Many managers who come from a western based HQ focus on clarity of vision, clear roles and responsibilities, a functional structure and good people skills to get things done in “offshore” sites. Often, they rely on an expat or local who has spent time and/or was educated in the country where HQ is located.
In an acutely diverse global organization, this is not often not enough. A huge level of trust must be established in order to get useful information, which otherwise would not find its way to HQ.
Let’s look at Simon, a product manager for a cutting edge software product which will enable very complex insurance and banking transactions via a Smartphone in traffic via noise cancellation and accent-elimination.
This software has huge value in the developing world, where there are many dialects and where financial institutions are hundreds of kilometres away. Simon has noted that there are no Sales and no leads whatsoever in South East Asia. For 6 quarters, not one lead has been produced that was worth anything. The only news Simon got was that “it is too early in the game”.
So, Simon went to South East Asia for 2 weeks.
- He learnt that the local sales force believed that the product was being presented as more mature than it really is.
- Simon also learned that the 6% churn rate of engineering staff in R&D was seen as very frightening and as a sign that the product may not be released at all.
- Simon learnt that the pre sales material was too flashy, not detailed enough, and “tailored to a market where marketing people make the calls.”
- Simon learned that engineers from HQ had visited clients and treated the clients rudely.
- Simon learned that if a certain client was wined and dined treated appropriately, there was business to be done….now.
- Simon’s final piece of learning was that several visitors from HQ joked about the local sex trade and their escapades, which caused huge shame and anger.
Here is how Simon learned all this:
- He came for a long visit.
- His meetings were often unscheduled. He established contact informally, joined people for lunch, invited them into his cubicle to yak, and had no time constraints.
- Simon asked for help and promised no harm would be done from any information which would be shared. Simon acted un assumingly.
- Simon did his homework, and made it clear he could not fooled. He did this ever so discretely, saving peoples’ face at all times.
- Simon spoke to people whose English was very poor, even if took hours and hours to get a grasp of what they were saying.
- Simon wrote nothing down when he talked.
- Simon listened for hours on end, and also heard what was not said.
- Simon approached delicate issues in a round about matter, avoiding direct questions.
- Simon read a local paper in English every day and knew what was going on. On hearing that the King was ill, he wore a pink shirt, which is the colour of healing.
- He never criticized the traffic or the crumbling infrastructure that he encountered at times. He came to work from the hotel on the subway, often with people from the office whom he met on the train.Simon showed by actions that the loved the location, the language, the culture and being with the people.