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
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.
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.
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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