Real life examples of the human side of going international

Whether you already have established a presence in another country or you are thinking about it, and particularly if your organization is a SME, here are some examples of issues you may encounter and ideas as to how to either resolve or manage them.

You have an agent or a representative

You are not sure that this person truly understands and represents the uniqueness of your offering, whether product or service, and your culture, your way of doing business. Perhaps you are correct. In that case it may be time for a face-to-face meeting. The aim would be to enquire about their understanding of your needs and...about their requirements and needs. Indeed I have met or spoken with many who feel left out, and lacking the information, tools and support they need from the "parent organisation" or head office to do well by you. They may have suggested adaptations to your approaches or marketing material to better cater to the new market but have not been heard. They too want your project to succeed. After all, it is also in their best interest.

You have decided to set an office, virtual or physical, another country

You can choose to go about it alone, relying on the internet to get the name of local companies, lawyers or accountants, but how will you know if the are the right fit for your organisation? It is likely that your home country favorite supplier can point you in the right direction and help you replicate a corporate organisation legal model and business and employment related contracts that reflect not only local regulations and practices, but also fit with your culture. The same goes for finding organisations that will help you comply with the human resources management side of doing business.

Choosing the right people to do the job

If you choose to assign a HO person to lead the project, ensure that they have both the knowledge, know-how, soft skills AND time to do a good job. This could mean hiring a new person. And if you choose to work with someone abroad, whether as an employee, as a contractor, an agent or other representative, and even as a distributor, take the time to get to know the market and how things are done over there. Then identify what your organisation requires, skill-set wise, and later begin to look for the right people. Also, before you sign anything, get to know each other, as people. Because you will be entrusting your organisation's image to this person. And put in place the conditions that will allow both the individuals and the organisation to win.

We have sent a "winner" to the other country but it is not working out

Many factors could contribute to such a situation. For instance, how is the fit with the other country culture or language? Was the person sent with the right information about the context and the objectives? Did he or she possess the right skill-set (hard and soft skills)? Is the person kept in the loop or rather somehow set aside? Did the organisation make sure that there was a network in place before moving the person (HO government resources abroad, ties to chambers of commerce, representatives of your HO clients abroad, help with finding a right place to stay etc.). And on a personal level, is this person able to rapidly create a personal support system? Do their motivations and aspirations and personnaly match the reality of what this assignement represents? What can be put in place so that home-country relations can continue to flourish? If the person has been moved with spouse and family, what can be done so the family unit is healthy and happy? Indeed if too isolated for too long your employee and their spouse or family may face internal conflicts negatively affecting both the personal and professional spheres, potentially leading to repatriation. Then who would want to be sent abroad? Sometimes, after such an experience, an organisation will choose to remove itself entirely from the country, at least for a few years. Done well though, this could constitute a wonderful experience for all involved. The knowledge acquired could then be shared and become part of the organisation's DNA and unique value proposition.

Does all this entail costs? We would rather think about it as investments, for it is, as you know, difficult to make a second first good impression. And yes, the return on your investment may only fully materialise after two or thee years. Also, going international may require your organisation to review how it is structured, how decisions are made, how processes support the achievement of the desired short and long term goals. But then again, it is also a great opportunity to prepare for scaling up.

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