Going Global Series: #1 Link Engine Management
Going Global Series: This is the first in a series of four articles where Greg Allnutt interviews NZ international business leaders to understand the leadership challenges and to share some of their insights.
The opportunities for exporting or going global are obvious, such as entering new markets, better positioning closer to markets, spreading risk, and of course achieving growth and scale. There are any number of challenges that a bank adviser will tell you such as exchange rates and fluctuations, payment terms, logistics time frames, legal requirements, customs and tariffs. But what about the leadership challenge as a key piece to understand? So I took the opportunity to interview four NZ international business leaders that I work closely with, to understand the leadership challenges and to share some of their insights. You will notice some key themes.
1. Link Engine Management
Communication builds trust.
Leading a geographical and cultural diverse team is very challenging and relies heavily on developing trust within the global team. There can be a constant feeling of isolation, especially when there is a significant time difference, which makes easy and constant communication difficult. As Andy Millard CEO, Link Engine Management says, “You cannot just pick up a phone and have a chat. Regular communications become more structured and formal, usually with one person meeting outside of business hours (usually me, so I don’t want to inconvenience our employees)”.
“In the same way, it is easy to have many conversations in a day with team members in your office that progresses ideas and develops strategy or tactical decisions. The ‘back story’ is all relevant when you are discussing the topic informally in an office environment however, to an (isolated) remote team member the decision or conversation seems to jump ahead and leave them behind.” With this in mind, some simple leadership themes Andy maintains are:
Travel – get face-to-face with the remote teams at least twice a year and make it more than a fleeting visit – 3-4 days minimum. Also spend some quality time with them on the road seeing customers. What it can do for the relationship, not to mention the value of meeting and listening to customers shouldn’t be underestimated.
Make sure you over communicate. Regardless of whether it is a meeting, phone call or email – communicate daily or once every two days keeping them abreast of development that may impact them. Make sure other staff i.e. sales, marketing, etc are over communicating what they are doing. Ensure regular meetings – Put them in the diary and stick to it! – via Skype or Hang outs. Ensure others do the same.
Use Facebook for Business, Sharepoint or a staff newsletter, etc. to share pictures, stories, etc. with the wider team. Tell stories! Easy to say, very hard to maintain the discipline to do … but worth it. Constantly ask for remote leaders’ input into ideas or decision – regardless whether it is required or not. Keep them included.
Delegate the decision making – Trust! Clearly articulate boundaries and let the remote manager make the decisions. Don’t get caught up in the daily decision making for each remote site. Set the strategy, agree of the execution and the KPIs (or milestones) and let them get on with it. Being involved in what colour the new t-shits are or the amount of photocopy paper you buy in Birmingham is just stupid. Additionally, agree on times and days – make sure you and the team members are afforded that appropriate rest time. Keep weekends for the family.
Be Hungry to Understand.
Watch, listen and observe. Like a good recon soldier – observe to learn, learn to understand before acting. Understand cultural values and practices, how business is done in their region, what the customs are and how the customers transact. Religious and public holidays. Trying to measure and manage by our (NZ) business and employment values and practices could cause much frustration and damage. Engage with your team members – ask their advice. Ask them to be your teacher, Ask Ask Ask. It is always a great conversation to ask the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions and let them tell you – and resist comparing their country to NZ or worse, telling them why NZ is better.
This blog was written by Greg Allnutt, Strategic Advisor at Advisory Works.
For many New Zealand businesses, especially those in manufacturing, primary goods, or IT sectors, at some point early in their business life cycle, consideration for becoming a global enterprise is a serious option, and I predict that this probably before businesses of a comparative size in other countries need to face this same challenge. Part of this is that New Zealand only has a domestic market of about 4 million people, the equivalent size of some small cities around the world, and so to grow and scale they need to enter foreign markets and lead global businesses. As such nearly a third of all NZ small to medium business (ie 25% employing 6-19 and 28% of those with 20+ employees) are exporters. And they export to Australia, China, US, Japan and UK, and many many others.
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