Do global marketers and sales people need cultural fluency or do generic marketing and sales concepts supersede any differences in approach and attitude found in differing countries around the world?
That is a question I am asked a lot during the learning and development programmes we run for a number of large multi-national clients around the world. I suppose the answer might seem obvious – of course people need cultural fluency and knowledge – but it is a question that generates a lot of debate so I thought it would be good to put down a few of my ideas in a post.
So when clients ask me if global marketers and sales people need cultural fluency, my answer is always an unequivocal ‘yes they do’. But they also need help along the way – you can’t expect people just to pick this stuff up by osmosis. Give them the opportunity to be trained in these areas by people who know what they are talking about. Cultural fluency is a ‘need to have’ not a ‘nice to have’.
This has been a fascinating journey and I’ve learnt an enormous amount along the way. Many of the firms have grown from local powerhouses to global super powers and their progress has been fast and furious. Looking at various Acritas surveys over the past few years, it shows how the legal landscape has changed dramatically with many of the historically stellar names falling away as newer upstarts begin to assert themselves.
One thing, however, that all the major international firms struggle with is trying to make the dream of ‘a seamless service across the jurisdictions’ become a reality. All the firms purport to deliver this seamless service and yet behind the scenes all the firms realise that this aspiration is easier to write in a brochure than it is to achieve in reality. Making global firms ‘work’ cross-jurisdictionally remains a challenge to even the most sophisticated outfit and close attention is required to prevent the undoubted benefits of a global footprint becoming a colossal millstone around the neck.
One of the key essentials for any global firm is to ensure that they work hard to develop a ‘global mindset’ across the entire fee earning base as well as within the support functions. Far too often partners and associates are parochially focused – they often don’t see beyond their practice area let alone across national borders. This is not just my opinion – it’s borne out by the facts. The level of cross-selling across jurisdictions is often very poor in major firms and this remains a real break on the growth and profit levels of those firms.
So from my perspective the 3 key reasons firm’s need to work increasingly hard to develop better levels of global awareness and cultural fluency amongst their employee base are:
As well as working with global law firms, I work with in-house counsel teams and Global General Counsels are getting tired of firms telling them they work seamlessly across the jurisdictions and then not delivering on that promise. One GC from a global corporation recently told me he has moved away from using firms across multiple jurisdictions and gone back to a model of hand-picking firms in specific counties. ‘It’s much more work for us but I owe it to my company to get the best level of service I can. I’ve tried a number of global firms and none of them have delivered on their promise.’
All of the statistics show that the more international offices a client works with, the more likely they are to remain loyal over the long term – and the more offices a client works with the more profitable the client becomes. These facts are well-known and yet high volumes of cross-border, cross-selling remain a distant aspiration for many firms. I have often encountered levels of mistrust across offices which manifests itself as a suspicion over quality levels in other countries. However, this mistrust is often based on a lack of knowledge about ‘how things are done’ in that other jurisdiction and what ‘good’ might look like over there. Working with a large UK firm who merged with a large German firm I heard a lot of comments along the lines of ‘the way they do things over there – it’s all wrong’. What people really meant was that things were different over there and they simply didn’t like it.
Not all clients think the same way and not all clients have the same expectations from lawyers in terms of approach and service. If you are working into a global client base you need to develop high levels of knowledge of different cultural approaches to business around the world – and that is not about how to hand over a business card in Japan. You need to understand what psychology (the result of your own country cultural programming) you are taking into any client engagement, how that differs from the psychology of your overseas counterparty (the result of their country cultural programming) and what the impacts of those differences are for you and your client. Without this knowledge you are fighting with one hand behind your back.
In a modern, ultra-competitive, cut-throat global legal market place, developing high levels of global cultural fluency within a firm is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s a ‘need to have’. At Global Business Culture we have unparalleled experience of working on these issues with global law firms. If you would like to discuss how we can help your firm gain a competitive edge in this area please contact us.
I really believe this statement is true if an organisation is to be able to work really effectively across the barriers of culture, language, geography and time. The problem is that people are not necessarily born with an innate understanding of how business works in areas of the globe they don’t know and maybe have never visited.
The process of changing global mindsets in any international organisation is a three step process:
In my experience – and I’ve worked with major organisations all over the world on these issues – this process is rarely approached with a consistent, whole organisation plan and progress towards better quality and more effective global co-operation is slow.
If you would like to discuss how Global Business Culture can help you develop greater levels of cultural awareness and fluency within your organisation, please contact me on email@example.com
I really believe this statement is true if any person is to be able to work really effectively across the barriers of culture, language, geography and time. The basic problem is that people are not born with an innate understanding of how business works in areas of the globe they don’t know and maybe have never visited – this knowledge and awareness needs to be developed.
The process of changing your mindset and developing better levels of global fluency and therefore the ability to work seamlessly across cultures is a three step process:
In my experience – and I’ve worked with business people all over the world on these issues – few people really take the time to understand the impact of cultural differences. People only tend to think about these things when something goes wrong and that’s usually too late.
If you would like to discuss how Global Business Culture can help you develop greater levels of cultural awareness and fluency personally or within your organisation, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Global Business Culture works with a large number of major global corporations and as they become more and more engaged in business activities outside their home bases in North America and Western Europe, they seem to be asking increasingly difficult questions about the difference between cultural sensitivity and ethical correctness. I suppose the question boils down to a simple one – should we always play by the rules of the country we find ourselves operating in or should we always apply the rules that work in our home country? Those of a culturally understanding nature, as well as those who place the commercial imperative before all else tend to argue that ‘when in Rome do as the Romans.’ But is it really that simple? Should local norms always trump home country beliefs?
One of my North American clients placed a female employee as the project lead on a project with a certain Asian client. They received an email from the client in Asia saying they would prefer a man as the project lead. What should the North American company do? Should they acquiesce to the demands of the client even though that would contradict both the law in their own country and their strong corporate policy of being a gender blind employer? When I pose this question to clients around the world, responses vary enormously and not just, as might be expected, along gender lines. I’ve had female managers in the US saying that the client is always right but then being argued with by male colleagues who say that corporate policies should be adhered to regardless of the commercial consequences.
I spend a lot of time explaining the impact of differing attitudes to meetings, decision-making styles etc. on global business and my usual advice is to adapt to the expectations of the client as this can help you meet your goals on time and on budget. Nobody objects to the idea of adapting to a different meeting style – but condoning gender bias or bribery is a whole different ball game!
These issues are really complex and there is no simple answer to them. However, I strongly believe that a global company needs to address these difficulties rather than sweep them under the carpet. Organisations need a clear policy on all of these issues which is then effectively communicated and they also need to be strong enough to apply that policy in all situations – no matter how commercially uncomfortable that might be. It just not fair to say ‘we don’t pay bribes’ but then to punish a sales guy for losing a contract because they were competing with someone who did. It sounds bizarre but it happens.
If you’d like to discuss how increased cultural fluency can help you develop and implement effect global compliance policies, please contact me at email@example.com
Like it or not, English is the common global language adopted by most international companies. The trouble is that language levels in English vary around the world – even within one organisation. Native speakers often assume that ‘if somebody is working in my company, they have to have really high levels of English.’ This is often a dangerous assumption. Just because people don’t tell you they haven’t understood, doesn’t mean they have understood! People often don’t tell you – it’s a face thing.
So when communicating in English in a global environment, everybody needs to think very carefully about the way they use English.
Be aware of the following at all times:
Control Your Speed
You can probably think of other useful hints and tips but these are a good starting point.
At Global Business Culture we run training programmes on global communication all over the world – if you’re interested to find out more please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
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 email@example.com
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:
The BCG report highlights three key areas of concern:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
After a lifetime working on Global Supply Chain & Logistics, Think Global Growth’s founding director Neil Moon (ex-Agility Strategic Enterprise VP) realised that many of the key pinch-points within global Supply Chains are actually the direct result of globally differing views about how business is done in various parts of the world. He saw that many of the problems around such issues as communication break-down, planning, contracting, dispute resolution and adequate staffing were all caused by the fact that people in China simply did things differently than people in the UK and that people in the UK did things differently than their counterparts in Germany. The problem was that nobody really understood these issues.
As Founder of Global Business Culture I have worked for years on helping with the operational efficiencies of organisations who work cross-border. Working with many of the world’s major corporates I had also come to realise that the cultural dissonances found within global supply chains were causing huge problems which people often lacked the awareness and knowledge to overcome.
Our meeting resulted in us developing the world’s first programme which fuses global supply chain excellence and global cultural competence. The programme, called ‘Global Business Culture and Supply Chain Management’ is aimed at helping industry experts hone their skills and really get a better understanding of how global business culture can impact on key elements of supply chain management and what steps can be taken to ensure global effectiveness.
This one-day programme fuses deep global cultural knowledge and a lifetime of supply chain expertise – it’s an essential ‘must do’ for people who look to continually improve their operations.
If you would like more information on the specifics of this programme, please contact me at: email@example.com
Lots of organisations seem to face huge capability gaps when it comes to successfully implementing global strategy. The strategy may be fine as a concept but individuals within companies very often lack a sufficiently global mindset to allow them to implement the strategy successfully – and that’s when things can go badly wrong.
Many of the problems related to any corporate globalisation process are caused by a lack of global cultural fluency which leads people to take the same approach to everything, every time, everywhere – they embrace a ‘once size fits all’ mentality. In the multi-faceted, complex global world we all work in today, this s approach just doesn’t work – perhaps it worked twenty years ago when the big global players ruled the world but the world has since become a much more level playing field these days and a ‘one size fits all’ approach is quickly rejected just about everywhere.
What I am really saying here is that knowledge is the key.
People in your organisation (and not just a few at the top or in the ‘international function’) need to be more aware of the impact that international culture has on every facet of business, they need to be given the specific knowledge necessary to work their way around a complex global environment and then they need to apply that knowledge and awareness f0r the benefit of the business.
One thing is certain – cultural fluency within an organisation never happens by accident. It needs careful planning, training and targeted interventions.