These issues are not the exclusive concern of well established institutions, although they tend to have some successful models worth noting. Rather, these are concerns relevant to even the smallest start up operation if there is a plan to do business with those who differ in location, background, language spoken, or country. And, really, isn’t that all start up operations? The goal of every business is growth and by now we are aware the growth often won’t be confined by national borders or boundaries. If you are about to send a salesperson or plant manager out into the wider world what can you do to prepare them and your organization for this challenge?
1)Where is “over there” (place)? Where is “back there”?
For some companies expansion will mean travel to Europe, Latin America, the Middle and Far East. For others it may be a trip within North America. The length of time for an employee stay and the depth of your organization’s presence (office, relocation packages vs. long term hotel) may vary. What you may ask of your employees in this context is likely to vary as well based on the task and role demands. A salesperson may be charged with a very different set of demands than a branch manager. Knowing and understanding not only where they are heading, but what is unique about the place they are departing from is essential to being effective in these environments.
2)Identify if they are checking in, visiting or staying.
Visitors, no matter how frequent, will be perceived differently from residents (no matter how brief the move). Callers will be seen again as entirely different from these other categories. If you intend for a team of implementers who are operating abroad while responding to a manager operating within your home base you will need to be mindful of what role status you want your manager to have. Is it right to be managed by remote, do you benefit from the investment of on the ground face to face time? What gets lost without this investment?
If an employee is ‘staying’ there are multiple considerations to prepare. One will be how communication will be managed between the host and the home base stations. Understanding and building into the process a format and rhythm to communication channels can help alleviate the frustration and alienation that can beset those who are working abroad. Another concern will be preparing the employee for cultural exchange. While the agenda of the company will be measured in sales, or productivity, or other tangibles there will need to also be respect for the non-tangible exchange that will occur as well. Sharing insights into the “American” or “Texan” or “East Coast” way of doing things is a valuable exchange that will contribute to the bond the host country employees, customers, or partners will feel towards your employee and your company. A simple strategy to use in preparing a traveling employee is to have them think about what items represent your company culture well and to find ways to share these with the host community while sharing the host community artifacts with the company. If nothing else it becomes a point of commonality with which to begin conversations between the host and home bases. Of course, you will also need to know how such items are received in the host environment. Bringing pork rinds to a mostly Muslim or Jewish community isn’t likely to engender warm feelings no matter how well that represents your corporate culture.
3) identify the main values of the host location.
The host location may place an emphasis on efficiency, directness, and self effacement (see Globe Project’s leadership reports on Germany) or may prefer warmth, relationship, and trust as priorities in exchanges. This type of knowledge can be deciphered from the communication history with members of the host location, from studying history and culture relevant to the location, and from research on cross cultural differences. Using this knowledge will assist the employee in developing an approach to their interactions that will likely be more effective at obtaining the long term goal of organizational growth, impact, and success.
Cultural competence is a process and a company has a choice to make the investment in the process. Doing so is an excellent investment. Training and coaching can assist, as can a detailed organizational plan. We can offer guidance if you find yourself in need.