Managing a business through international expansion is a fine art, writes Gareth Way
Maintaining a company culture that spans multiple territories, countries and continents is a challenge. Varying time zones, subtle differences in local legislation and country-specific public holidays can impact the immediacy of communication and impact performance and efficiency. Globalisation creates a melting pot of different expectations and ideals which can become a complex matter to manage when trying to present a single brand or unified business.
At Creditsafe, we have acknowledged the value of developing a truly global business and have set about minimising the impact of these challenges by exporting our company’s culture. Having expanded internationally through organic growth, as opposed to acquisition, we’ve set about creating a clear identity in every location we’ve launched. However, that’s not to say each office represents a ‘carbon copy’ of the previous. Our driver is to maintain the key ingredients of our winning culture whilst also being considerate of the local cultural norms.
Typically, we aim for the business culture to be (arbitrarily) 70 percent company-focused and 30 percent local, paying particular attention to creating an office environment that’s both ‘different’ to the local model and also welcoming and enjoyable. For businesses with similar aspirations, they may wish to send existing employees on an international assignment during the first 12 months of the launch. These individuals can act as ‘cultural champions’ during the fledgling phase of expansion and may prove critical to the inception of a new international hub.
Global communication is and will always be a challenge. It’s hard to overcome huge time zone differences and employers can’t expect teams to work 24/7. We’ve found success in providing multiple communication channels to help facilitate timely and efficient responses. This consideration should be carefully analysed for your global expansion. For example, a product like Google Chat or Hangouts would be blocked in China, making for extremely inefficient communication.
Of all our projects, the expansion into Japan required the greatest level of local cultural understanding. One recommendation to truly help CEOs understand local culture is to seek out third-party consultation. This was something that paid dividends for us, in this particular case.
This is not to say a business has to blindly accept the advice of a local organisation to successfully manage an international culture; you have to develop an understanding of where local cultural norms can be challenged. For example, we were informed that office space in Japan is typically highly professional and ‘quiet’, yet our office bucks that local norm with music playing and a lively sales floor. CEOs should consider how international culture can be blended with their own business but importantly, where they decide to challenge the norms appropriately. Job perks and incentives can also be challenging to negotiate. Companies should always ensure they reward staff similarly in every country; this may take the form of holidays, cash incentives or something bespoke to the team. These alternative incentives can be the perfect tonic to ensure people feel equally valued, regardless of location.
Ultimately, regardless of how you’re developing your global offering, it needs to advance alongside training and education. If you have employees who are as invested in the globalisation of your business as the CEO, you’ve succeeded in conveying the benefits of this offering. Global integration can’t be formed overnight: much like anything else, it must be learned and become a habit of every employee in your business, regardless of status or position. All staff must remember the values of respect, integrity and tolerance to maintain a thorough focus on being one global team.