There are a few macro arguments for nurturing and mentoring global diversity skills at all levels of leadership and operations management in a corporation. Yet, it does not make immediate sense, lighting up an urgent need on the radar screen. While we can not escape but recognise that the global GDP is shifting axis, as is the global working age population; the world continues to get smaller as globalisation is set to accelerate.
But so what, does it create an imperative for a corporation working well in its local market?
Research points to the need for specific intercultural skills, and conspicuous gaps which may be holding back companies in their quest for success in diverse global markets. There are case studies documenting the experience of companies who do things differently and taste exceptional success in complex emerging markets.
But again, what does this really mean to a small or mid-sized company with maybe a few overseas relationships? Surely focus on quality execution, operational excellence, good management practices should be enough.
Let us try to break it down. Consider a mid-sized company, with no more than a few customers (partners or suppliers) overseas; maybe an outpost operation or two dotting the map; each a lean operation, reporting back into head-quarters. This picture fits millions of companies across the world, particularly in technology, services and outsourcing.
Now consider some of the questions nagging leadership and operations in this scenario. Ignoring clichéd management terminology, wonder how many of these, if any, have kept you awake.
- We do need to have a direct presence in this new overseas market, for better understanding, control and growth. But who do we hire and how? Is it better to hire a strong local professional to lead or should we relocate one of our best performers from the domestic operation?
- Will we be able to attract the most suitable and meritorious candidates in the local market? If we succeed, will this new hire be able to engage well with the rest of the organization and adjust to the organization culture?
- If we relocate a top performer from domestic operations, how much time and what effort will be required to gain insights and understanding of the overseas market? Will it effective in building relationships of trust with potential customers, partners and suppliers?
- How will we manage the operation remotely? If the operation becomes too independent will it develop its own unique focus and agenda? Will distance and differing time zones increase operations and management costs?
- Will we have the ability to acquire new customers? Can we build relationships of trust and value with prospects, customers and partners?
There are many ambitious companies who struggle with these and similar questions. Equally, companies who are more mature, have bitten the bullet and are beyond the stage of establishing a presence. The challenges and concerns with regard to the front-line operations in their overseas markets have moved on.
- We do our best; better than we do in the domestic market, yet our prospects and customers do not seem to trust us?
- Why are we overlooked for unexplained reasons in significant bids and decisions? Why does our credibility suffer?
- We are expected to perform and be creative, yet we are never invited in helping clients’ identify and debate potential solutions?
- We are expected to solve problems, deliver to high standards, work relentlessly and not expect to be paid for the extra effort? Is it worth it?
- We are cheaper than the local competition and yet we seem to lose out more often. Are the expectations of the market really fair and viable? Do we really understand the needs of our customers, their imperatives and considerations?
Do any these concerns resonate with your business? Undoubtedly the revenue side impact is the most crucial, but the element of investment and operating costs can be ignored. The opportunity loss, of time and resources, in unremunerative markets can become a disproportionate drain for any company. Such experiences and forays has drained the energy, expense and resolve of many a company pursuing a global growth agenda, particularly in the present economic climate.
There are no pat answers; of course not! Neither is there a single bullet solution. A part of the answer may lie in pieces of the jigsaw – the building of a suitable strategy, developing the best suited go-to-market model, executing it professionally, with the best management teams and practices, supported by locally tuned marketing, sales and relationship building, and so on.
However underlying all these pieces there is a fundamental foundation block. It may be labeled as – global proficiency, cultural intelligence or diversity skills. Its absence can render much of the effort, time and investment ineffective. This proficiency and skill is not about learning up “culture maps” or memorizing the cultural differences of the overseas market. They are more about understanding and appreciating the typical barriers, baggage and perceptions; building a self-awareness and an awareness of others; developing effective communication and most critically, improved judgement. In alien conditions this is the crucial pre-requite to assessing situations, enabling improved problem solving, strategizing and crisis management.
The impact list can be long, abstract and hence usually ignored; left to the common sense and maturity of the individuals on the ground. The pro-active attention and mentoring in this crucial area remains mostly absent, with training and coaching rarely considered. However there are severe costs and penalties. In worst case scenarios there are unexplained order losses, customer exits, rework and waste, team conflict, poor relationship and engagement management, failed alliances, ineffective collaborations, and so on.
After years of multicultural business experience, in a recent meeting, when I was told that “we have had a poor experience dealing with India and Indians”, I was relieved for the direct input. Why? In the majority of situations, such input is surmised, if at all, only after much water has flown under the bridge. You would agree that it is way easier to read the lines than between them, when faced with a tough business challenge.
Why bother with diversity skills? (whiteboxbizsolutions.wordpress.com)
International SMEs (internationalmanofmystery.typepad.com)
Career Development – Future Workforce Skills (cfcastd.wordpress.com)
Global business diversity goes beyond ‘political correctness’ (venturebeat.com)
Getting Diversity Right – It’s not just about the numbers (intercultural.com.au)
MBA programs leveraging cultural diversity to enhance scholastic experience (business.financialpost.com)
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