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Vincent Belliveau

Cornerstone OnDemand

General Manager of EMEA

Read more about Vincent Belliveau

Overseas expansion: get ready to ‘think global, act local’

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This article was written by Vincent Belliveau, Senior Vice President and General Manager of EMEA, Cornerstone OnDemand.

According to research undertaken in December 2012 by private medical insurance providers, Expacare, close to half of British companies, of all sizes, are looking to extend their presence overseas. Furthermore, in the last year alone, high profile companies such as Wonga, Global Energy Group and Paul Smith have announced plans for international expansion demonstrating that even in times of economic woe, businesses are continuing to expand globally.

As UK companies continue to grow in new markets, it is imperative that they act locally to ensure they conduct themselves in line with employees behaviours and expectations in different countries, otherwise they could make cultural mistakes resulting in a loss of profits, which can have a financial impact. For example, Wal-mart, the most successful retail operation in the US, attempted to apply the company’s proven US success formula in an unmodified manner to the German market. The company initially installed American managers, who made some cultural mistakes by trying to slow down the speed-focussed German shopper. This went against the norm in Germany and combined with the high market competition and well-established local discounters resulted in Wal-mart failing to make a dent, losing $1 billion dollars.

However, it is also important for most multinational organisations to retain their identity, as their culture is key in attracting and retaining talent, and therefore winning business. This sense of identity often differentiates a company from its competitors, but ensuring that ambitious global companies can compete in a local market effectively without losing their personality can be difficult. By understanding the differing needs of their people and the learning approaches that meet these, whilst keeping the core business identity, organisations can make sure that their workforce is appropriately trained and ready for the ‘think global, act local’ culture.

Different cultures, different needs

Just as operations differ from country to country, business culture and practice are also diverse. It's vital to respond appropriately to differing work customs, traditions and attitudes when in a business setting, to maximise the chance of succeeding abroad. Therefore, it is important to take local professional advice and to build international connections to support expansion. For example, the Japanese have a very different way of conducting business than the UK and without knowledge of how things work in Japan, a British organisation will undoubtedly struggle. The Japanese business culture places a greater emphasis on long-term relationships than specific business opportunities, making patience essential to succeeding in Japan. Having this knowledge can be the difference between succeeding and failing in a foreign market, making it vital to educate employees of local etiquette and to identify local business partners who can help guide the company.

Before expanding overseas, an organisation also needs to understand the different regulations in place in their chosen countries. Tax regulations vary from country to country and it is crucial that businesses trading internationally understand taxing rights. Specialist advice should be sought at an early stage to ensure that the potential benefits of expanding overseas are not reduced by tax complications which can arise if not carefully managed so that post-tax returns are maximised.

The right approach to learning

Personality is important for a company to sustain as this more often than not, distinguishes them from their competition. However, implementing the right learning approaches can ensure that an ambitious global company can compete in a local market effectively, without losing its character. Good training which reflects and respects local values and corporate identity can be the winning formula.

Businesses need to be able to track compliance training across all their offices, and consistency is beneficial. For example, health and safety training, information on how to deal with competitors and record management should remain the same in whichever country business is being conducted in. A regional approach should be taken for other types of training which are job specific, ensuring that employees have all the skills to do their jobs competently now and in the future. For instance, in the US market, with the emphasis placed on good customer service, it is important to train employees in soft skills such as communication and relationship building.

Similarly, learning formats vary from country to country and therefore businesses need to take a bespoke approach, tailoring their training processes to different employees. For example, some individuals may benefit from e-learning, whilst others prefer classroom techniques or one-to-one mentoring. There’s no one-size-fits-all to this and that’s the difficulty. When an organisation is constructing training content and training courses, they need to understand not just the demographic of their workplace, and the job role that they’re doing, but the technological demographic of their workplace, and the best medium to deliver training courses. By having knowledge of the types of technology and learning processes employees in different countries are familiar with, an organisation can ensure they are making the most of their training. The content of the training may need to vary in different markets, but by providing the right content to suit local workers, whilst keeping the experience consistent, businesses can ensure that their workforce is trained and ready for the global market.

International expansion: Do your research!

Therefore, with more and more UK businesses looking to expand internationally, it is becoming increasingly important for them to understand the markets they will be moving into. Different countries present different challenges as business practices vary from place to place and there are a diverse range of regulations throughout the world. Researching potential markets, building relationships and understanding local regulations in those countries can allow organisations to get the most out of their international expansion, increasing the possibility of maximising their profits. It is only by implementing the right training processes to suit differing markets, whilst keeping compliance training consistent, that an organisation can effectively grow and develop globally.

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Vincent Belliveau

General Manager of EMEA

Read more from Vincent Belliveau
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