Author: Salvatore Corradi – FM Chairman
The internationalization process of a company inevitably leads to important changes. For a leader it is a very delicate decision to make their company global and it is important that this evolution is not a long shot. Leaving aside the bureaucratic aspects of the issue, what emerges from the observation of various experiences of internationalization is the difficult management of human relations. People from different countries communicate in different ways, they have different decision-making approaches and react to inputs in completely subjective ways. The corporate culture organically cultivated over the years could falter and undergo transformations that must be implemented in a functional way to one’s desire for globality.
Particular attention must be paid to the workforce that had well-established habits until recently and that now needs to be adapted to the foreign reality in which it finds itself operating. Dealing with colleagues and customers who are culturally similar to us means speaking the same language, working closely, being able to capture even implicit messages and exploit complicity. The closer the space we share, the more similar our cultural backgrounds and the stronger our inclination to guess what is not being said. There are automatisms that we often take for granted and do not realize we apply such as, for example, realizing that your colleague needs you to carry out a certain task or that you have to modulate your approach in some type of activity even just from his attitude or his body language. On the contrary, when a company is international, the employees are dispersed geographically and these internal mechanisms fail. Even more dangerous are any communication problems, especially between the headquarters and the units located.
If it is not explicitly communicated that there is a need to perform a task, no one will instinctively do it, if a partner says yes even if he/she basically means no, everyone will think that he/she agrees. Even if the discussion takes place through a videoconference it is not so easy to understand what are the intentions of a colleague or a customer. Regardless of body language, which can often be misleading, cultural differences are the cause of multiple misunderstandings. Cultural distance is the most dangerous one because we would not be aware of causing misunderstandings even if our interlocutor were sitting at the table in front of us. In an attempt to solve these problems, companies must not compromise the distinctive features that are the basis of their commercial success; in short, they must not for any reason be distorted.
The applicable solutions are, first of all, that of inviting their employees to summarize the key points of an issue both verbally and in writing (even at the cost of being repetitive) and to be extremely clear in explaining the objectives. The inconvenient side will be having a slower communication and having to manage a lot more “paperwork”, however the general functioning will benefit.
Another small technique to use during the meetings that are carried out remotely is to organize everything well in advance, pay attention to the various time zones and insist that everyone uses English, which has now become the global language par excellence. Speaking slowly and clearly and assigning someone the task of summarizing the discussion could be useful and, above all, give equal space to all participants without excluding anyone.
Being the first to take a step towards cultures other than ours and consciously and wisely applying simple tricks will lead to a clearer understanding of the issues at stake, so as to increase the chances of success.