Sunday, July 30, 2006

Managing Global Careers - Dealing with Culture Shock

Today’s global companies operate in highly competitive business environment, they need executives who understand the world and have had experience working in numerous countries/continents. So, today if you were to interview senior executives in any companies will agree that having international experience is vital for career growth. And for organizations having managers with international experience is a source of competitive advantage.

Traditionally MNCs have sent one of their top performers abroad for senior roles abroad. Expatriates were expected to live and work aboard for an extended period of time. These long term foreign assignments were meant to enhance their (expats) career and the organization had someone whom they trust working for them in a foreign outpost. Since persons selected for a foreign assignment were top performers at home, it was assumed that they will succeed abroad too. But after studying expats performance abroad, it has become clear that a top performer may not necessarily perform at the same level abroad and in reality their performance actually drops substantially during the first year of a foreign assignment. Many expats feel dejected in their foreign assignments during first few months that they request a transfer back home or simply change jobs. The main reason for the failure of an employee sent abroad is Culture Shock.

Global Soft Skills

In this article, I will write about dealing with culture shock. In my earlier article on Soft Skills for Global Managers, I had written about the importance of soft skills. However these soft skills are not something that an expat will be armed with when he goes abroad. In most organizations, virtually no training is provided for people who are sent abroad for an extended periods of time (this is changing a bit though - a few MNCs have a one day training program or some form of training - but these are largely inadequate) Almost all organizations today do not have a process in place to manage cross-cultural transitions.

Moreover these soft skills have to be developed over a period of time. In my study, I found that people face the brunt of the culture shock during the time they are learning these vital soft skills.

In other words, getting the requisite soft skills is essential for one to overcome the culture shock.

What is Culture Shock

In a nutshell, culture shock is a state of mind or mood of the expat. When a person is sent abroad - a person undergoes a mood swing: From a high when he/she is selected to go abroad to a low when making the necessary cultural transition. The culture shock occurs during this low phase (see figure-2).

When a person is selected to go abroad he/she feels ‘high’. They are happy and feel rewarded and eagerly look forward for the new assignment. Once in the foreign country, every new thing they encounter is seen as a challenge: finding a taxi or find one’s way to the office or getting around the town etc. At this point in time, people also become a part tourist - they are eager to see interesting places and learn about the place’s history etc. The individual’s mood is at the highest at this point of time. Slowly the mood swings towards a low. After a period of time, the sense of adventure disappears and people start to complain about how different things are in this (foreign) country when compared to their home country. If there is a language barrier - then communication becomes an issue and that further depresses the individual. I have seen that communication in the same language - say English to English becomes a barrier because English spoken in Asia is a lot different than the one spoken in England or US. The person is now more sensitive to cultural differences between his culture and the foreign culture. Every minor change is treated with disdain. And at end of the day, the person is stressed out and depressed. This is called as the culture shock.

Culture shock can be primarily attributed to difference between the cultures of the manager’s native country, work organization and work group and that of the new country, local organization, and local work cultures.

During this phase of culture shock, expat managers find work to be very difficult. Managers often find fault in other people’s behavior and work and even more disconcerting - that their own behavior does not produce the expected results. Expat managers find that the new work environment makes new demands for which they are unprepared and they don’t have the ability to respond to these new demands.


People who are facing culture shock also face high levels of stress. This stress is caused by change: Change of country, change of work culture, change of organization. Separation from family (parents, spouse & children) and friends increases stress. This when added with a sense of loneliness in a new country with different perceptions and conflicting values can exacerbate stress.

Adding to this problem is the fact that expat managers feel that they do not have adequate support structures from their organization to deal with this stress. This makes them angry and spiteful against their organization.

Stress from culture shock make take many forms: anger, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, embarrassment, impatience, identity confusion, irritation, short - temperedness etc. Stress can also cause physiological problems such as sleeplessness, headaches, stomach upsets, trembling hands, high blood pressure and in some cases even a heart attack.

The stress on the individual cannot be suppressed for long and eventually it will start affecting his/her work.

The most common symptom is: Blaming the host nationals or local employees.
Often times, expat managers will blame local employees for every little thing: "You [foreigners] are stupid and cannot even do simple things"

"An Italian manager was sent to United States. One day he sent his travel schedule to his secretary and expected her to do the needful. But on the day of travel he was shocked that none of the travel arrangements were done. He was furious and blamed the secretary of incompetence. Later his other Italian colleague told him that in America, secretaries will do the work only if they are asked to. Sending his travel schedule did not translate to asking his secretary to do the necessary arrangements. Next time the manager began asking his secretary to make the travel arrangements and then they started getting along very well."

The above is an example of how different work cultures results in a blame game.

The next common symptom is: Blaming the company.
Companies cannot tell everything, train the expat manager in everything, so when expat manager does not find something or finds something going wrong he blames the company: "How does the company expect me to do sales if they can’t provide me the address/phone number of the customer?"

The least seen and yet the most common symptom is: Blaming the spouse.
Spouses get blamed for everything - but since this takes place discreetly in the privacy of a house, organizations rarely see it. Blaming the spouse results in greater stress - as they lose the one place where the can relax.

Dealing with Stress

The most common way one deals with stress is blaming the spouse, company and others. But this is the least productive way of dealing with stress. One does not get far by blaming others.
Successful global managers develop their own techniques to deal with stress from culture shock.

Successful managers understand that their own culture is vastly different than that of the host country - and they seek to understand the host country’s culture, the local organization’s culture and the local work group’s culture. During the process they recruit a local "mentor" who is from the host country and they seek to learn the new culture from them: By observing, by learning and by mimicking them. Global mangers slowly learn the do’s and don’ts of the foreign culture.

Comfort Zones are another means of coping with stress. Expat managers slowly create their comfort zones: A dedicated time & place to interact with people from their own culture to recreate their home environment in a new location. This creates a comfortable zone around them. For example going to their home country restaurants on the weekends, going to temples (in case of Indians) or Going to church etc.

Develop other stress reduction mechanisms: Successful expat managers develop highly effective and creative stress reduction techniques. I have seen Indian expat managers practice yoga or play music or involve in some creative activity - like me. I indulge in photography and immerse myself in writing blogs & poetry to deal with stress.

Getting Over the Culture Shock

Normally it takes about three to six months to get over the culture shock and start living a normal life abroad. Slowly but steadily, expat managers learn the subtle nuances of the foreign culture. They learn what the foreign culture considers important and meaningful. They learn what to focus on and what to ignore. They learn when "yes" means YES, when "yes" means MAYBE, and when "yes" means "no". Managers learn to differentiate an individual’s behavior from the national culture.

Over a period of time, they learn to appreciate the foreign culture, learn how to deliver in a foreign environment and stop blaming others. Successful global managers develop creative solutions to existing problems - by creating a fusion of their national culture and the new foreign culture.

Can Companies Help?

Companies or organizations can help a great deal in reducing the culture shock and the associated stress the employee goes through.

Organize a training program. In the first stage, companies must organize a training program aimed at educating the expat manager about the culture of the foreign country. Training programs should contain:

  • Work culture in the [foreign] country
  • Working effectively in the [foreign] country
  • Living (costs, lifestyle) in the [foreign] country
  • Social life (norms, mores etc.) in the [foreign] country
  • Work-life balance in the [foreign] country
Spouse and family members must also be invited to these training sessions. This will help the entire family cope with the culture shock.

Appoint a Mentor. Another good practice will be to appoint a mentor - who is a local national in the foreign country to assist the expat manager in dealing with cultural issues. This mentor - protégé mechanism is very important for the expat manager to become productive and successful in the new environment.

Prepare an introductory package. The local office in the foreign country should prepare an introductory package for all expats coming there. This package contains all the important information like: details of local medicare, policies of local banks, names/address/phone numbers of estate agents, Information on how to get local phone/electricity/utilities connection, Information on local rules & regulations etc.

Have a local orientation program. Once an expat comes to the new office, he/she must be formally introduced to the local employees and have a local orientation program to teach the local work culture to the expat manager.

Closing Thoughts

Culture shock creates a new set of challenges for the expat managers and it is the leading cause for the manager’s failure abroad. Culture shock is inevitable while working in a foreign country for the first time.

Therefore Expat managers must be prepared to face the culture shock and the associated stress. The better the preparation, the faster the expat gets out of the culture shock. Organizations must take an active role in preparing the expat manager to work abroad - conduct training programs, have a mentor program etc.

Also See

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Daily Morning Meetings - Make multi-cultural teams perform

In my earlier articles on making multi-cultural teams work, I had talked about some of the steps needed to create a high performance teams. One of the points I made in that article was the importance of the communication skills needed by the team members. But having above average communication skills alone is not enough. The team leader should take few more steps to ensure that the members are communicating effectively during the forming, norming and storming stages of team development.

In this article, I will write about one very effective technique to make multi-cultural teams work. I call it daily morning meetings.

Effective communications

The biggest bane of multi-cultural teams is that inter-team communication is stifled - leading to chronic communication problems and that results in lack of shared accountability. The team leader is then left to grapple with turf wars instead of dealing with strategic & operational challenges. This results in wastage of team expertise and energy, lack of shared accountability - which in-turn results in personalizing the problem: "It is 'his' problem - so he has to fix it"

To cut through this issue, the solution is a daily morning meeting. The basic idea is very simple, the team leader calls for a brief meeting of all team members at the beginning of the day' work. The team discusses the tasks, targets for the day, reviews yesterday's work and plans the days work. All decisions are made/reviewed in front of all the team members. Any disputes/differences are resolved during this meeting. These meetings ensure that hard conversations happen - issues are brought out in open and accountability is shared. All members feel responsible for the team's results.

Meeting procedure

Several times in the past, I had initiated daily team meetings. The entire team meets every morning, every day at the same place and same time. There are no preset agenda for this meeting. Instead everyone focuses on the task done the day before, the task at hand and the challenges that must be overcome. If there are new members joining the team, they are introduced to rest of the team. The team leader may or may not run the meeting. Members take turns to speak - thus ensure that every member gets a chance to speak. Issues raised by members are resolved immediately (if possible).

Note: In case of geographically dispersed teams, the meetings are conducted over a t-con.

The ground rules:

  • Anyone can put anything for discussion. The issue need not be related to his/her area of responsibility. Everyone are free to comment on every issue raised - even if its not their area of responsibility.
  • Once issues are raised, decisions have to be taken to resolve the issues. Implementation plans are also discussed and agreed upon. In case of sensitive issues, consensus between team members have to arrived at.
  • Once an issue is fully vetted, the team leader determines the decision rule that will govern it. He decides whether he will make the final call, whether a particular individual or subgroup will make it, or whether it will be made by group consensus.
  • Changing one's mind, even in the middle of the conversation, is OK, and even respected. Not having an opinion on an issue is also OK.
  • All facts are openly discussed. Participants can raise the subject in the next meeting if the issues are not resolved.


Team members feel responsible for the organization. Problem faced by any individual member becomes a team problem. By inviting expertise and skills from all members - a richer & a better solution can be found for the existing problems.

Team members are encouraged to do their work better - with inputs from other members.

Miscommunication is minimized, intra team conflicts, turf protection, and second-guessing are dramatically reduced. Difficult conversations, tough issues, cultural differences are brought out and issues are resolved openly.

Closing thoughts

Morning meetings work the best in integrating a multi-cultural teams during its initial stages - team forming, team norming and team storming. Once the team is in the performing mode, daily meetings are not necessary. At that point, daily meetings become a hindrance and must be stopped.

In case of a geographically dispersed teams, the daily meetings has to be scheduled at a convenient time for all members to attend. These meetings must be held over a teleconference so that team members can attend the meetings even from their homes.

However for best results, a face-to-face meetings are ideal. Budget permitting, the entire team must be assembled in one place during the initial stages. Once the team works out the clinks and starts performing, members can go back to their respective offices.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Improved Cross-cultural Communication Increases Productivity

A recent study by Accenture found that lack of cross cultural understanding is hindering effective global sourcing. Accenture is increasingly using global delivery of IT solutions. The highlights of the study is given below. One can read the entire survey results here.

A study based on survey of 200 US business executives found that:

  • 66% of the respondents had experienced miscommunication issues with their global sourcing partners
  • Offering cross-cultural training to their employees reduced the number of instances of miscommunications
  • Executives believe adopting cross-cultural communication training programs can increase productivity by 26 percent, on average.
Main factors causing problems between onshore and offshore workers are:
  • Different communications styles (76 percent)
  • Different approaches to completing tasks (53 percent)
  • Different attitudes toward conflict (44 percent)
  • Different decision-making styles (44 percent).

The survey also found that providing cross-cultural training resulted in lower attrition, increase in employee morale and higher productivity.

Closing Thoughts

Having a global delivery team increases cultural diversity, but diversity creates communication problems. To overcome such problems, employees must be trained in cross-cultural communication skills and global soft skills as these skills are essential for success in a global project delivery.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Managing Diversity for High Performance

In my previous article, I had written about the need to create a diverse teams and what can be done to build a culturally diverse team. As a feedback to this article, Mr. Peter Petzal from 2CInternational, raised a valid point that creating a culturally diverse team alone does not ensure success. This forms the basis of this article - where we can take a deeper look into how a culturally diverse team can be managed for performance.

It has been observed that not all multicultural teams are successful or equally productive. Some multicultural teams are highly productive, while some are a disaster. By observing these successful and those not-so-successful multicultural teams for an extended period of time and from my experience in working in a multicultural environment, I have come to some conclusions which will be described below. Please bear in mind that there may be other important reasons which may cause the success or failure of multi-culture teams.

Team Creation

Success of a team has a lot to do with the team creation. How the multicultural team is created has a huge impact on the performance of the team.

In many organizations, the management is in a hurry to create a diverse team. As a quick way, a team is created such that there is at least one representative from every culture or diverse groups. Such teams often fail. This representative teams are created on ad-hoc basis with little synergy between the team members. As a result, management of the team becomes difficult and members see little reason to collaborate.

Basic Parameters

Creating a culturally diverse team and identifying the team leader must be done carefully. All members of the team must have above average communication skills, must be able to acknowledge the fact that other members of the team may have different views/opinions, and must have a open mind to create a new social norms for interacting. This forms the foundation of creating a successful multicultural team.

Capability based selection

Members selected into a diverse team must have synergetic skill sets. Members must be solely selected on their task related abilities. A wide disparity among the members experience, abilities and education creates a negative environment and causes tensions within the team.

Typically, every successful multicultural team will have diverse viewpoints or attitudes but the team will be homogenous in ability levels. Such a team can then take advantage of its diverse opinions and once a decision is made, the members can trust the other members to execute the task.

Overcoming Differences

Team members must have the basic understanding that different members of their team will have different opinions - and these opinions are based on their cultural background, past experiences and their perception of reality. In a diverse team most members will have a different opinion. This fact must be accepted and respected by all team members. Those who do not tolerate differences should not be members of this team.

Many times team members become intolerant to those who have different opinions than their own - this is mainly due to the ignorance and a parochial attitude. Having better communication skills will help members overcome cultural differences. In some cases, team building exercises are necessary during the team forming days to help members get rid of their initial apprehensions.

A key requirement for success is that members of a multicultural team must acknowledge cultural differences among themselves. No member of the team must be allowed to stereotype other member of the team - every member must have a basic understand & appreciate of other member’s culture.

Many years ago while working with a team developing a Network processor. I had seen first hand the need to recognize cultural differences. Our team had members from India, China, Peru, USA, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea and Pakistan. Given the diversity in their nationalities, there were several things common among the members:

  • All had similar educational backgrounds - MSEE from American Universities
  • All had very good communication skills - Excellent command over English language
  • All had an open mind to see & understand cultural differences. No member got offended by other’s habits or preferences
  • Excellent team leadership: My manger was capable of working with such diversity and had the required leadership skills to steer the team to success.
Leadership Skills

Team formation is just one half of the requirement for success. The other half is leadership.

Team leader must be capable of creating synergy among team members by identifying each member’s strength and weakness and using the team members such that everyone’s best talents are utilized. He must be able overcome any of this internal prejudices by acknowledging the cultural differences and must create a goal for rest of the members.
The chosen team leader must have at least these four abilities:
  1. Establish a Vision
  2. Create Mutual respect
  3. Equalize power among members
  4. Give a honest feedback
Establish a Vision or a Common Goal

In the initial days, most multicultural teams will have difficulty in establishing the goals and also the means to achieve these goals. Members will have difficulty in agreeing to the purpose. Any initial misunderstanding must be resolved quickly. This is where members will look upon the team leader. A leader must be able to clearly establish the goal, the purpose of achieving the goal and get everyone's buy-in on it.

Intel - which is a culturally diverse organization has developed a unique way of overcoming cultural differences in establishing common goals. In Intel, the team leader is the final authority in making the final making decision - but before making the decision, he/she must consult with all members of the team and try to get consensus. Once the final decision is made, no member of the team can oppose the idea - and every member is then committed to the agreed goals even if the individual does not agree with the idea. This is called "Disagree but Commit": i.e. Members may disagree initially but once the goal is set all members are committed towards that goal.
The common goal which is set by the team leader must be defined broadly and give a general direction and focus to the team’s activities. Achieving these goals will require collaboration and cooperation between members - this helps in reducing prejudices and increases mutual respect.

Create Mutual respect

Most people in this world will have a belief that their culture is superior than that of the others. In addition, people’s view are often distorted due to their cultural background. This ethnocentrism reflects a view of things in which one’s own culture is the center of everything and others are scaled & rated with reference to it. This prejudice is harmful and dangerous to the cohesion of the team.

The role of the team leader is to decrease prejudices by increasing the opportunity of contacts between members - this creates a cross ethnic acceptance and friendship. Thus creating a mutual respect between team members. Care should be taken to ensure that people who are interacting with each other have similar or equal skill sets. This reduces the chances of judgments by members based on stereotypes.

Equalizing Power

For a team to work in cohesion, no ethnic group within a team must be given disproportionate power. If one group has more power than others, it results in cultural dominance of one group over the others. Thus forcing members of subjugated group complain of favoritism or glass ceiling etc.

Team leader must ensure that the power within the team is equally distributed. The distribution of power, tasks and associated authority must be clearly explained to all members - while ensuring that the tasks assigned are inline with the member’s ability to perform.

Giving Feedback

Culturally diverse teams often have difficulty in collectively agreeing on the tasks or agreeing on what constitutes a good decision. The team leader’s role in such a situation is to clearly explain the rational behind each idea and convince those who are skeptical. This is achieved by providing timely feedback in private or at times in public. Leaders must give positive feedback on the chosen process/path and goals to individuals and the team. By this I mean, the leader should not criticize other’s ideas - instead he must explain why the chosen idea is better. A rule of thumb - Leaders must avoid negative feedback and rely mostly on positive feedback

Closing Thoughts

Culturally diverse teams are capable of producing superior performance when compared to homogenous teams. Organizations around the world are recognizing the value of a culturally diverse teams and are actively promoting diversity. However, care must be taken to ensure that the team can perform by removing: mistrust, misunderstandings, miscommunications, stress and lack of cohesion.
Diversity when well managed will produce a superior result. To check the validity of this statement - just see the development teams of all the successful products around you: Adobe Photoshop, Intel Centrino, Windows XP, etc.

Also See:

  1. Building a diverse Workforce
  2. Leadership & Diversity
  3. Why have International work experience?
  4. Global Manager
  5. Women's day: A brief history and Implication to firms
  6. Developing a Global Mindset
  7. Leadership for a Global Enterprise
  8. Global Product Development Teams
  9. Value of International Work Experience
  10. Global Careers and Culture Shock
  11. Role of Leadership in Team building
  12. Building a company of Leaders
  13. International Staffing Strategy

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Getting Customer Testimonials

  • "BT has delivered on all of the objectives we set out at the beginning of the project, the most important of which was the high availability of the network."Craig Donald, Veritas
  • "BT gave a new meaning to the word Service. This is very clear in BT's SLAs." Bart Kerkhofs, BDO
  • "Without the help of Infosys, we would have had to postpone large projects for years. We would have suffered as a result." Terry Morgan CIO and Senior VP, Food Lion
  • "BT takes a flexible approach to our requirements, providing us cost-effective solutions with intelligent migration strategies."Hubertus Schilling, Rodenstock
  • "We have found in BT a strong and competent partner who meets our requirements to the fullest."Robert Neumaier, HypoVereinsbank

People buy things/services from whom they trust. The most effective way to convert prospects into first-time buyers is always testimonials from satisfied customers. This business knowledge is almost a common knowledge. So I am not going to write about the value/benefits of customer testimonials in this article. Instead lets take a look at how one should go about collecting customer testimonials and What should these testimonials say?

Solicited & Unsolicited Testimonials

There are only two types of testimonials - Solicited & Unsolicited. Unsolicited testimonials come at your door step with you asking for it. Customer takes the initiative upon himself and tells you what he thinks/feels about your product/service - and has no reservations on quoting him on that testimonial. Today the most popular way to get unsolicited testimonials is via E-mail or over a phone conversations and in a few cases by snail mail.

Unsolicited testimonials are common when the product/service is new and often is also forms a new category. Under such circumstances, customers will be delighted that somebody had solved their long latent needs. Services such as Vonage, Ebay, Napster etc., got a lot of unsolicited testimonials in their early years.

These unsolicited testimonials are often lost within the company and are seldom used. Given the potential of testimonials to create demand in a new category or a new product, many marketers find it surprising that these testimonials are lost or not used. But in business reality, it is hardly surprising. Firstly these were unsolicited testimonials - i.e., nobody was expecting it. Therefore nobody bothered to collect, document and store it. The person who received the testimonial may not know what to do with it. Moreover if the product or the business is new, then the organization may not have the systems in place to deal with unsolicited testimonials. So it often gets lost.

My recommendation in handling unsolicited testimonials is to collect it & send it to marketing department. All employees must be informed as to what they should do with such unsolicited testimonials. Next, the marketing department should collect, categorize and document it. Judiciously select the best of these unsolicited testimonials and use them liberally wherever it is appropriate: Website, Newsletters, emails to customers, brochures, handouts etc.

Solicited Testimonials

Unsolicited testimonials are common in new products or services. But a vast majority (>95%) of businesses run on existing products/services. Here, marketers have to sweat it out to get good testimonials. It takes a lot of work: planning and execution to get testimonials.
Organizations will first have to plan on how to get these testimonials and from whom and what it should say. The best way to collect testimonials is to encourage the customer to give one via:
  • Feedback forms: E.g.. Comment cards at restaurants, retail stores etc. or customer satisfaction survey for B2B products/services
  • Website comment section
  • Post-purchase customer survey or phone calls
  • Warranty cards or registration form
The above methods of collecting testimonials may be useful - but the results may not be favorable - i.e., the testimonials given may not be usable - due to inappropriate wordings or too banal statements. For example, the most popular testimonial at a restaurant or a small business are: "Excellent Food", "Excellent service", "Better than what I expected" etc.
Though these testimonials are real, they are unusable - because it does not tell anything to a prospective customer.

The best way to collect testimonials is to call on a customer and press upon him to give one. This is particularly useful in B2B environment - where one can get CEO, VP, CFO CIO or other high ranking executive to give a favorable testimonial.

This raises the next question: Who should write the testimonial??

Since most of the top executives are busy people, they will not be having time to sit down and write an eloquent and appropriate testimonial. This implies that the marketing department must write a series of good, eloquent and appropriate testimonials and then allow the customer to select one or two among them and if needed work with the customer to edit the testimonial you prepared for him.

Remember that it is important to get a better testimonial from the customer than the one you wrote. So encourage your customer to write a better one than the choices made available to him. The best way to do that is to have a set of testimonials at the top of the page, and at the bottom have an empty section titled: "I can do Better than that: __________________"

This encourages the customer to think and write a very good testimonial. By making the customer write a testimonial, you will gain a bigger mind share of the customer and that increases your chances of repeat orders.

Requirements of a good Testimonial

Now that we have figured out how to get a testimonial, the next question is to decide on a good testimonial. A good testimonial should have four characteristics:
  1. Name & designation attached to it. Designation is very important for B2B products or services. E.g.: "Terry Morgan CIO and Senior VP, Food Lion"
  2. Brevity: Testimonials must be 3 sentences or less and less than 15-16 words. The message should be short, appropriate and sweet. E.g: "BT has delivered on all of the objectives we set out at the beginning of the project, the most important of which was the high availability of the network."
  3. An Emotion: An emotional statement captures readers attention. E.g: "Without the help of Infosys, we would have had to postpone large projects for years. We would have suffered as a result."
  4. Clearly Defined Benefit: The reader must see the benefit you are offering. Otherwise your prospect may not register the testimonial in his mind. E.g.: "We have found in BT a strong and competent partner who meets our requirements to the fullest."
Closing Thoughts

Testimonials are one of the most powerful tools in your marketing toolkit. Use them when you want to establish credibility, gain trust or generate word of mouth for your business. The right testimonial, placed strategically will go a long way towards closing a deal.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Develop a Successful Public Relations

Last month, a friend of mine - Aijaz Qaisar had his first painting exhibition at Chitra Kala Parishat in Bangalore. Aijaz is a highly talented artist - but he had never exhibited his work, consequently not recognized in the art world. All this changed after his first exhibition. The exhibition was a success - Aijaz has been invited to exhibit his paintings in Singapore. Shortly, I expect Aijaz to have a string of successful exhibitions in Europe also. (See his Paintings)

Aijaz being my former colleague, I had long discussions on marketing of art with him. Being a photographer myself & having a couple of exhibitions under my belt - there were few pointers I could give him. Among all the marketing ideas we discussed, Public Relations is the most important for an artist - so this article is about the importance of public relations as a marketing tool.
(Painting by Aijaz)

What is Public Relations

Public Relations by definition is the relationship a person/indivisual/organization has with the general public. This relationship is largely characterized by the messages sent to the public by the individual/organization. Since the message is meant for the public audience - press media will be interested in distributing the message among the public. Today the most popular medium for sending messages to public are: Newspapers, magazines, TV-News channels, Radio and Internet - popularly called as media.

Cost Effective communications

Public relations can be cost effective because the media - rather than the marketer takes on the expense of delivering the information to the intended recipient. So instead of sending a direct mail piece to 100,000 prospects, the marketer can publish an article in a magazine that is delivered to these same prospects at the much lower cost of creating the article and convincing the publication to run it.

If the media were to carry the message, then there must be some benefit to these companies - the message carried by the media must be relevant and useful to it’s customers. Therefore understanding the needs of the relevant media is critical in a successful public relations efforts.

Reliance on Contributed Material

The most important differentiating factor among media is the amount of editorial matter they generate themselves versus that which is contributed by outside experts. Typically, publications that target a very large audience generate most of all of their own editorial material.

Newspapers, magazines, TV & Radio channels etc. have a well staffed editorial departments to generate all the content. Smaller publications such as specialized magazines, trade journals etc. do not have adequate editorial staff to generate all the content.

However, both large & small media houses do need help in form of contributed materials. Editorial staff in large media houses may not have the requisite in depth expertise on all subjects. This makes it necessary for individuals/Organizations to work closely with the editorial staff and help generate the content.

For an artist - a painter, need prepare a press kit which describes his art and his expertise. This becomes essential as each artist has his own views & themes, which may be difficult for others to understand without the press kit. Editorial staff can use this press kit in compiling the news. If the individual/organization is unable to produce a press kit on their own, they can hire a full time public relations staff or contract with an agency to liaison & interact with media.

A major drawback of these public relations agencies is that they typically require a substantial retainer (often ranging into five figures per month) for a substantial period of commitment. This retainer limits the ability of individual/organization in using these agencies. This is particularly limiting for a budding artist. Therefore the individual must develop his own press kit and also liaison with the media.

Many of these publications are willing to publish material submitted by interested parties, but they are highly selective regarding the type of material they publish. So, success is determined, first and foremost, by the individuals/organiziation’s ability to produce often quite technical yet clearly written articles. Another important success factor is to stay in touch with the publications to determine what subjects they are interested in at that particular time.

Aijaz first crafted his painting exhibition on the central theme of ‘Abuse of Women in India’. Being from Kashmir, Aijaz could then create a media buzz around the Kashmir Sex scandal - by having paintings which depict violence & crime against women. To get the media more interested in his paintings, Aijaz had then created an excellent press kit -which had a detailed description of this paintings, what it means and why he chose such topics. Given the media attention to Kashmir Sex Scandal and with the associated press kit, the media was eager to publish about it.

Use of Freelancers

High expense of PR agencies has created opportunity for freelancers to step-in. Freelancers have the technical knowledge in a specific industry and know how to work with the media. Often former magazine editors, they can provide knowledge in producing articles in a specific area. Freelancers are typically individual operators who handle the writing and the associated tasks of working with editors to place the articles, working with information sources on approvals, obtaining illustrations and so on.

Another option is the emergence of a new breed of project-oriented public relations provider that combines technical expertise in providing contributed articles in a range of technical fields, along with a staff that can fulfill the ancillary tasks required to bring an article to publication. Project-based agencies are typically paid only for work completed, such as an article written. They often charge only for success in their placement efforts.

Matching Material to the audience

The press kit and the associated set of contributed articles that you are producing must be of interest to the readers/viewers.

It's also important to stay on top of opportunities in getting publicity, which typically requires knowledge of the upcoming events. For example, Aijaz should now concentrate on exhibiting his art work during Bangalore Habba. Associating with such high profile public events will get other (non-targeted media) to write about his paintings.

Closing Thoughts

Public relations offers the most credibility and best bang for the buck of any marketing communications vehicle for individual artists and small organizations. For just that reason, there's a huge amount of competition to get space in media that reach major buyers. To maximize your return on your public relations investment, be sure that your effort fits the operating practices of the media you are trying to reach and have an appropriate message ready for the media.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Celebrity Endorsments as a Strategy

In my previous article on Globally Integrated Marketing Communications, I had explained how Tiger Woods’s endorsement of Accenture is beneficial to the company in sending the message of high performance. This is just an example of having celebrity endorsement. Marketers of consumer products have long used celebrities to endorse their product - and this has become a common strategy. I, therefore have chosen to write about the theory and the intentions behind the strategy of using celebrity endorsements.

Objectives of Marketing Communications

Defining the objectives of the advertisements is the first step. In general, there are four major objectives for any advertisement. Note that not all advertisements need not have all the objectives.

  1. Establish the product need

    Establishing a need for a product or a product category is the necessary first step. This is more important in new-to-world category of products. For example iPod or TVIO, or Playstation or indoor barbecue grill or Hair tonic or Oxyclean etc..

    In Indian context, consider the advertisement for Polio Immunization drive - the TV advertisement featured Amitab Bachan telling that immunization is a must for every child - while people suffering from polio are shown in the background along with healthy kids. This advertisement used a celebrity to create the need for polio immunization.

    Another good example is Toyota’s advertisement of Innova in India. The TV advertisement prominently shows Amir Khan playing different roles while traveling in an Innova. The different roles - establish the need for such a big car in India. ( Note that Indian car market is dominated by small cars - which can seat only four adults, Toyota wanted to establish the need for a 8 seater car in India)

  2. Create Brand Awareness

    Once the need for a product is established, customers must be able to associate the brand with the product category. For example iPod is strongly associated with portable MP3 players, TVIO is associated with DVRs, Nike with sports shoes etc..

    A classic example of this is Nike’s use of Michael Jordan advertising for Nike. This advertisement instantly created a strong association of Nike with basketball shoes.

  3. Set customer expectations

    Brand value comes from the customers experience with the product. If the product meets or beats his expectations, then a positive brand image is created, else a negative brand image is created. Therefore it is essential to set the customer expectations accordingly.

    This is most common in established consumer products - Beauty products, household cleaning products, food products etc..

    Consider the advertisement of Burger King featuring Shaquel O’Neal eating a burger with a very satisfied look in his face!
  4. Create a purchase intention

    These are marketing promotion advertisements - Buy one, get one free, or get additional discounts if you buy within a particular date etc.. The sole purpose of such communication messages is to encourage customers to buy immediately or within a short period after seeing

    Use of celebrity endorsements to create a purchase intention has been very limited. This is mainly because such advertisements adversely affect the personality brand value of the celebrity. Being associated with a discount deal is not favorable image for the celebrity and the customer.

Celebrities in Positive & Negative Messages

Celebrity appeal does not work with negative communication messages. Advertisements which are based on guilt, fear or shame cannot use a celebrity in the advertisements. For example advertisements which show the danger of drunken driving or anti-smoking etc. are not suitable of celebrity endorsements.

Organizations have tried using movie stars and sports personalities to send anti-drugs messages - but they all have failed. For example Indian Health Ministry used Kapil Dev in an anti-drug abuse advertisement. Though Kapil Dev is a well known cricket player and has a very strong brand appeal, the communication message failed. The main reasons why celebrities cannot induce the desired effect in a negative advertisement is that the viewers do not associate celebrities with the message. In case of Kapil Dev in an anti-drug abuse advertisement, viewers did not associate Kapil Dev with drug abuse - so his appeal was ineffective.

In general celebrity endorsements work the best when the marketing communication message is based on positive emotional appeals: Love, Humor, Success, Pride, Joy, Happiness, sex appeal, etc.. This is because people normally associate positive image with celebrities.

Positive emotional appeal is a double edged sword. If the celebrity gets involved in a scandal or get adverse negative publicity - then the brand or brand message associated with the celebrity also suffers. For this reason Nike & McDonalds pulled out advertisements featuring Kobe Bryant when Kobe was accused of rape. Mohammed Azzarudin was removed as brand ambassador for TISSOT when he was found guilty of match fixing.

Today celebrity endorsement contracts are written in such a way that companies can easily walk out of an endorsement contract and can collect for damages if the celebrity gets involved in a scandal.

Choice of Celebrity

The choice of celebrity is critical for the success of the advertisement. The celebrity should have high recognition, high positive affect, and the image of the celebrity must match with that of the product. For this reason, famous sportsmen are used to endorse sporting goods: Michael Jordan & Nike, Tiger Woods and Nike, David Beckham endorses Adidas, etc.. While it is totally inappropriate for movie stars to endorse a sports product - like Bill Cosby advertising for a sports shoe.

Celebrity endorsements are now springing up everywhere. Movie stars are now endorsing a whole range of products: Beauty care products, cars, food products, fashion & fashion accessories, lifestyle products, the list is almost limitless. These days, celebrities are being used to endorse medicines too. Bob Dole endorses Viagra and Wasim Akram (Pakistani cricket player) endorses Biocon’s insulin.

Celebrity endorsements can be used more strategically - Celebrities can use their expertise to improve the product, define the market position and sell the product. Nike has enrolled Tiger Woods as a consultant for its Golfing products. Tiger Woods played a key role in developing new products and sales of Nike’s golfing products skyrocketed. Another example is Salton’s George Foreman Grill. Salton, the company which developed this indoor grill had a tough time selling it before George Foreman came into the picture. The sales took off when George Foreman - a two time world boxing champion endorsed the advertised the product in QVC channel.

The cost benefit analysis of using celebrity in marketing communications is bit tricky. But the general belief is that using celebrity is a lot cheaper in building a brand. For example, S.Kumar’s built the brand "Reed & Taylor’s" as a premier suiting material by having Amitab Bachan in its advertisements. To achieve the same without a celebrity would have taken longer time & more money. In a span of less than two years after launch, the brand Reed & Taylor’s" has become the second largest seller of cloth for men’s suits in India.

Celebrity endorsements must be used judiciously. If the celebrity is too famous or too popular, then the celebrity will overpower the product - i.e., people will remember seeing only the celebrity and forget the product. This happened when Britney Spears came in a Pepsi Commercial in 2001. Britney Spears was at the height of her popularity - viewers saw the advertisement to see Britney Spears and forgot all about Pepsi. In India, Hollywood actress Dimple Kapadia in a sexy swim wear was used in a Cinthol soap advertisement - People remember seeing the actress - but the soap was forgotten.

Closing Thoughts

Celebrity Endorsement is a staple strategy in marketing communications for consumer products. Lately celebrities are being used to promote capital goods and business services. All this points towards the big and easy gains for a product by using celebrity endorsements. Globalization has created global recognition of famous celebrities - Tom Cruise, Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Britney Spears etc. are popular all over the world. Their global popularity has paved the way for a global marketing communication strategy based on celebrity endorsements.

The risk factor - and a grave one at that is the brands/products are susceptible to serious damage if the celebrity associated with that brand falls into disgrace. Barring such an incident, companies must ensure that the brand message is aligned with that of the celebrity’s image.

Globally Integrated Marketing Communications

Today, while watching TV, I saw a commercial from Accenture - The advertisement showed Tiger Woods, a golf legend playing golf. The key message in the advertisement was "Go on Be a Tiger". Accenture was advertising in the local TV to recruit people in India. This advertisement set my thought process in motion - and I decided to write about the rationale behind this golf based advertisement in India - which is a non-golfing country.


In 2000, Anderson Consulting was forced to change its name to Accenture after an arbitrator’s decision. This implied rebranding the company. Marketing department then took on this challenge by developing an integrated communication program which was launched in January 2001. The brand ‘Accenture’ - which is an amalgamation of "Accent to the Future" was advertised in 48 countries on Television, Print, Radio, Airports, Taxis, billboards, Posters etc. By March 2001, the company had placed 6000 advertisements in Television.

The advertising campaign to build a brand awareness was unprecedented in the IT services industry. Company had executed a global advertising campaign. In London, Taxis were coated with Accenture signage. In Milan the company placed large prominent ads in Oberdan Square, In San Francisco the company placed advertisement all over the airport. In Australia, the company placed a "cover wrap" on the magazine Business Review Weekly". In Sydney Accenture placed advertisements on park benches and bus stands. All these were done simultaneously over a period of three months.

Global Advertising Campaign

Company had several objectives: To build a new brand name, To get brand recognition world wide from the people who mattered and to portray a very positive image of the company.

Accenture wants to associate itself with strong performance - for that reason it chose Tiger Woods playing golf. Golf as a game has been associated with the top management in the corporate world - and being a rich man’s game, Golf personifies power, execution and planning:
All the characteristics associated with the senior management. People who play golf know the ability of Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods is always associated with high performance. Therefore Accenture is capitalizing on that association. In addition the message in the advertisment are worded such that it reflects a business philosophy. For example "To Accomplish more, sometimes you need to see less", "High performers create their own opportunities", "There comes a time when execution is more important than theory" etc,. Thus sending the message of expect high performance from Accenture.

Secondly, the advertisement itself is targeted at powerful people in the corporate world - the top managers. Since most of the top managers play golf, the advertisement will capture their attention and thus Accenture will get their mind share. This is a classic example of targeted advertisement - Senior management will see & remember the advertisement while teenagers, housewives, etc., will ignore and forget it.

Having a single advertising plan for all the countries has several advantages - It is cheaper, a single unified message is communicated and the efforts can be centrally coordinated. The company also runs a risk of alienating some customers who do not play or understand golf, but that's a calculated risk - since most (>80%) business executives play golf.

The logic behind using Tiger Woods and Golf is well explained in their web site:

"It takes a strong message to be relevant in all media. But that’s what Accenture has achieved in a campaign that builds dramatically on our previous insights into the nature of high performance. Whereas the original campaign touched on what it takes to be a high performer, these ads demonstrate specific characteristics of high performance. And once again, the campaign utilizes the modern day personification of high performance: Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods' talent, insight and work ethic lend themselves perfectly to Accenture’s capabilities that lead to success through high performance. And they illustrate how Accenture can offer clients advantages that lead to this caliber of high performance. Which means we can, once again, proudly invite our viewers to "Go on. Be a Tiger."

Closing Thoughts

Global marketing communications is here to stay. It is a great way to send a consistent marketing message all across the globe. It takes careful planning and a thorough execution to pull it off successfully. Global brand building through advertising is a different matter - firstly the company and its marketing head should be able to think and act globally, secondly the brand message must be well matched with the company's offering - in this case high performance IT consulting. Thirdly, it takes serious commitment and budgets to build a strong brand. Accenture has been using Tiger Woods advertisements for last 5 years - this shows the consistency and serious commitment.

Accenture's example is for everyone to learn from, especially for those in IT/Consulting services marketing. Accenture has pulled off a perfect execution of Globally Integrated Marketing.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Increasing Sales in a Retail Store - An Indian Context

"Reliance to invest $6.5 Billion in Retail outlets spread all over India" - Voice of America
"Pantaloon plans rapid expansion of its retail outlets in India" -
"Wal-mart’s Ambitions in India" - Businessweek

Retail sector in India is slowly opening up - and companies are already queuing up massive investments into retail stores all across India. In the next decade, the size of the organized retail sector will be 50 times the current revenues. Already retail sector in India accounts for nearly $1 trillion per year in sales - but almost 95% of this is unorganized mostly run by a local entrepreneur. Chain stores or organized retail sector accounts for only a small fraction of all the goods sold in the country. All this points to a massive expansion of Indian retail sector.

Today, I had been to one of the Indian super markets - Big Bazaar. While strolling along the store looking for things and waiting at the checkout line, I decided to write about the sales strategy of these retail super stores. The overall strategy of all retail stores is to improve shopping experience and encourage customers to buy more. But this strategy can be further be broken down to:

Attract Shoppers and keep them in store

The amount of time a customer spends inside a store is directly proportional to how much they spend. By making customers spend more time in the store, companies can increase their sales. A classic example of this is Barnes & Nobles book stores - they have a coffee shop inside the book store, they provide comfortable lounge chairs and sofas so that customers can browse books at leisure.

Wal-mart increases the time spent inside their store by having a wide range of goods and thus enticing customer to buy from them instead of going to another store.

Indian retailers are slowly getting into this act. The Big Bazaar store near my house has a restaurant, a snack bar and a coffee shop - to encourage people to stay longer and buy more.

Make Merchandise available for customers to touch & feel

It is very important for customers to see, touch and feel the product before they can buy it. The physiological impact on the customer is huge. Super stores allow people to touch & see before they buy. Traditionally, goods in an Indian stores were out of bonds for the customer. Customer could not touch and in most cases cannot even see the product before buying. This is now changing - superstores allow customers to see, touch & feel the products before buying. But Indian superstores prefer to have an attendant to help the customer in checking out the products. In many cases, the attendant is there only to help and refrains from making any suggestions - thus enabling the customer to take their own decisions.

Superstores must desist from keeping things out-of-reach of the customer - i.e., placing goods on the top of the shelf where customers cannot reach or keeping goods lockup with no store attendant nearby. If customers cannot touch/feel the products, they will resist buying it.

Make merchandise easily to find

Customers don’t like to hunt for products. Having all products clearly classified and displayed increases sales. For example, all Wal-Mart stores have a similar layout so that customers can directly go to the product they want to see & buy. Many big stores such as Macy’s, Dillards, Sears, Home Depot, Costco, Metro, Lowe’s etc., have a map of their store displayed prominently along with big sign boards. Indian stores have been slow to catch-up with this trend. Till date - I have seen only ‘Shopper’s Stop’ display their store layout. Other chain stores do not even have sign boards.

Create a route for customers to follow within a storeCustomers tend to slow down once they enter the store. Retailers can then utilize this by organizing the store in such a way that it
encourages customers to wind their way all through the store, see/feel different things before they proceed to the checkout counter.

Ikea is the classic example of this strategy. The Ikea store is designed in such a way that it encourages the customer to walk through all the departments of the store - and that encourages customer to buy more by reminding them of the things they need, or my making them buy things on impulse.

Indian retailers are yet to catch-on to this concept. Most Indian retail stores are space constrained. Even the biggest stores in India do not have enough space necessary to create a winding path for customers to follow.

Make Checkout Easy

Once customers have bought the products they need, they are eager to pay & leave the store. Customer patience at this point is very low. Retailers have multiple checkout counters to address this issue. Departmental stores have their checkout counters distributed all over the store to prevent crowding at the exit.

Another trick to increase sales is to prominently display magazines, chocolates, candies etc., at the checkout counter. These are high margin goods which people tend to buy on impulse. Shoppers with kids are particularly susceptible for this tactic.

Indian retailers are yet to catch-up on the customer service aspect at the checkout counter. Most Indian retail outlets are space limited - as a result, very few checkout counters are provided. This results in long lines and lost sales due to customers walking out without buying - because of the long wait. My personal experience is that I avoid Big Bazaar or other super stores on weekends & evenings. Instead I prefer to buy things at the convenience mom & pop stores instead. All this accounts to lost sales for the superstores

Men & Women have different shopping habits

Men tend to walk directly to the required shelf - if the product is not on the shelf, they tend to walk out. Men rarely ask for help from the store attendants. If the required product is not seen in that store, they move on to another store. This results in lost revenue. Savvy retailers know this behavior and in Home Depot, a attendant always makes sure he asks the customer if he found everything he was looking for. Note that the store attendant has to be proactive when dealing with male customers.

Women need more space around them while shopping. Women tend to avoid crowded stores or stores with narrow isles. Departmental stores such as Macy's, Dillards & Sears have learnt this well. The ladies section of the store has more space around the merchandise - when compared to men’s section.

Indian stores are yet to learn & implement this principle. Since space is a major constrain for Indian retailers, stores tend to be over packed with merchandise - leaving very little room to move around. As a result, many women prefer to buy at the local convenience or "Kirana" stores instead of the super-marts. This represents lost revenue for the retailers.

Closing Thoughts

As of today, organized Indian retail sector is in its infancy and companies are stumbling around - making mistakes and learning from it. However, the retail sector is all set for a dramatic change.
Retail sector in India is on a verge of a drastic revolution. Country’s legislation currently prevents global giants like Wal-Mart, Tesco, Costco etc. from entering Indian market. However this period of protection is being well utilized by Indian firms - RPG, Pantaloon, Reliance etc., Indian retailers are slowly learning the tricks of the trade and investing in the required retail infrastructure.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Soft Skills For Global Managers

In my previous article, I had written on what it takes to be a global manager. But being a successful global manager. A successful global manager need to have global mindset and necessary soft skills.

Today most of the top managers have worked abroad for a substantial number of years. Success of managers in a foreign country is mostly based on their soft skills. Given the fact that only their current top performers are sent abroad -expatriates.

Yet not all expatriate managers are successful. Main cause of failure of expatriate managers is that they lack the needed soft skills to succeed abroad. Unfortunately, people for foreign assignments are selected based on technical skills. To understand this better, read the following story:

T. Subramanian Iyer, a highly successful sales manager from Chennai in India was asked by his company - Prestige products to work as regional sales director in San Antonio, Texas. Prestige regarded T. Subramanian Iyer (TS) as its finest young executives and promoted him to sales director for this new assignment. When offered the opportunity, TS was excited and looked forward for this new assignment and the new challenge. Top management was also confident about its decision of sending TS.

TS is a deeply religious man and had never went abroad. He and his family - wife and two children were exited of this opportunity. On arriving to US, the family’s excitement slowly turned into uneasiness.

Adjustment to American life proved difficult. His wife was unhappy - and apprehensive of her children education - The public school where TS had enrolled his children had a substantial Hispanic population and the quality of education was not the same as their earlier school in India. Moreover TS & his wife were constantly worried that their children would eat non-vegetrian food at school - which was very much against their religious beliefs. She also found it difficult to run the household without her usual servants.

At work, TS found things to be very difficult. The absence of a personal secretary - cramped his style. He was angry that he had to do all travel arrangements, type his own letters etc. Moreover many of his customers expected him to have lunch with them at a steak house or at a BBQ place. TS being a religious man never ate meat - and desisted eating at places which served meat. The idea of eating beef appalled him. All this had a negative impact on his performance and the company was worried due to his failure to succeed.

After 6-months, TS requested to be transferred back to India and was even willing to settle for his earlier role as sales manager - a demotion.

This story shows how a high performing manager in home environment can fail when sent abroad.

While top performance usually is what gets global managers their international assignments, soft skills are essential to succeed abroad. Global business is highly competitive and firms need executives who understand the world and have had experience working in foreign cultures.

Despite nearly two decades of corporate globalization efforts, many organizations still struggle to find managers who are comfortable and effective in the increasingly global economy. Most suffer both from a lack of cultural awareness when dealing with employees and partners overseas and from a lack of experiencing managing increasingly complex processes over long distances.

Though a few insightful corporate giants such as Intel, Cisco, HP, General Electric, Cisco Systems, and IBM have made strides in developing successful global managers. But in many companies, leaders and senior executives continue to be frustrated with the available skills and resources.

Why is it so difficult to develop effective global managers? The answers are as complex as the world's geography. Each company has its own specific needs and challenges and every country presents a unique and rapidly changing landscape in which work must be accomplished.

But even so, there are steps companies and managers can take to better prepare for the challenges of managing globally. The focus here is threefold:
  1. To develop a clearer understanding of the challenges of managing people across borders
  2. To instill in new global managers an awareness of and an appreciation for the vast differences among the cultures in which they do business
  3. To give global managers the tools and support they need to succeed.
The yawning cultural chasm

With the emergence of China and India as the newest and most daunting playing fields, experienced executives and thought leaders agree that softer cultural issues have become the source of notable management problems.

Managing in a global environment means you manage people who are separated not only by time and distance but also by cultural, social and language differences. The main challenge here is to integrate and coordinate these individuals in ways that will ensure success. Global managers need to build a relationship and have frequent interaction and communication among your team (local & abroad) members. They also need to be sensitive to and respect the cultural differences. People from different cultures tend to misunderstand each other's behaviors or stereotype people from other countries. It is therefore essential for the global manager to recognize the discrepancies between cultures in order to work together effectively.

This, of course is no simple task.

Letting go of the headquarters mindset.

Embracing differences among cultures and taking advantage of them to build value begins by eliminating "The headquarters mindset". Most companies & executives assume that they can do things abroad in the same manner as they do them domestically. This makes the company select their best performer in the headquarters and send them on critical foreign assignments. This attitude can be summarized as "We have people who are just like me at home, and we expect everybody else to be just like me". This attitude results in cultural blindness - i.e., refusal to see cultural differences.

To succeed in this global economy, leaders & top management focus more closely on the empathic qualities of prospective global managers. What is essential in a global environment is the ability to work successfully with individuals, groups, organizations and systems that are unlike our own. Managers must also understand what differentiates people and what unites them. Understanding that tension - how are we alike and how are we different is a critically important starting point.

At the minimum, companies need to ensure that their managers have the opportunity to build a basic understanding of the new cultures in which they will be immersed with a particular focus on appreciating how behaviors are different than that of their own.

Key characteristics that successful global managers possess are:

  • A belief that differences matter
  • Openness to new and different ideas
  • Cognitive complexity, or the ability to focus on both the "hard" and "soft" metrics in an organization - the hard quantitative side along with the softer people side.

These three success factors provide a useful framework for prospective global managers to use as they assess their skills and their preparedness for their new assignment.

Remember that cultural differences matter. There are great cultural differences between the people who make up global companies. Understanding how people think, work, eat and interact in a foreign workplace is crucial to building a successful operation. Most managers, new to these foreign environments are ill prepared for these nuances.

In our story of TS, TS as a manager abroad was unprepared culturally to live & work in San Antonio. A xenophobic response to Hispanics at schools, need for personal secretary, disgust over people eating beef - are all examples of his unpreparedness.

To succeed, companies have to realize that there is a complexity involved in managing people in different countries. It is essential to understand: "What is important to them? How do they take information you give them and interpret it back to those who work for them?"

Unfortunately, mentoring skills are in short supply, particularly in small and mid sized organizations.

Openness to new ideas

As emerging markets such as China continue to expand, executives must also tap into the management expertise in these geographies and be willing to move international managers experienced in one country to other countries. Too many companies view globalization as a one-way street, which is a shortsighted view. The integration of international managers plays a big factor in developing global expertise.

Moving headquarters based personnel overseas is one thing but what about bringing some of the Chinese or foreign managers back to headquarters or to Europe or South America and plugging them into the mix? Very few companies have had success with this cross-fertilization. Most small or mid-sized firms are not even open for such ideas.

But consider what this can achieve. Mary Kay Cosmetics, for example, set up operations in China and discovered that it was not allowed to sell door to door as it did in the rest of the world. The Chinese government decided it had had enough Amway salespeople invading the country and called a halt to such selling. So Mary Kay's Chinese managers came up with a new distribution system in China, and a savvy marketing manager there led the development and introduction of a new midrange product that sold well in Chinese department stores. Mary Kay brought this Chinese marketing manager to its Dallas headquarters to replicate what she did in China and help managers see how it could be replicated elsewhere in the firm's global operations.

That is how you use the human supply chain very effectively. This kind of cross-fertilization helps domestic managers think about how to be more flexible in their thinking and to appreciate how incorporating different perspectives is good management and good business.Cognitive complexity: Getting the hard and soft in concert

A vast majority of companies lack the ability to balance the need for consistent corporate practices with the need for regional uniqueness both in terms of respecting cultural differences across geographies and seizing the unique advantages of each market.

HP, a California based computer manufacturer has learned how to balance the need for corporate consistency with the local needs in India. In the early stages of HP’s global expansion senior management allowed local managers from different departments to establish their own connections with other companies in India. The idea was to save money up front by avoiding HP’s corporate bureaucracy and taking best advantage of the local opportunities. As the company grew and expanded in India, management introduced a series of measures to help its Indian employees understand a clear reporting structures and brought in uniformity in process and procedures. This created a sense of pride and commitment among local employees.

But teaching new global managers how to balance corporate philosophy with the unique circumstances of the local market is not easy; it requires an awareness of cultures in the midst of dynamic change. It also demands a healthy dose of independent thinking among some very unfamiliar surroundings.

Inexperienced managers may end up clinging to the practices they know and, thus, fall prey to the "headquarters mentality". Or they may succumb to a form of cultural intimidation in which they allow for whatever the local team is used to. In doing so, they open their organization to the problems. One way companies can help is to allow new global managers to immerse themselves in their assignments slowly. Companies can send managers on short term assignments abroad, or by having them work on a virtual team that is managing an overseas process or project while still being stationed in one's home country. By allowing people to learn to work together digitally, companies provide an opportunity for managers to hone the skills they will need to draw on when they are on the ground in a foreign country but to do so while still in familiar territory.

Diving in headfirst is not an effective approach.

Closing thoughts

Success of managers in a foreign country is never easy. It takes a lot more than technical skills - global soft skills: Ability to understand the cultural difference, ability to work with those difference and take advantage of those difference. It requires a cultural mind shift.

Even the very small things like where the leader sits at a lunch meeting or where to sit in the car. Some would assume riding shotgun next to the driver in front is where the big boss sits, but in US the seat of power is in the back behind the passenger seat. As the Indian economy grows, this problem will worsen because so many managers are sent abroad who are completely unprepared for what they are up against.

Teaching managers and top leadership to understand the need for global soft skills will make an impact on the performance & success of the organization. This is particularly important for Indian firms that are rapidly expanding abroad.

PS: As an individual I have worked in US, UK & India. I read the article written by Dr. Glenn Rifkin of Harvard University & wrote this article with an Indian angle.
Also see: