I have worked on India outsourcing projects for the best part of 15 years now and the issues companies face seem to remain the same. I often feel that I could write down the challenges a company will be facing on a piece of paper, stick it into a sealed envelope and then produce it after they have told me their pain points!
What challenges do Western businesses face when working with Indian outsourced providers? The list is pretty long but key issues include:
As well as working with Western home teams I have also done a lot of work in India with Indian employees who are interfacing back into the West and it is fair to say that the issues they raise are often a mirror image of the comments made by the home teams:
There are problems on both sides and they stem from a lack of clear expectation setting at the outset and a lack of cultural knowledge on both sides. Some well-targeted training from somebody experienced in the process can really help both sides – and that’s exactly what I was doing earlier in the week for a long-standing client who are just embarking on their first India outsourcing project.
One of the many things we have been working on over the past year has been the development of a comprehensive digital cultural awareness learning hub which we feel will add trmemendous added value to the face-to-face training delivered to our clients. This digital hub has been a long-held ambition of mine as I realise that, after we deliver quality, targeted cultural awareness training programmes, clients need a virtual library they can dip in and out off as needs arise – people simply can’t just keep bringing is back to deliver more live training!
Our new digital hub, Global Business Compass, is crammed with great global cultural awareness information and advice which is packaged in a variety of learning formats. As well as a generic global cross-cultural e-learning module, there are a series of videos and country-specific cultural profiles on 40 different countries.
However, one of the highlights of the digital hub are the country-specific e-learning programmes we have developed. We have initially started with 5 key focus countries – India, China, Japan, USA and UK – but are currently working on the next five countries and intend to keep adding to the list during this year.
We are launching the Global Business Compass in January 2020 and have already had significant expressions of interest from current clients who absolutely see the value of having such a rich learning resource available to their employees 24/7.
This week took me to Lille in northern France to run a workshop with an integration team working on a cross-border M&A. Quite a journey to get there as I had to battle through rail strikes both in the UK and France – but really worth it in the end.
My client (a long-standing multinational conglomerate headquartered in the US) had recently acquired a Mittelstand German manufacturing entity in the speciality chemicals space and was looking at how the integration team could most effectively achieve the conpany’s goals without alienating the legacy employees. In a way, this was an unusual engagement for me. I do lots of post M&A work but what made this unusual was that the client had decided to dig into the cross-border cultural aspects of integration at a very early stage of the process. Normally clients come to me and say ‘we bought a company in Germany 2 years ago and its all gone really badly wrong since the deal – can you help?’
This particular engagement saw a mostly Belgian integration team tasked with ensuring the parent company realised a return on the investment on an ongoing basis and we looked into a number of different aspects of the situation:
I cannot emphasise too much how important the cultural aspects of cross-border M&A’s always are and therefore how imperative it is to run high quality, commercially focused cultural awareness training as part of the process. If you’ve just spent millions of dollars on buying a business in another country, investing in the cultual knowledge and fluency of the integration team is a must.
Despite the fact that the statistics show that Chinese companies have slowed down their rate of international growth through acquisition, we are finding ourselves more and more engaged by Western companies who suddenly find themselves reporting into a Chinese parent company.
These newly acquired companies are asking us to run China Cultural Awareness training programmes with their senior leadership teams in order to help them better understand the best ways of persuading and influencing in China. The challenge these leadership teams often face is that they want to be able to convince their parent company to accept a buisness strategy which, through Chinese eyes, might seem confusing or risky. They need to know what ‘hot buttons’ to push in China.
These programmes are usually seen as part eye-opener and part validation. We get lots of ‘ah, so that’s why they did that in the meeting’ type of comments and ‘that confirms what I thought but I wasn’t quite sure’ moments.
Having spent time with the leadership team, we are then usually asked to cascade the training through the company to those people in the different functions who will have regular ongoing contact with China. These sessions tend to focus on the practicalities of day-to-day interactions (information flow, working with a hierarchy, effective communication etc.).
I honestly believe that a few hours of well structured, practical cultural awareness training can give people skills and knowledge it might otherwise take them years to learn.
There is a move amongst many of my global law firm clients to upskill their legal PA talent pool. The driver behind this is to free up time for partners and senior associates so they can focus on matter and client issues. Seems like a no brainer and I’m sure that this will add enormously both to law firm efficiency and the client experience.
Obviously, if a PA works in a global law firm they will become increasingly engaged in cross-border issues – both within the firm and with key stakeholders outside the business. Global fluency will therefore become a ‘need to have’ not a ‘nice to have’ for the legal PA of the future and I was pleased to run a cultural awareness training programme for Pinsent Masons LLP in their London office for a group of (mainly) legal PA’s. The PA’s present supported partners from a variety of practice areas but all reported an increase in their cross-border activities – and all were excited by this development.
We focused on a number of key topics which I thought were important for the group and which were re-enforced when we did a ‘what issues have you faced?’ group discussion. Key issues for the group seemed to be:
All in all I think the session was a great success and more global firms should think of investing in their PA population in this way.
I spent three days last week working with 40 senior associates and legal directors from DLA Piper in London. This was a truly global event with the lawyers coming from 22 different countries and 28 different offices.
The Management Academies that DLA Piper organises four times a year and on which I take a lead facilitator role really are a great learning experience for the lawyers, The lawyers are generally are at a stage of their career where they are transitioning from being the absolute work horses of the firm to stepping up to take on much more general leadership responsibilities – and this transition takes them into some quite unfamiliar territory.
My role on these academies is to help the lawyers look at a variety of mainly BD-related activities, so we look at:
The training programme is challenging and rewarding at the same time. It is great to take the lawyers out of their comfort zone and see them rise to the tasks which they are confronted with.
Lawyers surely have two key roles – firstly they have to deliver the highest quality of legal advice and service to their clients and secondly they need to win business for the firm. In my expereince most lawyers are great at the first of these responsibilities but not so comfortable with the winning work piece. That isn’t surprising when 95% of their time is spent on client matters! However, it means that global law forms need to invest more time and resources in helping lawyers to be great BD people as well as great lawyers.
Last week saw me running a series of training programmes on the world-renowned MBA programme at Warwick Business School (apparently ranked 36th in the world and 4th in the UK.) There were a couple of remarkable things about these programmes:
When I started working on this programme with Warwick Business School my sessions were positioned much later in the process but it was moved forward to be one of the earliest modules which MBA-ers are asked to look at – at the express request of the students themselves.
It was recognised that global cultural differences have an impact on just about every other module in the programme. If you are studying global business, you need an understanding of global business culture and you need to nurture your cultural fluency. Cultural understanding is also incredibly important when the students work together in multi-national teams on various different assignments throughout the year.
Can’t wait to meet next year’s cohort…..
I often find myself working with teams who have been tasked to roll out a global strategy across complex international organisations. Everybody knows that such roll-outs are difficult for a number of reasons:
However, one area which is often overlooked in the roll-out phase and that is the impact that culturally differing views of the world might have on this whole process. Monday found me working with the Portfolio Solutions leadership team of one of the world’s largest insurance companies who have the responsibility of pushing through a new approach into the market – an approach which will have far-reaching impacts on both brokers and underwriters.
I was asked by the Global Director of Portfolio Solutions to work with the extended team to explore how cultural differences need to be factored into the global roll-out. (Interestingly the Global Director had met me at an earlier cultural awareness training programme in the UK which I had run for different major insurance company ten years previously. I’m always so pleased when people say they have remembered the lessons learned – even ten years on!)
We looked at whole series of cultural issues but the core conclusion was this:
Fortunatly I was able to point the group to our website https://www.worldbusinessculture.com/ which is a wealth of country-specific cultural knowledge.
One of the biggest challenges facing large non-aligned national law firms is around how they develop a delivering network of best friends around the world who they can work with to help service their domestic clients’ international needs. Sounds like a no-brainer perhaps – just go out and find a few comparable firms in a few key global markets and form a best friend relationship. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy….
And crucially, ‘how can we ensure effective cross-border working?’ That’s where I come in…….
I was in Amsterdam yesterday with the Dutch Law Firm Lexence NV who are working hard to develop good reciprocal working relations with other firms in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. I was asked to run a cultural awareness training programme with a group of senior asociates who will, hopefully, be working together on cross-jurisdictional matters for years to come.
At one point during the day I asked the lawyers to outline client expectations in their own jurisdictions so the other lawyers could gain a better understanding. The output from this exercise was absolutley fascinating (I’ll write a fuller blog on this) because the client expectations as described by the lawyers were so different. (Who said client expectatons were the same all over the world?) The biggest surprise to the delegates was just how different client expectations were in two countries which are so close to each other – the Netherlands and Belgium!
I always learn more on these cultural awareness training sessions than I teach……
Bizarrely, I’ve been spending a couple of days in Frankfurt working in the ‘Brexit-hedge’ subsidiary of a Japanese bank. Lots of financial services organisations (and others) have been forced into opening an EU-based office to guard against the potential consequesnces of a disasterous no-deal Brexit or a bad Brexit. The cost of all of this to the organisations involved is truly mind-blowing and it is essential therefore that these new offices ‘hit the ground’ running and deliver an ROI as quickly as possibe.
Hence my presence in Frankfurt running cultural awareness training programmes on working with Japan (and also the UK). It’s quite a copmplex jigsaw puzzle if you work in an office in Frankfurt which reports into the UK which then reports into Tokyo! Lots of potential for cultural misunderstandings and inefficiencies in all of that!
In one of the cultural awareness training programmes where we were focuing more on Japan than the UK, I had the good fortune to have an experienced Japanese expat and a British guy who had worked in Tokyo for Japanese banks for 15 years and who was a fluent Japanese speaker. At one point I took these guys aside and asked them to feed back to the rest of the group what they felt were the top ‘need to knows’ when working into Japan. These are what they came up with:
I had a slide ready covering all of these issues but thanks to these two great delegates I didn’t need to use it…….