Many CEOs of American startups feel uneasy in the midst of expanding their company internationally — and this fear isn’t without warrant. If your expansion is going to succeed, there are some common challenges that American startups need to be aware of. Before your first overseas hire, make sure you’ve done your homework to safeguard your company against complications that may arise from differences in location, culture and language. Here, I’d like to share with you the wisdom that I wish someone had imparted to me before I expanded my company.
Have Clear Communication
Clear communication is essential for companies whose staff is scattered around the globe. Define the core values of your brand and make sure that these values stay intact. Your core value set is who you are — it’s what made you successful. Vigorously protect the integrity of your organization by ensuring that this core value set is implemented within each corporate branch. Set clear objectives to make sure that everyone is running in the same direction. With a more complicated hierarchy, there’s much more room for deviation. Ensure that the whole team is on the same page. Don’t let anything get lost somewhere across the ocean.
Day-to-day correspondence can very easily be misinterpreted. Encourage employees to communicate with each other (with voice and video) through tools such as Skype, WebEx and GoToMeeting. This not only eliminates the guess work of intonations that come with reading the written word, but eliminates the wait time between email responses.
Create Cross-Border Reporting
Cross-border reporting is useful for international team members. You don’t want a situation where the entire marketing team is located in California and the entire development team is located in Spain. Mix it up. Employees in Spain can be managed by employees in California, and vice versa. This essentially means that some employees will have different hours than others so that international teams are in their respective offices at around the same time. This has several effects – it emphasizes the importance of the offices overseas, dramatically improves information sharing, capitalizes on collecting different approaches to the same problems and creates a community by solidifying your team.
Build Trusting Relationships
Stephen Covey said, “When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant and effective.” To establish trust in the workforce, your employees need to foster close, interpersonal relationships. These connections get rid of the rust that can oftentimes slow down business and workflow processes. At WalkMe, we try to foster a warm, familial environment so that the human element or “touch” is never lost. Whenever a new employee joins, we send out a company-wide email with short, fun descriptions of the new employee, along with a picture. We use these questions: Before WalkMe what did you do? Why did you choose WalkMe? Name one fun fact about you. What do you like to do in your spare time? We also have the Office Manager send out emails congratulating employees on their birthdays.
It’s admittedly difficult for people to establish close relationships when they live in different countries. For this reason, we allocate a budget for travel between branches to enable face-to-face meetings. Typically they travel anywhere from one week to a month to other offices, where they’ll spend time with and teach other team members.
Leverage Software Collaboration Tools
Take advantage of collaborative workflow software tools to ease communication. Basecamp, Wrike and Asana have built-in applications for internal chat, email and calendars. These platforms are also available on mobile devices, such that your team has access to all planning and execution tools no matter where employees are. Use these platforms to assign responsibilities between employees and better keep track of emails between team members. Even further, teamwork can be improved using online software guidance programs like ours that, when overlaid on software programs, deliver step-by-step guidance to guide employees through common workflow tasks. This ensures your entire team is using internal software programs correctly and consistently.
Train Employee Diversity
Covey also said, “strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” To capitalize on these differences, you’ll need a work environment that breeds awareness, understanding and sensitivity to different cultures. Higher awareness around these issues creates an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and helps to prevent miscommunications. We’ve found that diversity workshops, where actors simulate various “gray situations” that can be interpreted differently according to cultural background, are particularly effective at opening dialogue between employees.
And now, Good luck! Buena suerte! Alles Gute! Bonne chance! Zhù nǐ háoyùn!