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.

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