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On the Role of Globalization Professionals

By: Luciana Vecchi (NetApp) - NetApp

04 December 2013

One of the keys to a sound globalization strategy is deciding which countries and offices to focus on at any given time. At the same time, we need to adapt products and services to the local market’s needs.

Accomplishing both of these objectives simultaneously is complicated, in part because of the constant back and forth between Headquarters and field offices on what is “nice to have” versus what is a “must”.  On top that complexity, those of us who work in centralized Globalization Departments are still trying to figure out what role we should play in this interchange.

Globalization professionals are constantly pushed by all sides. While company headquarters focuses on the scalability of a global strategy, the field offices are more interested in their immediate local needs. Consequently, we globalization managers tend to focus our energies on finding common ground between both perspectives.  In reality, though, we should be focusing our efforts on two more fundamental things: positioning ourselves properly in the company and getting all sides to work together.

The problem is, we often end up asking the wrong question. Instead of saying how can we develop best practices for establishing agreement with the field offices, we should instead be asking how we can ensure that our company has a sound globalization strategy that creates a sense of inclusion between headquarters and the field offices. This is a lot like shifting your focus from losing weight to running a marathon.

Throughout my career working with Global Markets for over fifteen years, I’ve seen it all. Some organizations do nothing to solve this problem, while others create specific roles such as “partner relationship managers,” “international product managers,” and even “Geo Aligners” designed to facilitate better collaboration between different functional groups and the field. I’m sure those in these roles have worked tirelessly to do their best, but in most cases each falls short on a key aspect: they rely on others to provide critical country-specific information. As a result, they find themselves on an endless quest to talk to one more person and one more department.

Positioning Globalization Professionals Properly in the Company

In every company that does business internationally, regardless of its size, globalization professionals and departments may be housed anywhere: from the Marketing department to the Technology Office to Core Services to Engineering. They’re like that piece of furniture you bought one day but then never figured out quite where to put. No matter how many times you move it around, it still feels out of place. 

Why is that? Because very few people in most companies, especially executives, understand that globalization is a strategic tool to gain market share and, therefore, a way to get at untapped revenue. Globalization is like that extra sprint during the last mile of a marathon. You only get the reward if you actually take the risk.

To build an effective globalization program within a company (or find a “fit” for one that already exists), here are three strategic considerations:

  1. Start early: Ensure that products and services are designed with culturally diverse end-users in mind.
  2. Create clearly defined processes and systems: Don’t underestimate the inertia of established routines. Establish new processes and systems for globalization requests, progress tracking, budgeting, program management, vendor management, spending, and – very importantly – processes for showing the potential untapped revenue gained from the globalization work.
  3. Work closely with corporate strategists: “Corporate Strategy” is concerned with how companies create value across different businesses. They focus on market development and competition based on financial models and complex, hard data. Understandably, most corporate strategies lack “soft” data, such as local culture, experience, perception, expectations, trends, and opportunities. This is where globalization professionals can combine innovative, perceptive and holistic insights with the quantitative and systematic plans of the corporate strategy professionals.

Getting All Sides to Work Together

There really is no one-size-fits-all model for securing agreement among multiple parties.  But in order to implement and foster a sense of inclusion between company headquarters and the field offices, here are five strategic principles that every company should consider:

  1. Do it right: Bring in people, or better yet, a group of people, with a strong “global strategic mindset” and a strategic title, to play a leadership role. Not only do they need to understand globalization processes and systems, but they also have to know what it takes for your company to do business and succeed globally. Their role should be to investigate information beyond mere technicalities. They should understand deeply what it takes to develop, sell, and market products, and to navigate the legal and government requirements.  Not only that, the strategic professionals should be able to connect the dots – and people – and communicate properly to make each and every piece of information actionable. These professionals should provide strategic leadership and exert influence at a high level. I am talking about those extraverts, go-getters, risk-takers and those who FIO (Figure It Out), who aren’t afraid of challenging the status quo. Build diversity of culture and thought!
  2. Include everyone who matters: It is said that fifty percent of any buy-in process is emotional. This becomes crucial when trying to influence others. The solution is to actively listen to everyone, from headquarters teams to the field office personnel. Do not rely on market research and industry benchmarks.  Instead, listen to the company’s current and potential employees, customers, and partners. Seek input from local employees and native employees from the country in question. They will bring experiences and fresh eyes that might be extremely helpful, and even crucial, but are usually neglected. Understand the emotions!
  3. Show that you care: In order to really listen and include the right people, it’s critical to visit the other person’s or team’s environment. Don’t limit yourself to just a few days packed with meetings. Take the time to visit places the locals (employees/customers/partners) go; experience the local culture. Make sure not only to visit whoever the sales team line up for you, but also others your the “natives” may suggest. You will be surprised! Invite them to meet with you in your locale, too. The same way that it is important for you to experience their culture, it is important for them (from field offices to local customers/partners) to come to your headquarters and experience your local culture, and not just in meetings. Headquarters’ decisions will make more sense for them once they’ve been there. Walk a mile in the other person’s shoes!
  4. Be open to change: At this point, you should be able to identify a few issues, roadblocks, or ideas that both headquarters and the field offices have. Now it’s time to adapt and create some action! Identify and exploit opportunities for innovation. Develop strategic initiatives outside the traditional boundaries so you can develop pilot programs with both the headquarters and the field offices in mind. As Einstein once said: “The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size”. Even if there are no new ideas, there are new ways to look at them!
  5. Walk the talk: Once you’ve identified the right people, invited in everyone that matters, shown that you care, and worked together to develop potential pilot programs, create opportunities to incorporate all that input by aligning with the headquarters’ strategy. This is where having the right people – the strategists – plays a critical role. Use their skills to strategize and take action with the information they’ve gathered. Actions speak louder than words!

As globalization increases, so does the amount of information that flows between your company’s headquarters and its field offices. So, it’s crucial to implement these strategic principles all around the company. It’s won’t be easy for everyone involved, but these steps are critical for ensuring sound globalization strategies that fully include both headquarters and the field.

Luciana Vecchi is a Senior Globalization Strategist Manager at NetApp. She has over 15 years of experience in what takes companies to successfully do business globally. She has worked in a diverse range of roles from Marketing and sales to operations, customer care and product management in many different Industries and high-tech companies including Specialized Bicycles, Adobe and NetApp. Luciana is fluent in Brazilian Portuguese and English while proficient in Spanish and Italian. She has a BA in Economics and Organizational Change from CEUB and an MBA in International Business and technology from Hawaii Pacific University. Luciana also has many professional certificates that include Industrial & Graphic Design, Product Management, Product Marketing, Agile Software Development and Scrum. Luciana is also very active in empowering the global women serving as a Board Member at Women in Localization and BayBrazil while founding Women in the Valley and serving as a Professional Mentor for TechWomen.