Leading a sales or service organization has many challenges, and when a team or department is global, that adds some additional complexity. I am currently part of a global organization and have to “think globally”, with every meeting, every project and every initiative.
Are there specific keys to success when you have to manage a global team? I recently surveyed business leaders who have had direct experience managing a global workforce and asked for their input and advice. This blog post provides a high level summary of their responses.
The 3 Biggest Challenges
Survey participants were very clear on the three biggest challenges with managing a global workforce:
- 73% stated- time zone differences
- 68% communication style differences
- 50% cultural differences
Other challenges include: building a cohesive team, recruiting staff in other countries and managing execution across countries.
5 Best Practices for Leading a Global Workforce
I then steered the survey discussion around best practices to overcome these challenges and identified 5 specific trends in the answers. Here’s what the experts recommend:
1) Hire top quality on site leadership, at all Global locations
Tim Newton, the VP of International Support for Epicor Software stated, “Recruit and mentor top quality managers/team leaders for the regional centres. Without this, you will be forever firefighting both operational and HR issues in odd timezones.” Bill Berendes, former Director of Support for GE- Security shared, “Have someone on-site that can be trusted 100%”.
2) Travel and build “face to face” personal relationships
A lot of global leadership activities have to be done via conference calls, webex and video conference. However, you can not be successful without “in person” leadership and relationship building. (travel budget!) One survey participant shared, “Be visible and I don’t mean via the web, you have to be physically present as often as practical to develop relationships.” Francoise Tourniaire, Owner of FT Works, shared, “Travel and build a personal relationship with staff around the world. There’s simply no substitute to creating trust and alignment. And let various people throughout the organization travel too.”
3) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communicate clearly, communicate often and consider different communication and language styles. Matt Harold, a Consultant at mRm Associates shared, “Be an excellent communicator. Take the time to make sure all aspects are fully understood. The more time spent upfront in discussion will more than pay off in the long run. My experience especially in the Far East is to especially make sure all aspects of a given task are fully understood. I have come to realize no is not in their vocabulary and that yes has varied reasons and doesn’t necessarily mean yes I understand.”
4) Accommodate multiple time zones
Leaders who manage a global staff must be willing to work flexible hours and schedule meetings that accommodate varied time zones. One survey participant shared, “Keep an up-to-date personnel calendar listing all country and regional holidays, religious holidays and vacation time off. I was amazed at how difficult it was at times to schedule weekly conference calls and review meetings.”
5) Build repeatable processes
Creating repeatable, scalable, documented processes is a best practice for any organization, but even more critical to the success of a global organization.
Trends By Country
Different countries are often known for having a workforce with skills in certain areas, and/or very different approaches to selling or servicing. Here are some key learnings that survey participants shared:
- “With the abundance of low cost airlines and fast trains in Europe, I found that the personnel based in that region preferred to travel much more often to their customers/clients/vendors, whereas in the US telephone/conference calls was the preferred method for contact and strategizing sessions.”
- “For Europe, Central Europe (Hungary, Czech Republic) provides a host of staff with 2/3/4 languages and costs are still reasonable. For Asia and ANZ, try to focus on an operation in S/East Asia (Malaysia/Singapore) – Oz and NZ are too far away from both timezone and travel point of view. We find good managers and excellent staff in our SE Asia ops.” Tim Newton, VP of International Support, Epicor Software
- “I found marketing personnel in northern European countries to be very technical in nature and average in their creative abilities and content. In southern Europe I found them to be extremely creative and out-of-the-box thinkers, but often requiring technical backup from a product engineer or product manager.”
- “India has strong technical manufacturing capabilities.” Gregg Malicki, President, Global Associates Ltd.
- “There are capable people in every country. Getting them on your team is sometimes a challenge but stereotypes no longer apply. Educated people are everywhere or willing to go places for the right opportunity.”
Do you have some additional tips and advice for managing a global workforce? Please add them to the comments.