Several years ago I was invited to participate on an industry association panel, discussing “offshoring,” (which means outsourcing globally). Having been a senior leader in a global company for many years, I asked the first very obvious question — Which shore? I proceeded to have some fun in addressing the subject by noting that virtually all developed countries (and of late some not so developed countries) are having similar discussions.
While many educated people can discuss the economic and social impacts on countries of the movement of goods and services around the globe, I would like to address some principles of building and operating a company that spans multiple continents.
Let’s begin by getting some of our vocabulary aligned. There is a difference between being an International” company versus a “Global” company. A lot of companies have out-of-country activities that may include sales and procurement – this is an international company, even if it includes a few regional offices. A global company truly operates in various countries providing goods/services both in the native country as well as moving goods/services between countries. A fully functioning global company has a culture and perspective that transcends the locale where it is registered or where its stock is listed.
For those companies desiring to be truly global, the development of an appropriate company culture cannot be left to chance – building the desired culture is a full-time job. A global company is not just a series of regional companies strung together under common ownership. Quickly one can see the need for tailored products/services and the delivery of these to satisfy the local or regional market expectations. But here is the bigger question: How do you build a team of people who recognize the need to serve the local market and effectively operate their assigned area while also being part of the bigger team where they can exchange ideas, get inspiration, and contribute to the advancement of the entire company?
Building an effective global culture is not inexpensive, nor is it a one-shot deal. It is a concept to which all senior leadership must commit and make a part of their daily actions. Human Resources can help with well planned global talent assessments, succession planning, and leadership skills development, including expatriate assignments. Cultural sensitivity training and facilitated mixed culture forums can start the process.
There has to be a Global Vision/Mission statement that is an anchor point for your leaders, irrespective of their home country. It must have longevity, addressing the business purpose and corporate values.
Perhaps the most powerful force in building a global company is the basic human trait to accept and bond with those we have come to know on a more personal basis. Audio/video conferencing is a nice tool once a relationship is established, but it is ineffective for establishing the relationship. To establish the bonds between people and break down inherent nationalistic, cultural and personal biases, people need to travel and partake in the cultures of their colleagues.
Forming a global team to implement a global or regional project (contrasted to a local team doing a global project) brings the best ideas forward and builds strong bonds that benefit the company well beyond the specific project. Functional leadership forums and best-practice sharing sessions break down barriers and drive the best ideas forward. Promoting those individuals that best demonstrate the desired culture will send powerful messages throughout the organization.
There is a large WATCH OUT. In the drive for a corporate global culture it is easy to inadvertently paint a picture that the “desired culture” is, for example, American or German or Chinese. To be most effective, a company’s global corporate culture must reflect a mix of the best qualities its participants have to offer.
One way to measure your success in building an effective global company culture is to monitor your recruitment results. Are you able to equally attract and retain talented people from all the countries you serve?