Monthly Archives: April 2018


It may be a contentious statement but many of the well-documented difficulties associated with getting international shared service centres (ISSC’s) to work effectively and efficiently are actually cultural and linguistic in origin.

Maybe it isn’t that contentious a statement after all because what you are actually saying when moving to an ISSC model is that ‘we think we can make things run more smoothly and more efficiently by taking operations out of the country which they service and replace the operations of 10 countries, 10 different business cultures and 10 languages within 1 remote location’.  The process sounds complex to me but, having worked on dozens of these transitions over the years, the mindset seems to be that these issues will sort themselves out somehow over time.

It is telling that in every single example where Global Business Culture has been called in to help with cultural problems at a major ISSC, we have been called into the frame well after the transition has happened – nobody seems to want to look at these issues in advance for some reason despite the fact that so much academic research and pure anecdotal evidence point to cultural differences as the key stumbling block.

So what tend to be the problems?  There are many but here are a few for starters:

From mono to multi-cultures:

Many managers suddenly find that they are, almost overnight, transitioned from a position where all of their reports are in one country, speak one language and have one culture to a position where they are having to deal with a mass of different and new cultural approaches.  They are seldom ever given any help in addressing these issues and then negatively appraised on how they are doing.

Erasing of years of process and knowledge:

People are expected to abandon the way in which they do things for a new approach that they don’t understand or agree with and which will often ride rough-shod over cultural attitudes and expectations.  Actually that is almost the key objective of undertaking an ISSC project in the first place – to iron out all those costly differences in approach and process and replace them with a single, ‘better’ system.  There may well be logic and efficiencies in the new process (almost definitely there will be) but if this transition is badly handled, the resentment ensuing will very, very quickly negate any benefit accrued.

Lack of relationship-building opportunities: 

In-country contacts built over many years are replaced with new colleagues in a distant location with very few, if any, opportunities to build the all-important relationships which can help to smooth out problems which inevitably arise during and after transition.  This problem is often exacerbated through the use of nameless ‘ticketing’ systems that mean most issues are handled by multiple (nameless and faceless) hands at the ISSC.

Attrition: 

This is a perennial problem at most ISSC’s and one which increases the difficulty of the relationship-building process.  After the initial adrenalin rush of the ISSC start-up phase, the work often settles down into a routine and humdrum process and then people simply get bored and move on.  This can lead to more inefficiency as new people are on-boarded and tensions between the ISSC and the home teams can slowly rise as a result.

I could enumerate many other areas of potential tension and inefficiencies but what is important is that all of these issues are addressed either before transition or as the difficulties arise, rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist or will disappear through osmosis.

You can address these issues through timely and targeted interventions and if any of these issues ring true to you and you would like to see how we could help, contact me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com

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A recent Boston Consulting Group report highlighted the capability gap companies are faced with when trying to achieve their global ambitions.  The work Global Business Culture has done over the past 15 years or so with companies going through this globalisation process would fully support the findings of this report which highlights a number of key deficiencies.  Our assertion would be that one of the core knowledge gaps (if not the key knowledge gap) companies struggle with is a lack of understanding of the profound effect local cultural business approaches can have on the delivery of any global strategy.

 

When going through this globalisation process I’m afraid you just have to face two unassailable realities:

  • In a global environment, you just don’t know what you don’t know.

and……

  • Every time you drop a pebble into the global pond the ripples will go to places you have just never thought of – and maybe didn’t even know existed.

The BCG report highlights three key areas of concern:

  1. Go-to-market capabilities:  How can you successfully penetrate a market when you just don’t know what makes the people in that market tick?  How can you sell when you don’t know what the ‘hot buttons’ are? This is completely cultural.
  2. Supply chain and logistics:   These areas are massively impacted by culturally differing approaches to such issues as attitudes to contracts, time scales, supplier selection difficulties and communication problems.
  3. Spreading best practice: This is often done in a colonial way – ‘this is the way we do it back home’ tends to go down really badly in countries who might feel their ‘normal’ way of doing things is far superior to this newly imposed dictat.  This lack of accommodation to local sensitivities often leads to international merger and acquisitions failing badly with key people leaving quickly after the merger and taking key contacts and clients with them.

I have seen all of these problems happening time after time, year after year with monotonous regularity.  Globalisation is a mindset not a word.  Understand your own view of the world, your counter-parties’ view of the world and where the similarities and differences are.  The similarities are the points of contact where you can build bridges and forge efficient common practices; the differences need to be acknowledged and worked on.

Deep cultural understanding is a ‘must’ not a ‘nice to have’ – but then I suppose I would say that wouldn’t I?

If you would like to discuss how Global Business Culture can help your business work more effectively in a culturally complex world, contact me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com

This post was originally published on LinkedIn, July 16, 2015. 

As more and more companies organise themselves in regional or even global structures, the need for some form of global bench-marking of performance becomes ever more pressing – but is it really possible to have one system that can accurately grade performance in the USA, China and Nigeria?

The problems start to arise as soon as you try to set benchmarks for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in any interpersonal situation. The complexities of global cultural differences mean that what is considered poor behaviour in one country is likely to be viewed positively in another:

  • Is direct and honest feedback to a co-worker good practice? It probably is in the Netherlands but just as probably isn’t in Japan (or even the UK).
  • Is individual initiative to be encouraged? Definitely in the USA but less so in India.

So who chooses what is deemed to be ‘good’ behaviour and what a corporation wants to encourage in its employees? In my experience it is usually the Head Office who calls the shots and who decides positive from negative, good from bad – and then fails to understand when it is accused of latter-day colonialism.

How globally savvy and well-equipped with cultural knowledge and empathy are key HR team members and how open are they to a challenge to some of their basic beliefs in this area?

These are all difficult questions but ones that need addressing. The Mercer survey of 2013, stated that only 3% of respondents from a sample of 1056 global companies said their current appraisal systems were delivering value – so something is obviously not working at the moment.

If you would like to understand how Global Business Culture can help your HR team develop the necessary levels of cultural fluency to tackle this issue effectively, please contact me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com

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Like all markets, China plays by its own rules.  Some sales approaches that work well in your own country might completely fail in a market as unique as China – on the other had some might work really well.  So, is it just a question of trying everything that works at home and analysing the results to determine what the best approach might be in China or are there any sales techniques that are generally better regarded than others?

Here’s a quick overview of what we have found succeeds in China when working with a range of major global clients across multiple sectors:

  • Exhibitions: Exhibitions and conferences seem to be held in much greater regard in China than in the West.  Attendance at key exhibitions should form an integral part of your sales and marketing plans if you want to be seen as a serious player in the Chinese market.  Attendance at exhibitions for a number of years in a row shows you are in the market for the long-haul and can be taken seriously as a potential partner.
  • A good China-friendly website: A well-structured website in Chinese which clearly outlines your products or offering is essential these days.  With over 400 million online users, China is a digital economy with a capital D.  Potential clients will visit your website before meeting you and will form an opinion based on how China-friendly your site is.  Don’t just take your existing site and translate a few pages – get some professional advice from people who really understand digital in China.
  • Local sales representatives: China is a massively relationship oriented country and key relationships need to be nurtured over a few years.  This relationship-building process is difficult to manage from a distance.  It pays to have local people on the ground who speak the language, know the culture and who can react quickly to client demands.  Should these local representatives be employed by you or should you work with a local distributor?  That is your key decision and you’ll probably need advice to help you make the right choice from a tax, compliance and growth perspective – don’t make an uniformed decision as it will cost you in the long-run.
  • Quality: You are unlikely to be able to compete against local companies on the basis of price so you will need to compete on quality.  All of your sales and marketing materials should be heavily quality-oriented.  Western companies are valued in China for the superior quality they represent and you need to display pride and confidence in your product.  If there are three things you should emphasise to potential Chinese buyers they are quality, quality, quality.
  • Telesales: Although communication via the phone is important – this is usually for making initial contact, arranging meetings, gathering background information etc.  It is unusual to try to ‘sell’ over the phone as the sales and relationship-building process are so tightly interconnected.  Phones are useful but only up to a certain point.  Regular face-to-face contact is the key to success.

What lessons can we draw from this and what advice do we give to clients? China is potentially a highly lucrative market which could redefine the future direction of you company if you get it right.  However, China needs time, patience and cashflow – the sales cycle in China can be long and you need stamina, management bandwidth, local knowledge and cash to achieve lasting success.

If you’d like to go into any of these issues in more depth please get in touch, keith@globalbusinessculture.com

There is little doubt that India will be one of the most exciting growth markets for the next twenty years or more but turning potential into a sustainable business takes know-how and planning.  Here are my top issues to consider when contemplating entering the India market:

  • Understand the cultures – it is really important to stress the fact that there are many different cultures in a country of the size and complexity of India. The country is vast and the cultures vary significantly from State to State.  One thing is common though – things tend to move slowly.  India is an enormously relationship-driven culture and this means that things can take time to come to fruition.  You need to build this into your planning as it may have a significant impact on cash requirements and the time needed to get to break-even
  • Do some quality research – do not see this phase as an unnecessary expense. Good quality research on the market, competitors, the regulatory environment etc. will pay dividends in the long-run.  Many companies skip this part of the process only to regret it further down the line
  • Be very careful who you chose as a partner – people in India will often promise the earth but produce very little after the initial conversations. You cannot afford to make the wrong decision about which partners to use in India.  Do some very serious, on-the-ground due diligence on anybody you are looking at entering into a significant long-term relationship with.
  • Get to know the country – commit to spending time in the country so you can really get a feel for how it works. Get out into the second and third tier cities and discover the enormous energy and vibrancy of the place.  These visits will give you the best feel for how your products and services will work in-country, what adaptations you may need to think about and what the challenges will be.
  • Hire wisely – the key to your success will be quality of the people you hire. There are great employees in India just waiting for an opportunity to work for a company like yours but finding them and knowing which people are best fit for you and India is complicated.  You need to work with recruitment people who understand both India market needs and western parent company needs.  In addition you need the cultural knowledge and sensitivity to hire people who are right for India – too many western businesses hire people who are like them and would fit in well back at base.
  • Don’t listen to the ‘bad press’ – lots of western businesses are put of entering the India market because of horror stories they have heard about red tape, bribery and IP theft. Let’s not shy away from the issue, these things exist but at no greater levels than in other emerging markets such as China, Brazil or Indonesia.
  • Engage with experts on the ground – you will benefit enormously from engaging the services of people in India who really understand how things work and who have a track record of helping western business succeed in market. This will cost but it will prove a great investment.
  • Commit to the long haul – India is not a ‘quick win’. The size, complexity, culture and, above all, the need to build strong relationships all point to the need to take a long-term perspective.  If you stick it out, the rewards will come and India could become your key overseas market but only if you get things right from the get-go and commit to being there for the long-term

For further information on Global Business Culture’s ‘Doing Successful Business in India’ programme contact me at keith@globalbusinessculture.com

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