Whenever discussed about work in global environment, the words “complex” and “chaos” come up. National differences, different processes, approaches, and opinions, together with lingual walls continue to surprise people in multicultural world. Though understanding towards different backgrounds, heritages, cultures, and other individual biases increase, challenges surrounding the topic of international business will never be completely erased simply because of the variety of different people involved. To live and lead with embracing the chaos is a talent requiring cultural recognition; cultural awareness (CA), global mindset (GM) and cultural intelligence (CQ), yet also adaptability and skills to “lead on the fly”, reminding that change is never conducted solely by the managers, but with the squat working on the change.
Internationalization is a tempting opportunity for companies, but if it was easy, everyone would do it. Venkateswaran (2011) presented implementation of unsuccessful practises and employees distressing due to lack on ability to adapt foreign behaviours as major issues. According to Luoma-aho (2021) study investigating flaws in international co-operation launches it is not that the systems and facilities directly collapse, it is the management of the existing expertise that fail to reach intentions. Moreover, where the international experience is gathered would need attention (Blankenburg Holm et al., 2009), highlighting the fact that cultural features do still matter in global working scene.
Skills to “lead on the fly” remind that change is never conducted solely by the managers, but with the squat working on the change.
Globalization is not a new phenomenon, people have been moving across the boarders for centuries (Beechler & Javidan, 2007), yet the management of international business seems to be. Based on Beechler and Javidan (2007), previous research focus on leaders’ competencies ignoring the actual leadership of people with their capabilities. Leading internationally differ from national level leadership of course, when the complexity of items to manage increase starting from cultural differences, yet the question is why the employees feel so overemployed whenever mentioned global work, or why they blame the client behalf when asked for details.
Company HRM (Human Resources Management) is the prior asset
Solid resourcing is a never-ending challenge. Sometimes the lack on staff originates from shortage in resources for recruiting more. Reasonable expertise might be hard to find, or to familiarize new people in for help is a challenge itself when time for such does not exist. Also, international business requiring different tools challenges the usage of available expertise, and though subsidiaries have the advantage to learn from company experiences, the access for company decisions and resources is limited resulting the units unable to act as they would desire (Blankenburg Holm et al., 2009). Then again, though the required expertise might exist internally, the managerial issue uprises of where from the people in need for assistance can find it, nor have they time to search for it.
According to Luoma-aho study (2021) functioning global team that stays together “simply need to be achieved” calling from the leader ability to act in a complex, multicultural environment (Beechler & Javidan, 2007), surrounded by variety of people. Having the right infrastructure and resources; right (local) partners and team who take interest in the new company (environment), is relevant for ensuring a smooth launch (Brooks 2019, Globalization Partners 2019). Ensuring internal resources before the international expansion (Morgan-Thomas 2009, Grant Thornton 2020), and the management and evaluation of those is vital whenever starting a new clientship, especially when already the cultural differences of any kind induce issues. It is not enough that the knowledge exists, if it cannot be shared efficiently enough.
Culturally aware communication
“The flow of information between different parts of the systems and its environment is key to the organization’s success” (Green & Cameron, 2004).
People behave and communicate differently; some manners may be offending elsewhere, hierarchies vary, and the tensity of global expectations deserve attention. Environments and even terms around research of those differ substantially forcing managers to be able interact within diverse societies “on the fly” (Beechler & Javidan, 2007). A person may not prepare for everything, but to succeed through diversity and unpredicted circumstances can be somewhat eased with CA, resilience, and solid stress-management. Learning skills that help in facing the unexpected can turn out highly beneficial, and with small steps the personal uncertainty towards foreign environment fades away (Blankenburg Holm et al., 2009).
Communication gaps reveal not only due to lingual challenges but also within industrial jargon, when IT -department and business advisors do not share common “language”, or more critically, the client cannot fully understand the service departments’ requests or explanations resulting the client representatives unable to share the knowledge further. Therefore, partially the lack of resources may in fact root from poor duty sharing caused by communicational challenges, as though solid facilities, intensions, and knowledge for the core operation would exist, the management of those deserves equal attention.
Embracing the intercultural chaos
Though international business requires persistence and creativity, it also combines processes across nations that each have their own reasons to function as they do, and the first step for healthy relationship is to respect one-another – also in business world. “My way or the highway” is not the mentality to begin within international encounters, more the Uppsala model -type (Venkateswaran 2011) discreet and stepwise approach would be suggested. To this end, FAT describes how the managerial duty would be to ensure every party involved in the change being effectively heard, while “the order naturally emerges out of chaos”, which in any scenario can be expected.
To guarantee successful business growth, the methods and processes ought to be carefully formed to meet the challenges in order to overcome the unexpected ones. For the whole co-operation best interest, those need to be designed to reach the needs of everyone involved. Innovativeness is indeed an asset, but some examination of internal practises is reasoned, when the impression is that also the specialists struggle in usage of their own tools. Even when reasoning with “organism” -metaphor (for organizational change management), where company routines develop to meet the demand, it does not state whether it means to create a completely new approach instead of modifying the existing ones. To this end, “flux and transformation” – metaphor (FAT) rather cherish to “believe in ones’ own doing” believing the environment will then adjust its behalf.
The core to remember in global co-operation
Many variations of global business tips conclude in similar five themes:
- Managerial balance – The balance between restrictions and operative freedom
- (Human) resources – The question about resourcing and facilities
- Operational evolution – Modification of practises aligns intercultural demand
- (Service) quality – International quality and asset identification
- Global Mindset – Global mindset and skills in strategies
To some extent headquarters presence does drive the efficiency, but when exceeded the need, the effect is quite the opposite decreasing units’ innovativeness (Ciabuschi & Martín, 2009). Interest and sensitiveness towards other people, optimism and tolerance for complexity, are such competencies in which the employees need to take personal interest in, requiring attention from HRM unit already at recruitment stage. Secondly, without flowing communication habits between all stakeholders, some risks and flaws may remain unidentified. The clients need their voice to be heard and listened to, and after all, together with knowing the client, decent communication core the co-operation, that also requires constant development with actions and not only acknowledgment.
Though GM were used, CQ require practise. In other words, thoughts for the company business may reach the global level, but the variety of cultural features need additional attention. Whether the impacts of cultural differences are considered on managerial level, is one thing to ensure when launching a novel international co-operation. When the company values pursue global activity, with solid facility management, the company strengths – such as international business tools, partner network and satisfied staff – develop into advantages. In the end, the quality tends to suffer from insufficiently familiarized facilities, yet also expectations forming the “quality” varies between nations, reasoning the habit for CA while developing global orientation, as the service or product quality is what forms the company reputation that has direct impact on business success.
In short, freedom to share and hear opinions should find time, place, and value in global business. Proper time to lead people, ensuring the access to right expertise while expecting those industrial cultural differences should be covered, while respecting the client’s best knowledge – their business. Apart from adjusting operations to fit into the complex environment, can now be requested to consider the (new) practises as a part of the global field. This way the “live and learn” -mentality – which also FAT advocates (Nobl Academy 2019) – would make sense and could be turned into advantage by managers recording the (good and bad) actions and sharing those effectively for everyone involved.
Beechler, S. & Javidan, M. 2007. Leading with a global mindset. The Global Mindset. S.l. Elsevier Ltd., 131-169.
Blankenburg Holm, D., Drogendijk, R., Hohenthal, J., Holm, U., Johanson, M. & Zander, I. 2009. The internationalization processes of the multinational corporation – a new research agenda. In Larimo, J. & Vissak. T. (ed.) Research on knowledge, Innovation and Internationalization. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 3-20.
Brooks, C. 2019. Going Global; How to Expand Your Business Internationally. Business News Daily. Read 8 May 2019. businessnewsdaily.com/8211-expand-business-internationally.html
Ciabuschi, F. & Martín, O. 2009. Innovation process at unit level: a study of headquarters involvement, innovation impact, transfer percormance and aodption success. In Larimo, J. & Vissak. T. (ed.) Research on Knowledge, Innovation and Internationalization. Emerald Publishing Limited, 157-183.
Globalization Partners. 2019. Tips for Developing an International Expansion Strategy. Globalization Partners. Published February 2019. Read September 2020. https://www.globalization-partners.com/blog/tips-for-developing-an-internationalexpansion-strategy/.
Grant Thornton. 2020. Checklist for international growth. Grant Thornton; Global Trade. Published 6 January 2020. Read September 2020. https://www.grantthornton.global/en/insights/articles/checklist-for-internationalgrowth/.
Green, M. & Cameron, E. 2004. The Underpinning Theory – Organizational change. Making Sense of Change Management. London: Kogan Page.
Luoma-aho, E. 2021. Cultural Challenges in International Co-operation Launches. International Business Management. Tampere University of Applied Sciences. Master’s thesis. https://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-2021110319255.
Morgan-Thomas, A., Jones, M., & Ji, J. 2009. Global online entrepreneurship: The review of empirical literature. In Larimo, J. & Vissak. T. (ed.) Research on Knowledge, Innovation and Internationalization. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 69-88.
Nobl Academy. 2019. 8 Organizational Metaphors. Updated 28 August 2019. Read June 2021. https://academy.nobl.io/gareth-morgan-organizational-metaphors/.
Venkateswaran, N. 2011. International Business Management. New Age International Ltd.
Emma Luoma-aho, Master of IBM (TAMK), Specialist of Global Financial Services, has overall over a decade of experience in hospitality management, leading people in complex environments, and (global) financial services. Her Masters’ Thesis was about “Cultural Challenges in International Co-operation Launches in Financial Management”, and her passion and expertise for multicultural leadership is now used for global operations service development.
Shaidul Kazi, PhD has over fifteen years’ teaching experience in cross-cultural management, HRM and International Business-related courses. His PhD dissertation topic was “Managerial Decision-Making Behaviour and Impact of Culture. He is a multicultural intelligence expert and senior lecturer in the degree program of International Business, at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK). Alongside teaching, he regularly writes newspaper and journal article on contemporary issues.
Photo: Jonne Renvall / University of Tampere