People have been making maps for thousands of years. Of their local environment, important routes and own property. From the Babylonian clay tablets, to the GPS system in your car, we’ve continually been busy with working out where we are, and planning how to get where we want to go. Sadly though, if you want to take your business over the border, a map of roads, rivers and territorial borders isn’t going to be enough to ensure a successful journey.
Opening an office in Antwerp doesn’t automatically mean you’ve got a bridge head for taking on the rest of Belgium. La Défense is no more the complete French picture than New York being the same as California or Texas. Hiding under that geographical map is a network of culture, history and habit that continues varying from one place to the next, and certainly can’t be understood and embraced by your organization in one fell swoop.
Taking on the German market? It seems very sensible to start with one office in Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt. And if you’ve got ambitions to go further still, you’ll could call it the East European Office? Right? Wrong.
Depending on the precise nature of your proposition and its potential audience, you may find you need to be in all three cities, and maybe a few more besides, to have a chance in the country. If you also wanted to look over the border, you’d need to properly understand the relationships between the countries formerly known as the East-Block. It’s essential that the cultural differences within and between these countries, in addition to what they have in common, are thoroughly investigated and able to influence strategy and planning.
If things get foggier the deeper you explore, be prepared to slow down or even change course, rather than closing your eyes and hitting the accelerator. Flexibility is the key to creating ‘learn as you go’ success. Make sure you also benefit from the experience of others. Results from the past are no guarantee of performance for the future, but take the time to see what similar businesses in similar situations have experienced and achieved in the locations on your radar.
Every country has its own unique quirks and customs. A compulsory siesta, complicated travel expenses procedures or specific procedures that need to be followed to show proper respect and deference in social situations. Sometimes you’ll genuinely feel that you’ve ended up in a hidden camera show. And more often than not, you’ll be able to enjoy a light hearted chuckle at how enjoyably different we all are.
When it relates to your business processes though, it is important that you’re more formal. Uniformity is the ambition. If you’re working internationally, it’s extremely important that your processes are properly aligned. That the basis for effective reporting. And ensuring that you don’t get into trouble far from home because you don’t all have the same understanding of key terms like ‘project result’, ‘billability’ or ‘payment term’.
From opportunity to success
Take project acquisition and acceptance. A risk-intensive moment that demands a clear procedure. One where that hard working, keen-to-make-an-impression employee on a far outpost of your imperium can cause untold damage with an appealing-looking-but-doomed-to-failure quotation. This scenario makes it essential the end responsible for delivering the work (possibly in another location) is involved during the sales process. That ensures the transfer of information begins before the project is even sold, and doesn’t hang on a moment after the deal is done and it’s too late to address probable challenges.
Manage your people, wherever they are, towards this best practice. Commit to creating cohesion between the various departments of your business. Even if it’s only possible to organize a once-per-quarter session for team bonding and information sharing. A face to face session is always best, even with all the possibilities stemming from communications technology. Being together in person is always the best way to stimulate genuine co-operation, create inter-personal relationships and foster group success.
From local to central – and vice-versa
Eventually your people will finish the project off at the customer. Ensuring your work leaves the right legacy then becomes important. Particularly if a maintenance contract has been signed, or if you expect to be required again for follow up work. Setting down clearly what the customer has received and can still expect is critical. It ensures you can always call up the agreements and commitments that were made.
Save the project details in a central location, making sure that everyone can understand what’s been recorded. It could be that your international colleagues need to follow an extra English course when the support is managed from one central location. Having a lingua franca is the key to ensuring no details are lost in translations. It’s also important to ensure that central organization is fully involved early in the process, enabling any (communication) challenges to be highlighted and addressed before the project is completed and the local delivery organization has moved on.
Ambition is great, but stay in control
Anyone who wants to be successful in a new country will need to invest heavily in local knowledge, while ensuring that all processes are managed from a central, uniform perspective. That’s how you can stay in control of every entity carrying your logo and doing business on your behalf – whether that’s in Europe, or any other further flung corner of the globe.