Over the past decade, I have worked with some of the world’s greatest international Law Firms and I have been heavily involved with their globalization processes. 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:

Clients demand it from their trusted advisers

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.’

The more offices a client works with, the stickier the client

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.

If you don’t understand an overseas client’s expectations, you can’t deliver against them

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 Think Global Growth 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.Over the past decade, I have worked with some of the world’s greatest international Law Firms and I have been heavily involved with their globalization processes. 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:

Clients demand it from their trusted advisors

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.’

The more offices a client works with, the stickier the client

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.

If you don’t understand an overseas client’s expectations, you can’t deliver against them

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 Think Global Growth 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 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:

  • Awareness building:

    You have to intellectually buy-in to the fact that international cultural differences can have a very significant impact on the efficiencies of any global organisation – and therefore its profitability. You also have to accept that you have a role to play in this process. Sounds like an easy step but it isn’t. If things go wrong when you are working cross-border it’s always partly your fault.

  • Knowledge development:

    Unfortunately it isn’t enough to be aware that cultural differences exist – you then need to acquire the specific knowledge to interface effectively in lots of different markets. Awareness will get you to accept the need to be adaptive and not make assumptions but the adaptations needed when dealing in India or Brazil will be very different. This knowledge can be acquired over long periods of time and through making countless errors or the process can be speeded up through research and good quality training interventions.

  • Embedding insight into corporate processes:

    Once you have awareness and knowledge, you need to embed the lessons learned into the warp and the weft of the way in which you do things on a daily basis. If you work in a global environment, every time you make a decision the impacts of that decision land differently in different places. How can you control the potential negatives of the impact of unforeseen cultural consequences and reactions? It’s not easy but it can be done if you have a deep understanding and the requisite level of knowledge.

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 keith@globalbusinessculture.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 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.

So what should companies and individuals within those organisations do?

  1. Recognise and accept how little you actually know about other countries and other markets. There is no shame in recognising that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ If you start with the assumption that there are a multitude of unknowns and then accept that it is your responsibility to do some initial research on those unknowns, things will probably work out better.
  2. You also need to accept that you take a significant level of cultural bias into every cross-border transaction. Your background makes you see things in a specific way – but your Chinese counterparty probably looks at the same situation and sees something completely different.
  3. Build into your thinking that ‘just because things are different’ in another country it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wrong – they might be wrong but a different approach might actually be better than the way you do it ‘back home’. This sounds simplistic but it is very often a difficult message for people to take on board.
  4. Think about the impact of every decision for every location. A centrally determined policy is usually biased towards the country it originate from (usually where the Head Office is.) You want to move towards a flatter structure? Great – but how do you make that work in a country where hierarchy is not only the norm but seen as the way in which the whole world (both business and private) is and always has been shaped? A message from head office or a town hall meeting is not going to change a mindset 4000 years in the making! (Indeed is town hall meeting a good thing in the first place in certain countries?)
  5. Accept that a good idea is a good idea – regardless of where it started. Not all good ideas start with you or in your country. The sign of a truly mature global company is when you begin to hear people in the centre talking about the things they can learn from the outside (other countries.) Not all good ideas start in your head office – but equally not all ideas which come out of head office are bad.

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 for 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.

The findings of a recent Boston Consulting Group report highlighted the fact that many companies face a huge capability gap when it comes to implementing their global strategy. The strategy may be fine but if individuals within the organisation lack the global mindset to enable them to implement the strategy successfully, then things can go badly wrong.

Many of the problems associated with the 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. In the multi-faceted, complex global world we all work in, this simplistic approach just doesn’t work. Maybe it did twenty years ago when the big global players ruled the roost but the world is a more level playing field these days and a colonistic approach is quickly rebuffed just about everywhere.

So what should organisations, and individuals within those organisations do?

  1. Recognise and accept how little you actually know about other countries and other markets. There is no shame in recognising that you don’t know what you don’t know. Start with the assumption that there are a myriad of unknowns and that it is your responsibility to do some initial research on those unknowns.
  2. Accept that you take into every cross-border transaction your own level of cultural bias. Your background makes you see things in a peculiar way – but your Chinese counterparty probably looks at the same situation and sees something completely different.
  3. Build into your thinking that ‘just because things are different’ in another country it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wrong – they might be wrong but a different approach might actually be better than the way you do it ‘back home’. This sounds simplistic but in my experience it is very often a difficult message for Head Office to take on board.
  4. Think through the impact of every decision on every location. A centrally determined policy is usually biased towards the country it is originated in (usually where the Head Office is). You want to move towards a more matrixed structure? Great – but how do you make that work in a country where hierarchy is not only the norm but seen as the way in which the whole world (both business and private) is and should be shaped? A memo from head office or a town hall meeting is not going to change a mindset 4000 years in the making!
  5. Accept that a good idea is a good idea – regardless of where it originates. Not all good ideas start in the centre. For me the sign of a truly mature global company is when I hear people in the centre talking about what they can learn from the outside. Not all good ideas start in your head office – but equally not all ideas which come out of head office are bad.

I think that what I am really saying here is that knowledge is the key. People in your organisation (and not just a handful 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 navigate a complex global environment and then they need to figure out how to apply that knowledge and awareness to the benefit of the business.

One thing I do know is that this process never happens by osmosis. It needs careful planning and targeted interventions.

TGG can help you on this journey.

Why cultural fluency in sales and marketing is paramount

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.

  • Communication: if both sales and marketing are mainly concerned with getting the right message across, it seems likely that good sales and marketing people need to be alive to the significant cultural differences which underpin the way in which people communicate. Good communication style in one country will often be viewed as very poor communication style in another. Is it therefore possible to have one style of message that is used across multiple territories? It is, of course, possible but probably not optimal. It is essential to get local staff to localise the message and, when they do so, don’t tell them they’ve got it wrong (unless it is off brand etc.) If you’ve recruited good people, they know their market better than you do.
  • Presentations: there is no such thing as a good presentation; there is only a good presentation in a certain location. We have a library of in-house presentations skills courses from different companies in different countries around the world and it is amazing that in some countries people are advised to (for example) put in as much detail as possible into a presentation so as to engage an audience whereas in other countries people are advised to leave out most of the detail so as not to alienate their audience. So if you are presenting in a foreign country, how do you structure your presentation? My experience says that most people have one style of presentation and that style is used everywhere. Might it not be better to adapt your presentational style to meet the expectations of your audience? Local help will probably be needed in these situations. And remember that even if you have a global corporate approach to the way presentations are expected to be delivered, that style only works internally – clients and other external stakeholders may have other expectations.
  • Images: you definitely need cultural sensitivity around this subject. Without local knowledge, how will you know what will offend sensitivities in a particular area? Certain cultures are sensitive to such varied issues as depictions of women in certain types of clothing, a photo of three people together, the soles of shoes, names written in red and many, many more. Are your marketing people alive to these sensitivities, and are they factoring them into the work they produce?
  • Website design: this is a particularly tricky area as websites are often seen as the global ambassador of your brand and marketing message. If you are from the US go and have a look at a few Chinese websites – lots of visual noise and very little white space. If you are Chinese take a look at some Danish websites – lots of white space and sparse text. Is it enough just to have your website translated into a number of key languages or do you need to look at different designs for different audiences? Are your web team alive to these cultural nuances or are they simply designing for themselves and people like them?
  • Negotiations: where to start with this one. People in the US like to get down to business quickly; people in Japan are focused on forming a good long-term relationship before even considering talking business. Finns like to come in with what they consider a ‘fair’ price from the outset; Indians are unlikely to ever take the first price offered. People in Sweden have a lot of authority delegated to them whereas you usually need to be talking to the top guy in the Gulf. Each country has its own unspoken rules as to how a negotiation is likely to be addressed. All countries want to negotiate hard but they want to negotiate in different ways and at different timescales. Your sales guys really need to be attuned to these cultural expectations if they are to be expected to perform to the maximum in a global environment.

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’.

3 reasons why global law firms need to develop global cultural fluency

Over the past decade, I have worked with some of the world’s greatest international Law Firms and I have been heavily involved with their globalization processes. 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… Read More


Off-Shore Partners in India

Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of major projects where U.S. or European companies have looked to transition work from their home countries to outsourced facilities in India. The drivers behind these projects have been many and varied, but I suppose that cost reduction is always a major component of any such… Read More


Global Compliance and Global Cultural Difference

A report published by Control Risks titled ‘International Business Attitudes to Corruption’ succinctly highlighted some of the extreme challenges faced by Compliance Officers within global organisations.  As regulators increasingly extend their global reach whilst at the same time anti-corruption laws become ever more comprehensive, Global Compliance comes face-to-face with culturally differing norms around the world…. Read More


You really need to build your own levels of cultural fluency

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… Read More


Lots of our clients are WEIRD

cultural awareness training

It’s probably not a great idea to start a post by appearing to insult most of our clients – so I’d better quickly explain what I mean by calling you WEIRD. Joseph Henrich, Steven J Heine and Ara Norenzayan issued a research paper a few years ago showing that most behavioural science theory is built… Read More


Global Compliance in a Culturally Complex World

A report published by Control Risks titled ‘International Business Attitudes to Corruption’ succinctly highlighted some of the extreme challenges faced by Compliance Officers within global organisations. As regulators increasingly extend their global reach whilst at the same time anti-corruption laws become ever more comprehensive, Global Compliance comes face-to-face with the often uncomfortable on-the ground reality… Read More


English as the Global Communication Language

global virtual teams

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… Read More


5 Reasons your Organisation should become culturally fluent

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… Read More


10 Golden Rules for Working Globally

I am often asked about the key elements of effective international collaboration and whilst there is no secret recipe for success, these ten points might help you to navigate through the complexities of international cross-border working. The list is not exhaustive but I hope these hints and tips are a good starting point: Avoid making… Read More


Globalisation gap and global strategy

The findings of a recent Boston Consulting Group report highlighted the fact that many companies face a huge capability gap when it comes to implementing their global strategy. The strategy may be fine but if individuals within the organisation lack the global mindset to enable them to implement the strategy successfully, then things can go… Read More