It has never been easier to go global according to Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of “Winning Companies; Winning People” speaking to young business leaders at a Next Generation Network event in Greenwich: “Pioneers are using a new generation of support tools to free people from dependency upon particular locations and support mobile activities, relocation and outsourcing. They can transform understanding and make it easier for people to do difficult jobs at any time and any where.”
According to Coulson-Thomas, “In an era of protectionism international travel and communications were relatively expensive. Today the horizons of ambitious managers embrace the globe. Deregulation, privatization and market forces have eroded trade barriers. Work can follow daylight allowing 24 hour operation. Resources can be accessed and activity undertaken locally, regionally or globally depending upon requirements and comparative costs. Sole traders and jungle natives use websites and email to contact customers all over the world.”
However, operating in the international business environment also presents new challenges. There are commercial, legal and financial risks to consider. There are obstacles of distance, culture and time to overcome. An investigation led by Coulson-Thomas has compared the approaches of successful international operators with those of businesses that find it hard going to reveal lessons for those with global aspirations.
Coulson-Thomas believes “Thinking global is the first step towards acting global. Be aware of what is happening abroad. Internationalization requires more than an ability to speak foreign languages. Respect other viewpoints. Be tolerant of national differences. Value diversity. Join international project groups, task forces and teams. Seek opportunities for foreign travel, overseas exchanges and job swaps.”
Companies like countries can have distinct cultures. Coulson-Thomas advises “Knowledge of where the best bars are in Cities abroad does not distinguish an ‘international manager’. Attitudes, approaches and perspectives do. Be sensitive to differences and similarities in national assumptions, attitudes, and motivations. Try to reconcile conflicting interests, while recognizing that particular local requirements create opportunities for bespoke offerings.”
Customer segments may or may not coincide with national borders. Coulson-Thomas finds “Experienced international operators are intuitive and cross-culturally aware. Learn to handle diversity and relationships with overseas colleagues. Mutual expectations need to be realistic and compatible. Address practicalities such as whether technologies are compatible.”
Coulson-Thomas warns “Don’t be pre-occupied with yourself. Focus on the people you would like to establish, build and sustain relationships with. Understand them. Empathize with them. Respond to their aspirations, hopes and fears. Keeping opportunities to yourself, trusting no one and operating alone will stunt your growth. Form relationships with complementary collaborators. Match your management style to how people you wish to develop closer relationships with operate.”
People need to be properly supported when overseas operations are established. Coulson-Thomas explains “The latest support tools make it easy for people to understand and emulate the superior approaches of high performers. Higher level work can be quickly outsourced and/or moved offshore. Early adopters report better performance, lower costs, speedier and bespoke responses, increased understanding, reduced stress, less risk and enforced compliance. Large returns on investment result.”
Coulson-Thomas’ research has covered over 4,000 organisations. 2,000 of them have contributed to studies to identify critical success factors for key business development activities. He reports “The findings are remarkably consistent across sectors, professions, corporate nationalities and different sizes of organisation. In areas examined so far we have identified a relatively small number of top performers and a much larger proportion of fairly average achievers. The good news is that there are practical and cost effective ways of capturing and sharing what stars do differently.”
The Next Generation Network event at which Colin Coulson-Thomas spoke on becoming an effective global manager was organized in collaboration with the Centre for Indian Business at the University of Greenwich and took place in the Old Royal Naval College on the University’s world heritage site campus at Greenwich in South East London. The event aimed to highlight the importance of an international perspective for the next generation of business leaders in the UK and India.
Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas has helped over 100 boards to improve director, board and corporate performance, and reviewed the processes and practices for competing and winning of over 100 companies. He is the author of over 40 books and reports, and has spoken at over 200 national and international conferences in 40 countries.