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Have you gone global?
By Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas

Colin Coulson-Thomas explains how to operate effectively in the international marketplace.

The horizons of ambitious managers today embrace the globe. Deregulation, privatization and market forces have eroded trade barriers. Budget airlines have reduced travel costs. The end of the cold war has created new opportunities.

Work can follow daylight around the globe allowing 24 hour a day operation. Resources can be accessed and activity undertaken locally, regionally or at global level depending upon requirements and comparative costs. Even sole traders use websites and email to make direct contact with 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.

The Centre for Competitiveness at the University of Luton examines the differing approaches of successful international operators and businesses that find it hard going. Comparing them reveals some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for those with aspirations to go global.

Thinking global is the first step towards acting global. To take it you need to be aware of what is happening abroad. When you touch down be open to new influences and receptive to alternative ideas.

Retain a sense of perspective. Business people around the world watch the news on CNN. Global media shape their attitudes and perceptions. But even MTV has its regional offerings, and requirements for products can vary greatly between national markets. The significance of borders will depend upon the business you are in,

Don’t be overawed by the claims of others. Many so-called international companies are national enterprises that trade internationally. People who travel a lot sometimes hold onto stereotyped views or exaggerate national characteristics. Living and working abroad can reinforce existing prejudices. Some make an effort to adjust and adapt. Others don’t.

Appearances can be deceptive. A German manager who might seem formal and detached may contribute as much as a more voluble American. Reluctant Britons might observe a consensus outcome while delightful French colleagues may refuse to implement decisions they disagree with.

Knowledge of the best bars in Amsterdam, Barcelona or Venice does not distinguish an ‘international manager’. Attitudes, approaches and perspectives do. Internationally aware mangers are alert to developments in the global business environment.

True internationalization requires more than an ability to speak foreign languages. Respect other viewpoints. Be tolerant of national differences. Actively support cultural diversity. Seek opportunities for foreign travel. Participate in overseas exchanges and job swaps. Join international project groups, task forces and teams.

Companies like countries can have distinct cultures. 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. 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 the technologies of the various parties will connect.

People likely to be interested in what you have to offer may be widely scattered. Keeping opportunities to yourself, trusting no one and operating alone will stunt your growth. Form relationships with complementary collaborators in other countries.

Some managers have a distorted understanding of overseas situations and harbour naïve expectations of international initiatives. Be realistic. Think through the implications of what you are setting out to do. Anticipate likely consequences, consider probable outcomes and assess possible reactions. Be prepared to address potential problem areas.

Recognize fundamental national differences and match words and deeds. Don’t advocate diversity and variety, and then insist upon common approaches. Don’t impose standard solutions that are inappropriate in particular locations. Wherever possible, tailor your approach to local circumstances and individual requirements.

Aim to communicate with customers and prospects in ways that are acceptable to them. Use languages they understand. If your intention is to become an international rather than a European player, you may need to give greater priority to Spanish and Portuguese.

Some executives talk about internationalization but then make sure that all key positions are in the hands of ‘home country’ nationals. Diversity can be a spur to creativity. If you get the chance, recruit and develop a multinational cadre of managers. Ensure opportunities go to those who are best qualified for each role.

Try not to force internationalization down your colleagues’ throats. Let it occur naturally and tackle problems as they arise. Don’t sweep difficulties under the carpet or hope they will go away. Allow people to network. Let them forge whatever cross-border relationships will best enable them to achieve their objectives.

Do not foist a single corporate culture on employees, customers and suppliers regardless of differing local conditions and unfavourable circumstances. Match your management style to how people you wish to develop closer relationships with operate.

Before you set up joint ventures with overseas businesses make sure you and your colleagues are equipped to manage them. Be prepared to devote time to making them work. Because of the effort involved select prospects with care. Learn from your mistakes, and from your customers, suppliers and business partners.

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.

Effective international relationships are based on trust and respect. Lasting partnerships depend upon compatible interests. Establish a shared vision, common values, joint goals and agreed objectives. Consciously create mutually beneficial arrangements. Monitor reactions and be alert to changing requirements. And finally, celebrate, enjoy and sustain success.

Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas
Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas
About the Author:

Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas is an experienced chairman of award winning companies and consultant. He has advised over 80 boards on how to improve board and corporate performance, leads the world's largest winning business research and best practice programme, and has reviewed the processes and practices for winning business of over 50 companies.

Following marketing and general management roles Colin became the world's first Professor of Corporate Transformation and more recently Process Vision Holder of major transformation projects. He is the author of over 30 books and reports, including ‘Individuals and Enterprise’ (Blackhall Publishing, 1999), 'Shaping Things to Come' (Blackhall Publishing, 2001), 'Transforming the Company, Manage Change, Compete and Win' (Kogan Page, 2002 and 2004) and ‘The Knowledge Entrepreneur’(Kogan Page, 2003). Colin has spoken at over 200 national and international conferences and corporate events in over 20 countries. He can be contacted:

Tel: 01733 361 149
Fax: 01733 361 459
Email: colinct@tiscali.co.uk
Web: www.ntwkfirm.com/colin.coulson-thomas

Transforming the Company: Manage Change, Compete & Win
Colin Coulson-Thomas shows that to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality, business people must make far-reaching decisions about the value to them and their companies of particular theories, past assumptions and traditional approaches. Based on original research, the first edition of this was ahead of its time and predicted many of the current management trends. The author now brings the text bang up-to-date for the 21st century. This second edition of Transforming The Company shows how to turn theory into practice by highlighting the obstacles and barriers that confront companies when trying to bring about change. For management at all levels faced with this task, this thought-provoking book will inspire and enlighten.

The Knowledge Entrepreneur: How Your Business Can Create, Manage and Profit from Intellectual Capital  by Colin Coulson-Thomas

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The Knowledge Entrepreneur: How Your Business Can Create, Manage and Profit from Intellectual Capital
In many companies knowledge management has focused almost exclusively upon the packaging of existing knowledge. This book is designed to help readers boost revenues and profit by significantly improving the performance of existing activities and also creating new offerings that generate additional income. It shows how practical knowledge-based job-support tools can transform work group productivity, and reveals the enormous scope for addressing contemporary problems such as "information overload" with imaginative responses. Additional information includes: a list of possible commercial ventures; detailed checklists that can be used for identifying and analysing opportunities for knowledge entrepreneurship; and exercises for assessing entrepreneurial potential and "scoping" possible products and services. The free CD-ROM packaged with the book gives examples of particular knowledge-based job support tools that have dramatically improved desired results in crucial areas such as winning more business.







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