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Going global? You’ll need a map

Friday, October 28, 2016

By Anna Schlegel
Going global is not for the faint of heart! It is a delicate dance across many departments in any one company. Corporate Globalization is a process of interaction and integration among the employees, the product and the customers of different nations, a process driven by international trade compliance and investment and it is aided by information technology. This process has obvious effects on the environment, on how culture evolves, and even on political systems, economic development and prosperity.
Globalization is not new. For thousands of years, people have been trading, travelling and buying from and selling to each other in lands at great distances, such as through the famed Silk Road across Central Asia that connected China and Europe during the Middle Ages. Likewise, for centuries, people and corporations have invested in enterprises in other countries. In fact, many of the features of the current wave of globalization are like those prevailing before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

The Significant ROI of globalization comes in the manner of income, understanding how your products behave in other countries can help you improve your features and perceptions. Many folks love the global interaction of understanding other cultures and feeling that they are improving people’s lives. Imagine how a medical innovate advancement can help save lives.

There are difficult sides of globalization such as job rotation or displacement from country to country. It is key that companies sit down at the executive level to make globalization decisions. For this, companies will benefit from hiring the right talent that can help them make great investment decisions. Investment on people, investments on markets and technology decisions.

If you can hire your first globalization team member, do not bring a newbie or choose someone from within the company who has never lead an enterprise globalization team, even if your team will be small in year one and two. Bring a professional expert who has done this before, who has been in similar settings, and will be able to scale up the team as needed. There are many experienced globalizers who love to be given a blank slate to envision what an enterprise will need.

One piece that I find most interesting is how companies hire their executives. All executives working for a company that has international presence should be trained in how to go global. They should have lived or worked abroad often, or led teams abroad, and spent time with employees abroad. Part of the interview should include the topic of globalization. After all, their programs cannot be created for one country or language. All executives in a major enterprise need to know how to create a globalization plan. They should ask for it, anticipate it, and see it is a company advantage. However, many executives avoid the globalization topic, not necessarily on purpose, but because they are unfamiliar with it, might not have led an international team, or would not know how to tackle it. Many executives travel internationally to work with partners, attend functions, or meet employees, but are rarely debriefed on that country’s globalization status. Companies with top executives as truly global professionals have an incredible advantage. They can leap the company forward because they can think outside of the headquarters. They understand how programs work locally, how products resonate locally, and what customers think of the company in a country. Exercises such as mapping their programs to China will create a huge advantage for the company. Avoiding the topic of globalization from the top is a common obstacle. Avoiding globalization can create international discontent for years to come. Getting out of that hole is expensive, and it will take major leadership. My advice is to hire a professional team of globalizers, but also to have executives who will mandate internationalization, understand their international customers, and talk to the employees in other countries. They should place some of their key employees in enterprise countries with the purpose if getting direct feedback on what their customers around the world need and want from the company.

COMPANIES USE DIFFERENT STYLES OF organization for their globalization teams. The most prominent are:

1. Purely centralized under one lead 2. Completely decentralized under each main enterprise department 3. Split in two main departments such as product and marketing

Regardless of the style, enterprises today understand that all groups, particularly in the second and third types, must collaborate to be efficient. Unfortunately, as in other departments, executives or departmental heads can become territorial. They can fail to understand the benefits of collaboration or how a globalization team’s synchronization will influence the company’s ability to go global. Ultimately, what your customer wants is a seamless interaction with your product. They will not care how you are organized internally. The concept of a “center of excellence” is prominent nowadays. In this case, a center is not a different campus or building. These centers are formed by teams of professional globalizers. Depending on the company the CoE can report to a major department such as marketing, customer experience, or product operations, and they take care of all the company’s globalization needs. For this, the lead creates strategic partnerships across all main departments, regardless of where they sit in the corporation. The road to a centralized model doesn’t happen overnight. Many companies start by having one globalization lead under their digital team, or under a product line. It is often because of these beginnings that many companies have more than one group, and therefore it will take a while to centralize. Several may decide to stay independent to avoid politics or because the teams are both rooted in their own processes. It is common for a company to start with two to four globalizers under different groups. As the company goes through its globalization maturity, teams tend to centralize or align better over time. I have seen this process take years. Sometimes, the groups will join forces and ask to unify officially. Ultimately, these groups or individuals will benefit from working together in areas such as vendor pricing negotiation, localization workflow improvement process, buying technology to automate localization and testing, mapping what your customers need from the enterprise, or collectively pushing for newer areas to be globalized. Keeping teams as close to each other as possible benefits the employees as well, who typically want to learn different aspects of globalization to grow in their careers. You can facilitate the internal transfer of employees and keep them happier with more knowledge and new areas to explore. The more divided the teams, the less flow of talent, innovation, and other benefits to the customer.

Anna N. Schlegel—named the first globalization innovator by SDL/Fortune—is the author of Truly Global: The Theory and Practice of Bringing Your Company to International Markets. Currently the Senior Director of Globalization and Information Engineering at NetApp, Schlegel is also co-chair of the company’s Women in Technology program.