It’s safe to say that globalization has opened the doors to numerous opportunities and markets, some of which were previously inaccessible for a variety of reasons. Even though doing business on a global level isn’t a cool new thing that came with the Internet, there are still challenges that worry even the most confident and savvy professionals. More often than not, those challenges are related to management.
Managing globally is a challenge we at M51 face all the time. It’s just one of those things that we do day in and day out to gain a better understanding of the issues we’re dealing with. You have to realize there is no winning formula you can apply in this case. I know that sounds somewhat discouraging but that doesn’t mean we struggle – it just means it’s harder to accomplish it sometimes for a variety of reasons.
While every business and every opportunity is unique in its own way, here are some pointers that might help you ease the situation. I’ll focus on two sides of the management: investment/organizational side and people/workforce side.
The importance of the local presence
For an investment to endure and become a long-term success, you need to be prepared to handle different values and points of view almost all the time. Typically, the best way to successfully manage on an international basis is to have a strong local presence.
On the surface, being on the spot looks like a tough prospect. This is actually something I alluded to in one of my previous posts. To get all the necessary ins and outs, you need to be on the ground. Think of it as being the focus group in charge of testing the waters. When it’s travel time, there are all sorts of things you need to account for, starting with each country’s culture and all the way down to individual cultural differences and language barriers.
The process of managing a global investment is routinely impeded by communicational and cultural difficulties which need to be straightened out before trying to work together as an integrated team from any number of different locations. Having a local partner mitigates a lot of these issues. This can be someone that works for you (full time, in most cases) or a company that you have a serious enough partnership with (which is your local brand).
Here’s why that’s important. You might have a stable and trustworthy partner that you’ve been doing business with for a long time – that’s exactly the type of asset that’s extremely valuable because their advice is worth a lot. With their help, you’ll avoid generalizations, stereotypes, and any culture-specific issues that are prone to come up in these situations. There’s no room for assumptions – these will get you right back where you came from.
Other times, a new market is a different challenge altogether where your primary goal is to build trust with someone local. Hence, you need to understand all the subtle differences from the cultural side, be sensitive to unexpected details (e.g. religious holidays), as well as understand regulatory compliance and the approach of potential clients to doing business.
The entire procedure, if I can call it that, is something that’s done on the go. As much as I’d like to have it or as much that would simplify things, there’s no manual to follow. There is no sense to have it, when you think about it. Everything is on a project by project basis. The procedure changes for every country.
Managing people is fairly easy
Each business is about setting the right goals and understanding the path you need to take in order to reach those goals. Almost uniformly, it always revolves around people as the central characters in this endeavor.
Basically, you are handling a virtual corporation, an intriguing possibility that’s driven and supported by technology. Thanks to some project management software and a VoIP app, you are able to see the day-to-day activities of your global team and have insights into what they are doing, just like you would if you were managing an office next door. There’s joint work on a monthly sheet so you can be aware of the progress. Daily or bi-daily calls, weekly/monthly/quarterly goal meetings are literally the same, only performed in a virtual setting.
I liken it to managing freelancers. The rise of this alternative workforce, as some call it, has grown to a point where it’s now possible (and mainstream) to have an entire department consist of freelancers from all corners of the world – thanks to software like Asana and Skype that form a structure of management. Times differences aside, it’s that easy to get organized and manage on a global level. Such ability is a blessing in disguise and one aspect of globalization that’s easy to implement.
What’s important here is your ability to organize and focus. As a species, we like to multitask and try to do more with less in that regard. That doesn’t mean that having a conference call and micromanaging several chats can’t be productive but chances are, some portion of company politics can fly under the radar.
Another bit of advice I can offer is to not get hung up on your work style as a template for others. There are bound to be differences influenced by various norms. As long as you’re getting results and moving closer to achieve common goals, all is good.
It’s a challenge, alright
Managing globally means you have to speak with one voice and enforce a singular set of values and beliefs. That can be problematic in a small(er) office, let alone in an interconnected company. The challenge of global management is navigated somewhat easier in experienced organizations which had enough time over the years to put everyone on the same page, whether it’s professionally or culturally.
Hence, with experience comes a deeper understanding of how the process works and what it takes to make it as smooth as possible. No matter the location, make sure to establish trust, reinforce the structure and company values, and communicate frequently – these will be key to leverage diverse skills and facilitate effective management.