"Going Global: Is it the Right Solution for Your Firm?"
By Di Landau, president, Global Resources, Inc.

As the DOW reached a two-year low in late March and companies such as 3Com, HP, Cisco, Conexant and Lucent announced layoffs, many executives wondered whether the downturn was centered in the U.S. We received many queries from our clients: "Should I be focusing resources toward overseas markets and opportunities? Am I too domestically focused in my business?"

Going "global" is not right for every organization, and while globalization was a buzzword of the '90s and remains a rallying cry today, it involves much more than suddenly deciding to attend a trade show in Frankfurt or hosting the next Brazilian IT delegation to the U.S. In fact, going global requires a systematic organizational, product, and market assessment and a true reality check on your firm's capabilities. You heard it from the Army first. Going global is not just a job; it's an adventure.

I'll never forget my first impressions when I joined AT&T Network Systems (now Lucent Technologies) in the mid-'80s. I was hired to help launch business in India for the Fortune 500 firm whose commitment to "international" had been in its markets of choice: the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan. When I attended my first senior management reception, I asked an ATT-NS US-based executive which country he most enjoyed visiting. He looked a bit blank and said, "I would need a passport to go somewhere overseas, right?" It was a big organizational clue. It turned out half of the executive board did not even own passports.

If you think there are overseas opportunities for your products and services, we suggest that you start your international quest in your own backyard. Assemble your executives and team leaders, and take inventory. Have everyone look at one another and ask all of them to think about each colleague's visual and vocal clues. What does the skin color say? Eye shape? Hair texture? Is there a discernable accent when an individual speaks? Then consider ascertaining cultural information:

  • Please raise your hand if you were born in the U.S. and have lived here your entire life.

  • Those of you with a raised hand, take a look at colleagues around you who do not have their hands raised. Where do you think these individuals are from? Where might they have lived? (List answers on the board.)

  • Those of you who did not raise your hands: Where were you born? Where have you lived?

Individuals who take the time and effort to analyze the environment in which they live and work have a framework for analyzing their own and others' behaviors and needs. If the leaders in your organization possess these competencies and enjoy using them, you have the basis for a great international team -- one that may wish to work with people from different cultures and travel in exciting places. But do they realize the flip side? Disruption of personal and family schedules, long workdays to accommodate time zone differences, and a lot of time in unfamiliar places without friends or common language can be difficult. Not every personality wants or is well-suited to that type of adventure.

And an organization can't globalize if its people have no familiarity or interest in learning about the distinct environmental and operational challenges in each country in which the organization becomes involved.

So now try stage 2.

  • Who has traveled overseas? (Make a list on the board.)

By now you should have a reasonable list of places to talk about and a chance to make a realistic assessment of the capacity of the organization to become interested in and successfully pursue international work.

What happens if hands don't rise? What happens if you know that your industry has globalized, that your workforce needs to globalize, but your team is domestically oriented?

Take a seat and a deep breath, and ask your team how it feels about international work. You may learn that there are things to work on at home, prior to chasing international opportunities. You may need flexible work hours for team members who would love to handle conference calls with Asia at 6:00 a.m. but can't do so under current company policies. You may need international business training for people who don't know what the FSU, Mercusor or ASEAN are. Perhaps it is time to start country briefings so that while you touch the cross-cultural, human component inside the company, you can also begin the next challenge: developing the team's analytic skills that will turn international adventures into company profit.


Di Landau is president of Global Resources, Inc., a global telecommunications and information technology consulting and training firm that is based in Irvine, Calif., with offices in Bridgewater, N.J. and worldwide affiliates. For information, call (949) 721-0323 or visit www.global-resources.com


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