Many companies talk about “going global,” but becoming a strong global brand isn’t just about expanding to international markets; it’s also about succeeding in those markets, and avoiding risky cross-cultural mishaps. While business leaders tend to focus on capturing as much foreign market share as possible – by adding new languages, launching more offices, supporting new currencies, and so on – this is only one of the necessary ingredients for global business success. Companies also have to be operationally ready to reach their full international potential. This means leaders must simultaneously work on embedding a sense of global thinking into their corporate cultures and the ways they operate on a daily basis. This is no simple feat, but there are several ways you can start transforming your organization to fuel global growth. Start by making globalization a mantra, accumulating more international expertise, putting one group or committee in charge of holding teams accountable, and rethink legacy systems and processes.
Many companies talk about “going global,” but becoming a strong global brand isn’t just about expanding to international markets. It’s also about succeeding in those markets and avoiding cross-cultural mishaps.
While business leaders tend to focus on capturing as much foreign market share as possible — by adding new languages, launching more offices, supporting new currencies, and so on — this is only part of the puzzle. Companies also have to be operationally ready to reach their full international potential. This means leaders must simultaneously work on embedding a sense of global thinking into their corporate cultures and the ways they operate on a daily basis. This is no simple feat, but there are several ways you can start transforming your organization to fuel global growth.
Make globalization a mantra. Research shows that to bridge the gap between strategy and execution, it’s important to focus on what employees think, as opposed to just what they do. For example, a common mistake is to think that you can design a product for your home market and introduce that same product to international markets. The problem with this mindset is that every country has slightly different nuances, use cases, and needs. Instead, you want people thinking in such a way that they design products, features, campaigns, or processes for multiple markets from the start.
Codifying this philosophy and making it part of your culture makes it easier for people to build a global mentality into their everyday work. In your quest for employees to “think global,” you might want to brand the initiative internally (using terms such as “global readiness,” “global-friendly,” or “global-first”) to get employees into the habit. You can also designate global “champions” or “ambassadors” on various teams to help others design better global processes.
Infuse more international expertise. The single best way for a company to speed up the process of going global is to accumulate more international experience. Gaining such experience isn’t quick or easy, but there are ways to speed it up:
Hire more people with international experience. People who have already worked across borders and in international roles are rare but valuable. Adding a line to your standard job description, such as “International experience desired,” can improve the level of inbound candidates. Consider training recruiters to look for people who have attended school in other countries, speak other languages, or have lived and worked in other countries, especially those who have immigrated to another country.
Elevate and empower existing employees with international experience. Too often, companies don’t even have a good understanding of the international fire power they already have in their ranks. Survey employees and urge them to add all the languages they speak to their profile, along with the countries they have worked, studied, or lived in before. These employees represent a major strategic asset that goes largely untapped in most companies.
Encourage current workers to gain more international experience. Where possible, send your current employees to other countries to learn first-hand from employees, partners, and customers. If you have an office in another country, and especially if remote work is something your company already embraces, your only barriers will be time zone and knowledge of international visa requirements. Invest in international mobility expertise via an immigration attorney as early as possible in order to facilitate this. Even short trips to other offices can be hugely eye-opening for employees who normally don’t get exposure to international customers.
Change your organizational design. Consider placing key hires in other offices outside of your country of headquarters. Doing so will almost instantly offer a more global focus than placing the same role at your main office. Create more roles that are global in scope, and whose success depends on hitting goals that are not just limited to one region, but that encompass multiple regions. This will force them to look outside their home country and make decisions that benefit the international business.
Connect international offices. You want each office to take on its own culture and flavor, but to avoid silos forming, you’ll need to ensure that employees truly know what your company stands for and what you believe in, so that everyone is aligned and moving in the same direction. At HubSpot, we created local versions of our Culture Code, our guiding principles for the business. Doing so required not just translation, but cultural adaptation for each market. And to help employees across countries feel more connected with each other, we created a simple international buddy program, which we call the Tomodachi (“friend” in Japanese) Program. Every month, hundreds of matched “buddies” meet up for an informal chat with someone in another office and usually another time zone, via video-conference. The program has proved popular – employee feedback is consistently positive – and even executives participate and get matched with international employees.
Create an international steering group. Another way to draw attention to the importance of globalization is to create an international steering group that is responsible for identifying challenges to your international businesses and creating plans to solve them. The group can have regular meetings, and at least one delegate from every function should attend, including C-level and VP-level executives. The meeting can be used to review key international performance metrics and to deep dive into why any targets aren’t being met. For example, if growth slows down one month in a given market, are there local socioeconomic factors at play? Has the foreign exchange rate changed recently? Has local sales recruitment slowed down? Did something else recently change within the local team? The steering group recommends what next steps the company should take.
Watch out for legacy systems and processes. One of the biggest hurdles that companies face when they are international, but not yet global, is their past decision-making. Often, a process, a piece of software, or a vendor that was chosen years before the international business was thriving can hinder progress and prevent a company from moving forward globally. This is especially true for companies that have experienced higher-than-average international growth, since taking internal processes and infrastructure global can take time to catch up with the company’s outward expansion.
Common examples include a software application that was tested and selected with only one language or currency in mind, but can’t be customized to support more languages; or, a process that required review by someone in the HQ country only, without capturing input from local markets. Ultimately, the systems and processes that were fine for a US-centric company frequently break down under the ultimate pressure test of a global business and all the complexity that comes with it.
Recognize that organizational change takes time. The business imperative to grow globally is often in conflict with the patience and discipline required to do the internal globalization work that will support further international expansion. So, the next time you get frustrated because you’re already a successful international company but global growth still seems harder than it should be, just remember that your company and its employees are likely on the right path to learning what it means to be a truly global company. The organizational work required to become a global company usually lags behind the outward measure of expansion, but the good news is that the former enables even more of the latter.