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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.

The International Entrepreneur – Maximizing Potential in Your Multicultural Team

ConfidenceEntering the room, you can feel the tension. Your multicultural team, representing different company interests, is sitting around the table. One confident young man boldly answers your first question and others look blankly ahead. How can you possibly get this team to accomplish anything if they can’t work effectively together?

One of the greatest challenges in international business expansion is bridging the cultural gap. Team members have to understand how their approach to group dynamics affects others in order to avoid alienation and everyone counting down minutes until the meeting ends.

The multicultural team is one of the most underutilized aspects of international expansions, mergers, and partnerships. In fact, on more than one occasion I have heard frustrated managers refer to their team as “performing” and their role as one of “babysitting”. The challenge for both the team leader and members is to leave behind assumptions and find the unlocked potential of the team’s productivity and usefulness. Here is my advice:

 

Know the Likely Points of Contention Between Team Members

When various cultures mix, there is likely to be friction. One important issue is how to deal with conflict. A German team member may want to articulate the issue and how it occurred, including assigning fault. Those from indirect communication cultures find this rude and disrespectful. A key ingredient to high-functioning teams is trust, and for most from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Mediterranean area, this directness just lost the trust.

The important thing is to know who is on the team and what can be learned about their native work culture ahead of time to anticipate some of the obvious flash points.

 

Create a Common Goal

This is especially critical for multicultural teams. The goal helps to create a common set of terms around what needs to be done and what the outcome will be if successful. The clearer the goal, the more likely it will be that the team will perform to reach it.

 

Establish a Framework for Team Norms

Team leaders often default to the social norming for teams in their home culture. And often little thought it given to how this style is received by team members. A leader from Chile may use storytelling to emotionally connect with team members. But the Canadian may be annoyed by how long it is. The direct communicators in the team will likely tune out many anecdotes. There is middle ground, but it must be defined in order for both direct and indirect communicators to speak and interpret for the same situational understanding. Perhaps this means limiting the amount of anecdotes or explaining that this is a useful tool to understand perspective.

It is also important to establish a way to make decisions as a team. Must decisions be unanimous? Is there a point where discussion will be stopped and the team votes? Or does the team leader take the input and make the decision? Never assume that other cultures make decisions in a similar way.

 

Head Off Issues Early

If the team is underperforming, then it is better to investigate the root causes sooner rather than later. Issues may have an easy fix such as clearing up a misunderstanding. A common problem is a team member that stays quiet. It may be helpful to forewarn this person that you will be calling on them and to be prepared to share their perspective. It is also helpful to give this person permission to give an answer contrary to others in the team.

A word of caution: if there are indirect communicators in the team, DO NOT bring up team communication issues in an open team meeting. Indirects do not like discussing issues in a group setting (again, it’s considered rude). Ask questions of individuals in private instead.

 

Take Advantage of Diverse Perspectives and Strengths

This is why a multicultural team can be so powerful! Instead of seeing an issue or opportunity from a limited set of assumptions, those from a diverse background can bring ideas and solutions from more varied experiences. There may be a best practice from Brazil that no one in Italy has ever heard of before. In confronting similar issues, there are infinite ways to approach solving them. When an unexpected solution is presented, be sure to ask questions to understand the underlying assumptions that led to that conclusion.

 

Stay Positive & Focus on Progress (Patience)

Multicultural teams may be more challenging to manage. But as the team leader, it helps greatly to encourage participation and stay positive with the team about any progress. That doesn’t mean sacrificing results or progress towards results. Building the team’s effectiveness may take a little more time.

Overall, building an effective multicultural team is much better than languishing in frustration. Instead of underestimating the contributions from collaboration, focus on maximizing team’s performance. This means balancing the interests, communication styles and cultural assumptions. If you need help getting more from your multicultural team or staff, please contact me.

Onward & upward!
Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur – How International Expansion Affects the Rest of the Company

How International Expansion Affects the Rest of the Company

Expanding your company internationally represents both great rewards and risks. Going global can exponentially grow well past the limitations of your domestic market. But one of the greatest challenges to success can lie within the company’s structure and staff. This article is focused on how an international expansion affects the rest of the company and where to focus your planning beyond business development in foreign markets.

Always Start With Strategy

The key to international expansion is ensuring that your plans align with the company’s overall strategy. Here are some questions to ask your leadership team:

1. Does this expansion fit into the VISION we have for where we want the company to be in 5 years? 10 years?

2. Does the expansion into global markets match the company’s IDENTITY to our customers, our industry stakeholders and our employees?

3. Does this expansion fit with our FINANCIAL GOALS and the ultimate EXIT STRATEGY?

4. Is our company’s STRUCTURE organized in a way where domestic customers and new foreign customers can both be served?

Many companies start expanding internationally while continually chafing against a clash with existing strategy or unspoken assumptions about direction. It’s better to halt expansion plans without this strategic alignment. This holds true for organic international growth as well as foreign company acquisition.

 

Incorporating International Into Existing Functions

It is critical to integrate international activity into the rest of the company. One of the biggest mistakes I repeatedly see in companies is to establish”International” into its own separate department. The problem with this structure is that the rest of the company begins to disassociate from international and decisions are made elsewhere in the company that do not optimize for all world markets and customers. Eventually leadership tends to shut down the International Department for any number of reasons. Shutting down even a successful operation is easier than working through issues with this “foreign entity”.

Here are some ways that international expansion can affect some core business functions:

  • Accounting– Different required accounting reports for government, different norms for handling accounts receivable, need for bribery/corruption strategy
  • Business Development/Sales – Different customer buying patterns, different negotiating styles & techniques, different compensation structures
  • Customer Support– Local dialects and languages, different expected modes to access service information, different ways of expressing emotion
  • Finance – Exchange rate fluctuations, repatriating profits, access to financial capital and banking services
  • Human Resources– Staffing for language coverage and other international business skills, updating company employee policies to ensure that they apply to international situations, training needs
  • Information Technology– Planning information systems to reach new geographic locations (extension of existing systems), evaluate the need for greater integration for efficiencies in serving more markets
  • Legal – Understand legal implications of doing business in new countries/locations including intellectual property rights, employment law, commercial registrations & other regulations governing foreign companies
  • Logistics/Shipping – International shipping forms & regulations, hiring a good freight forwarder, managing shipping costs & ensuring that those costs are built into pricing
  • Marketing– Country laws governing marketing activities, different customer preferences, different communication preferences, different style preferences, translation/localization of materials
  • Product Design/R&D– Manufacturing input requirements (materials AND country of origin), metric vs. English measurement, different packaging requirements
  • Production– Increased unit production for additional demand, any alterations to products that stop production before product batch can run, inventory storage
  • Supply Chain Management – Sourcing any newly required materials, and hopefully discovering better quality or less expensive supplies/materials available in the new geographic markets!

 

Managing Company Culture and Expectations

Cr0ss-cultural leadership is the area most overlooked and also most likely to derail an international expansion from within the company. All it takes is for one key employee to view serving international customers as a burden and product orders are delayed, shipping costs are inefficient, or marketing copy is left unchecked for localization. Just like any big change in the company, the change must be managed internally with staff. This means communication from leadership about international markets’ role in the company’s plans. It means training for any staff interacting with the new foreign customers. And it means incorporating international success into employees’ performance objectives and expectations.

When I am working with a company client that has this as a risk, I normally recommend inspiring employees with their expanded international role in the company’s success. Change is uncomfortable for most of us, but when we understand the reasons for international expansion and its importance most employees normally play a positive part. Cross-cultural training can be a wise company investment. It also doesn’t hurt to highlight fun parts of the new country’s culture: celebrate holidays like Cinco de Mayo, display country travel posters in common areas, etc.

 

For more information or ideas about international expansion planning, please contact Becky Park, The International Entrepreneur. Becky works with B2B technology and professional services companies to help them become more competitive in global markets.

The International Entrepreneur – Chinese Business? Interview with Ding Zhengli and Tan Xiaoran

Ding Zhengli

Ding Zhengli

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Chinese business consultants, Ding Zhengli and Tan Xiaoran, who both studied in the United States and now add a cultural bridge to companies looking to expand business in China. Mr. Ding and Mr. Tan are a Principles of Global Progressive Solutions, a firm focused on global business strategy with particular concentration on entering and succeeding in the Chinese market.

The International Entrepreneur (TIE): Zhengli and Xiaoran, you have spent time in both American and Chinese business cultures. Do you have any recommendations for American and British professionals looking to better understand the Chinese market?

Zhengli: For this question, I’d say make some Chinese friends. I think this is the easiest way to get a fast access to know Chinese culture. Knowing Chinese in the real world will bring direct feelings and experience to American and British professionals. But in the real business, it won’t be enough time to find a good Chinese friend. I think western professionals should have a mentor for their Chinese market. The mentor should have deep understanding of both western culture and Chinese culture. And always be aware of your Chinese partners, employees and customers. As a collective culture like China, group harmony is a great deal for projects, assignments, companies and business. Treating people like family and friends would build the relationship faster and longer.

Tan Xiaoran

Tan Xiaoran

Xiaoran: I think doing business in China is not only about business. A deal is not just a deal. There are many social activities will be involved in all processes, such as tourist visits, dinners, night events and leisure activities. Chinese believe they are doing business with people who have their own personality. Such social activities can help Chinese learn about the people’s personality they’re dealing with. Participating in social activities can help build strong relationship and gain trust from each other. So be prepared for long conversations about family, sports, political topics or any other non-business things.

TIE: What are some fundamental ways that marketing a B2B product in China would differ from how we would approach this process in the UK or US?

Zhengli: I think this depends on the type of products. If it’s a manufactured product, online clients like Alibaba would be a good choice. These kinds of clients have built a great brand image as having all kind of products online. It’s easy to find selected products on those websites. But one thing should be aware of is bargaining. Even if a product is listed on the website, a customer could possibly bargain about the price if they think their bottom line is reasonable. Negotiation skills are really important here. If a foreign company is selling something, the customer will be satisfied if they can bargain the price lower.

If the product less tangible (ex. software), create a detailed “white book” in Chinese. But the real deal should always have personal contacts such as phone calls or visits even the customer has already paid. Those personal contacts can give customers a feeling that they are really important and they are dealing with humans, not companies.

Also, in B2B marketing and sales, be aware of titles. Always do a title match before meetings and calls. You don’t want your middle level managers talking to a company’s CEO, at least a match with a top guy from a related department. And say sorry for your boss to the other party if he cannot attend, so they do not lose face.

TIE: Many companies are trying to save costs and effort by directly translating their company website to simplified Chinese. From your perspective, what kind of potential (if any) is lost by not localizing?

Xiaoran: I think it still depends on what kind of business. Industries selling products such like equipment, pharmaceuticals or other real existing goods, directly translating their company website would not be a bad idea. Customers who need these kinds of products make their decision based more on products’ quality and price. Those companies could also use B2B websites such as Alibaba to reduce their risks of a bad translation. They only need to be careful about their product’s name in Chinese: it might have a different meaning.

For companies with low brand recognition in China, directly translating the website would not help their business in China at all. Chinese customers prefer to know someone in the company or know the company first, and then they take detailed look at websites when they are looking for services. Certificates and prizes would help companies on attracting customers, but most U.S or UK companies don’t highlight those on the website. Most Chinese, especially middle-age people don’t treat online searching as a way to look for partners or business opportunities in service industries. Chinese are more willing to talk with you face to face or on-line, rather than just sending messages or emails. This is the way Chinese building trust with their partners or customers. So the website needs to support building trust through more direct channels. And for sure, you need a localized website for your service in Chinese and has every detail about your service, your company’s professional experience/rewards, and your special deals! Remember, Chinese love a great deal.

 

About Ding Zhengli and Tan Xiaoran

Born and raised in Hubei, China, Ding Zhengli is Chinese national with a highly diverse background. Zhengli attended Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. After graduating from Huazhong University, Zhengli came to the United States to earn his Master of Science in International Business at the University of Colorado Denver. After living in the United States for more than 3 years, Zhengli became one of the founding partners of Global Progressive Solutions (GPS). He is a skilled consultant concerning U.S. companies wanting to operate in China.

Tan Xiaoran was born and raised in Changchun, Jilin Province of China. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. Xiaoran has been living in USA for more than 3 years, and received his Master’s Degree of Economics from The University of Colorado Denver. Due to his extensive experience in Chinese banking and politics, Xiaoran has developed deep knowledge of building relationships and dealing with businessmen in China. He also has strong connections in northeast region of China.

Contact Ding Zhengli and Tan Xiaoran: [email protected]globalprogressivesolutions.net

 

The International Entrepreneur – Saving Face in Business – International Style

embarrassedIn doing cross-cultural business, situations involving saving face frequently arise. In my experience, saving face means handling situations so that neither you nor your counterpart would feel embarrassed or ashamed by your words or actions. Saving face becomes particularly important in business cultures with strong indirect communication styles. This includes most of Asia and Africa. There’s a particularly well-written article on How to Manage Face in China this month by Mike Black of Hong Tu that’s worth reading if you want to do business in China. Now I once lived in the Netherlands for a year and I don’t believe that the Dutch even have a word for embarrassed, at least none that I ever heard. But regardless of the wide variance between business cultures, these basic ground rules will help to keep you out of some trouble:

Avoid Publicly Assigning Blame

Generally speaking, people know when they’ve made a big mistake at work. By pointing out someone’s mistake in front of others, you may be losing face not only for the person who messed up, but for yourself and anyone else who was unfortunately in earshot. If the issue must be discussed, then ask more general questions about the problem. “Has anyone noticed that the yellow dye was printing out of alignment?” Then quickly switch into problem solving mode: “Now that we’re behind on our order, how can we as a team work together to make up for the time lost by this unfortunate occurrence.”

The more challenging situation is where the issue is someone’s behavior rather than a single mistake. If a person on the team is difficult to work with, then it’s time to hold private conversations with their superiors. If this is your employee, discuss the situation privately again with a focus on problem solving instead of punishment. Never ever confront even the most troublesome employee in a group setting. Again, this will lose face potentially for everyone in the room.

Learn What is Considered Culturally Offensive

While many international business professionals can forgive various faux pas, it helps to keep your honor intact to know as much as you can before you go. In Thailand, it is best not to cross your legs, the direction that your top leg points is meant to give insult. While everyone in the room will try to hide their discomfort, it’s embarrassing for both your hosts and you (if you finally realize what you’ve done). In Sweden, you wouldn’t want to raise your voice too much in a meeting. Knowing what actions would bring shame or embarrassment to your colleagues saves face.

Recruit an Inside Coach

Usually in international business, time is built in for potential partners, suppliers and clients to get to know each other better. This is an important time to find a peer in the other organization that you can develop into a friend. This friend can later be someone you can approach in private later to ask if there is anything you could do differently to improve the outcomes of the business relationship. Knowing all sides of a situation and the cultural implications, this “inside coach” can quietly tell you which behaviors are losing you face.

I hope you find this article helpful. For more information, please contact Becky Park at [email protected].

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