Almost all our international clients are on a journey to greater globalisation and collaborative working across global, cultural, functional and hierarchical boundaries. Without exception, they are finding that whilst it sounds like good common sense, making it work is hugely complex and along the way are obstacles (usually man-made) which nobody anticipated. Whether you are aiming for first conversations among previously siloed business units, sharing best practice or creating fully agile ways of working where blurred lines rule and nobody has their own desk because “they create barriers”, it’s hard. Human beings are geared to belong to a single tribe and few are truly pioneering. Let’s face it, most of us don’t really like change. Since technology underpins most substantial change in large organisations, it’s often most noticeable in global IT projects that a firm tends naturally to operate in fiefdoms.
Inspirational leadership is all about getting every single member of your team (including the Polish guy, who speaks Polish, leads a Polish team, works for a Polish business which feels like a family and where he is comfortable and safe, reporting to a Polish MD who incents him with Polish-centric objectives), to adopt a global mindset and feel like he can make a global contribution. We then need him to make every member of his team feel equally galvanized to think and deliver globally. If he has always sat comfortably in his silo, where do you start?
Logic tells us that since we have global objectives and the board has stipulated that it wants customers to see the firm as a global partner and seamless service provider, regardless of whether teams are based in Clacton on Sea or Casablanca, we must think in global terms. It still seems impossible to deliver if you’ve only ever had a domestic remit.
In reality, It takes real emotional intelligence to help your teams genuinely understand what’s in it for them. So, how can you relate the big strategic goals mapped out on the CEO’s monthly global conference call, to something which might resonate with them? If you are serious about globalisation, you need to start with an understanding of the uniqueness of each local team and get to grips with strengths and weaknesses (real and perceived). You must help them gain the confidence that their weaknesses can be addressed with (sensitive and constructive) input from others and their strengths can be developed, recognised and used for the greater, global, good. How will you reward them if they succeed? What will it mean to your customers? Your profitability? What’s the real upside of change and how can they get started?
Organisations which have succeeded in tackling these issues before spend considerable time thinking and planning:
How will you communicate the strategy and make it relevant to each location/team? What new objectives will you set to encourage the right behaviours? How will you get them to cascade these new ways of thinking and working? What technology can support you in collaborating and evangelising these exciting messages? What behaviours do you want to demonstrate as a leader? How will you measure success and ensure your business sees your team as the real pioneers? What happens when they slip back into their old ways because they are busy with operational, day to day issues which are easier to solve and for which they feel well equipped? How do you keep up momentum when you see green shoots of success?
It is said that culture eats strategy, so relying on logic, charts and bold statements simply won’t work. Organisations which have created genuine collaboration across functions and geographies have done so by taking the wider view, understanding that human nature and personal interest are key factors in driving behaviour. Ignore this at your peril.