moment (or moments) of truth as service takes over the core customer relationship and responsibilities.

Customer service for clients around the world has never been as critical as it is today. As advertising and other forms of promotion grow steadily less effective each year, customer satisfaction and repeat business becomes more important. When asked, customers often give relevant input to product development to improve a company’s offering. And highly satisfied customers are more likely to refer your company to their network contacts.

Adding in the international context, how do you continually improve your company’s customer service?

1. Ask for Customer Input
This may seem simple, but many companies avoid or forget to ask their own customers for feedback. If your company has a small customer base, then you should be talking with each account at least once each year to follow up on their satisfaction. Internationally, you’ll need to adjust questions to fit in with local cultural norms. For instance, focus groups are less effective in Asia where participants only say what they think the group wants to hear. In-person individual conversations work best in Asia. Americans and Canadians often prefer a quick online survey so as to not waste unnecessary time giving feedback.

2. Upgrade Company Culture to a Higher Cross-Cultural Service Level
There may be a team or department in your company dedicated to post-sale implementation and service. But oftentimes customers will have interactions with a variety of company staff, from the accounts receivable manager, to shipping clerk to a company administrative assistant. Everyone in the company needs to be trained on how to interact appropriately with the company’s customers. This may sound like a given, but hundreds of horror stories lead me to believe that it is not.

3. Locally Define Service Success
Service expectations vary from place to place. What’s important is to learn how a certain market defines the customer experience. I own a Mini Cooper, which is a British-made car. When I take it in for maintenance, I sit in a comfortable waiting area and am always offered a bottle of water. Everyone is always extremely pleasant. But my American cultural irritation stems from being made to wait longer than the estimated time. I would gladly give up all other perks for fast service. As we say in the U.S.: time is money.

4. Know the Cultural Faux Pas
Customer service is an area where misunderstanding can create big problems. For instance, it is not uncommon in the U.S. to end a successful customer service call with a pitch to sell additional services. In many places, this would alienate your customer.

5. Balance Service Value With Costs
While we would all like to give excellent customer service for a rock-bottom price, this is far from practical. Realistically, excellent service truly does come at a high price. One way to help this alignment is to let clients choose their own service level at the appropriate price points. Keep in mind that in some cultures (Middle East, in particular) this is an area where customers are going to want to get more for less cost. Set pricing with room to come down and still be able to make a profit.

I hope this article was helpful to you. If you need help to developing cost-effective customer service programs for international markets, please contact me.

The International Entrepreneur – Global Entrepreneurship Thrives in MNCs: An Interview with Greg Gustafson of IBM

Greg Gustafson, Global Operations Leader at IBM Global Technology Services

Greg Gustafson, Global Operations Leader at IBM Global Technology Services

Normally we think of entrepreneurs as those who create start-ups and fast-growing young companies. We expect entrepreneurs to be creative, determined, and focused on reaching lofty goals. So what happens when one of the world’s largest technology companies, IBM, incorporates entrepreneurial concepts and encourages innovation and risk-taking? The result is “International Intrapreneurship”, taking entrepreneurship and applying it in a large, multinational corporation’s environment.

This week I had a chance to talk with international intrapreneur, Greg Gustafson. Greg is a Global Operations Leader in IBM’s Global Technology Services division. Here is our interview:

The International Entrepreneur (TIE): Greg, can you tell us about your role at IBM?

Greg Gustafson (GG): In my role, which is highly global, I lead and work with our teams that deliver IT projects and services worldwide. Just this morning, I was working with a team on a project, which involves the U.K., Malaysia, Philippines, Poland, the U.S. and Mexico. My focus is on service delivery, particularly on IT infrastructure projects. I help clients with their technology strategy and work to make technology globally seamless. I am a troubleshooter for clients’ IT service delivery challenges. And I help to put new standards in place for our global teams that build on best practices.

TIE: Who is your division’s target market?

GG: We provide IT technical support and services to those B2B businesses that outsource some or all of their IT infrastructure and functions to IBM. We leverage our teams in the U.S. and experts across the globe to support those functions.

TIE: How would you define “international intrapreneurship” in your context?

GG: We focus on partnering with our customers to provide the technical services they need to run their operations more effectively. That means globally integrated services. We use a matrix organizational structure that is both project and results driven. It is critical to have common goals. We break down country reporting structures to facilitate the entire operation. In this model, “wild ducks” are allowed to fly. Intrapreneurship means cutting through internal red tape to stay focused on what’s truly important for the customer.

TIE: How do you as an IBM group leader encourage innovation within your team?

GG: I believe that this concept of Intrapreneurship can happen when a penalty-free environment exists for trying new ways to meet customers’ needs and for creating new capabilities. Teams should to be able to access global expertise and resources without regard to national borders or country-based reporting structures.

TIE: What are the misconceptions about large multinational corporations in terms of entrepreneurial culture?

GG: Some believe that MNCs stifle entrepreneurial creativity. While that may be true in some MNCs, experience shows that there are plenty of creative and innovative people in larger organizations.

I think there’s also the misconception that an entrepreneur can only be happy in a startup environment. Instead, I believe that people with an entrepreneurial mindset can also take advantage of a large company’s resources to do incredible things.

TIE: Can you give advice to others in MNCs about developing a more global entrepreneurial environment?

GG: Find a need and then go create a solution. Take risks. Don’t accept the status quo. Always ask yourself: why can’t we make it easier, or better for our customer, or faster?

One of the risks of an MNC-based career can be getting insulated from the rest of your field. To break out, you can participate in trade groups, read industry articles, build your professional network, and even volunteer for your chosen causes.

For the global aspect, it’s absolutely essential to build your own cultural awareness. It is important to understand the cultural mindset and behaviors of your international counterparts. Keep in mind that concepts like leadership, entrepreneurship, time and risk taking vary greatly from one culture to another.

TIE: Thank you Greg, for sharing your insights and entrepreneurial approach within your dynamic multinational environment.

NOTE: Much of what we know today about cross-cultural management framework was originally derived decades ago from Dutch anthropologist, Dr. Geert Hofstede’s groundbreaking research studying IBM employees’ cultural traits worldwide.

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