#Local touch: get the actual locals on board
Two real life scenarios, one from the corporate world, one from an SME:
- Global Procurement team wants to standardize suppliers for a regional deal. Local colleagues in one country object and highlight that the chosen big supplier is not adhering to local legislation for that particular service. Central team ignores, goes ahead and learns on the Friday before the service is meant to be taken over from new supplier that new staff lack the correct local licenses and won't be allowed on premise. Frantic last minute calls to get the former supplier to send their (properly licenced) staff back in until new supplier has caught up. At a premium of course and with local senior management rather dismayed...
- SME comes in to present to present for a regional pitch opportunity. The briefing document has highlighted that knowledge of the key local markets in the region is essential and evidence will be rated. Sales team - all male, all same nationality, all same native language come in and proudly present some snapshots from the country where the presentation is held - as evidence that they have "understood" the local market. They mention they came in a whole day before to scout the city... Challenged they admit that they have failed to involve local colleagues in their company network and that they really did not understand the signage they took pictures of as none speak any language other than English...
Globalization has been around for a good while now. Many of us use in multinational environments and use terms like "diversity", "local know how" and similar frequently. Above are just two small examples where reality falls short of the buzzwords. In many companies, big or small, going beyond borders or speaking to customers (and employees) who are not like themselves is still done in the most clumsy way.
Headquarter arrogance, lack of understanding how to deal with other cultures and patronizing attitudes towards people whose first language is not the same, thinking only about internal narrow network and not using the many opportunities to get external experts on board are some of the contributing factors. But, if you get a project or brief that reads "international" treat it as such and chances are your own horizon is limited to one or at best a few cultural environments.
So, whether you are working or a large corporate or SME looking to do business with clients who have transnational requirements, think about the following:
- Use, really use the internal network. With digital technology/video calls colleagues around the world are accessible. Build that network before you need it and it will be easier to identify the right person and have them willing to support
- Make sure you get them involved at the start of the project and give them their proper role and credit. If someone's English (or other language) is not proficient, don't disregard them. Get them into the process and presentation. Make sure they fully understand the context and their contribution (often headquarter based staff know things they assume others do too which is not always true) and make this an opportunity for them to be visible as well (and not just a random local wheel in the background)
- If you don't have an international network, think about how you can access expertise. Your personal network, consultancies in local market, companies in a similar industry (network, network...), freelancers through knowledge brokers or platforms like Upwork. Options from cheap to expensive are available to the enterprising
- Make sure you really listen to local concerns and don't dismiss them as just "difficult" behaviour. In some cultures concerns are voiced very lightly, doesn't mean they are not there, similarly more vocal colleagues are not just being "obnoxious". If you don't - this may trip you up later on, see above example
- Showcase not just the local touch in the project, but also share the learnings of the process how to properly infuse a regional/global project with local knowledge and use it as an opportunity to provide exposure and motivate people in different locations. Sharing the glory is more glory!
We welcome comments on this article, for example - what are your experiences working in transnational project teams, how did you feel in a central versus local function, how did you showcase your local expertise to clients?
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