It’s widely acknowledged and accepted that language, the means by which managers and leaders get their jobs done, is more than just words. Language – speaking and listening – encompasses a world of assumptions, experiences, historic beliefs, values, and perspectives that are unique to us as individuals, which we take for granted, and which shape what we say and do. Even the “common” English language isn’t so “common” depending on whether you’re in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, or South Africa, for example.
Successfully navigating today’s global marketplace requires organizations to be more “globally minded”. In working with leaders from some of the world’s most successful multinational corporations, there are five key areas I’ve seen them tending to…
Recognizing that with the many different geographies and cultures comes a multitude of assumptions and perspectives. The real trick then is navigating those assumptions and perspectives to best ensure that, no matter where people are located, there’s a common understanding of, and alignment on the company’s strategy and vision. This includes what the future looks like, what it’s going to take to get there, the company values that people are expected to operate from, etc. For one organization, this meant holding regular in-person global leadership team meetings in different geographical locations. Significant amounts of time were allocated for open discussions on the company’s vision, strategy and action plans, encouraging different views on how best to move forward, leaving no questions unanswered, and no room for misinterpretation.
Transcending the competitiveness that can exist with regions asserting that their cultural perspective and agreed ways of doing things are the “right” way. Untended, this can supersede cross-regional partnerships and collaboration, negatively impacting the results that could be produced. In order to tackle this, the Country Manager of one multinational oil and gas company purposefully engaged his leadership team of different cultures in the creation and fulfillment of a future that wasn’t predictable. By committing to the production of an unprecedented number of barrels of oil per day, you might say he created “a game worth playing”. This goal pulled for collaboration and partnership as individual agendas and viewpoints weren’t going to be able to win the day.
Research suggests that organizations who successfully demonstrate “global-mindedness” look for best practices everywhere, and then apply them for themselves. Often, executives from countries with large domestic markets—such as the US, UK, Germany, India, Japan and China—are guilty of thinking they can do business everywhere ‘like they do at home’. Respecting and acknowledging the richness of differing worldviews allows for new ideas to emerge, and it is our curiosity about other countries, cultures and people which opens the way for this. Learning from everywhere and then executing really well can mean that the wheel doesn’t have to get reinvented. One example of a company practicing ‘global mindedness’ by hiring people with curious minds and thereby promoting diversity rather than merely talking about it, is Nestlé. Ten different nationalities are represented on its executive committee.
While business and financial acumen are fundamental capabilities for leaders, interpersonal or ‘people skills’ are the real differentiators when creating a successful global environment. Being able to let go of any negative judgments and pre-conceived opinions about situations or people, being able to powerfully and unwaveringly manage and lead people in the face of challenges and adversities, having sufficient self-awareness, and being committed to address any gaps in being able to relate to, and connect with others are some examples of attributes critical for success in a global arena.
And finally, our most powerful teacher – experience. Active, experiential learning and discovery makes for bold and global leadership. Opportunities to immerse oneself in a wide range of cultural experiences that take us out of our comfort zones, and challenge our strongly-held beliefs and perspectives expand our mindset. Sometimes these opportunities are presented to us, and other times we have to make them for ourselves. Something as simple as networking with our global colleagues both inside and outside of our organizations, or volunteering for community activities where we are the minority, or where the majority of the people speak a different language, can go a long way to develop and grow our ability to think globally.
Globalization is nothing new, but its increasing scope and impact is inescapable, and is transforming the business landscape. Changing how you look at the people in your organization, identifying what you need to meet that transformation, focusing on your effectiveness in acknowledging and including different perspectives and viewpoints, and nurturing cross-regional partnerships can significantly impact your success on the global stage.