“Company based in Country A. Headquarters is in Country A. Manager is native of Country A. Manager is working in Country B, however. And customers are in Country B.
Headquarters makes product changes without input from countries. Customers in Country B do not like the product changes. Danger of losing customers. Manager escalates with Headquarters.
Response: “Customers in Country B are much smaller than those in Country A. Nothing can be done for customers in Country B. Manager has to accept.” Result: Country B loses customers.
Manager 1 asks Manager 2 for assistance. Manager 2 is also native of Country A, but works in headquarters in Country A.
Can this work? Is this a good approach? Is it recommended?”
Not only can it work, is it a good approach, is it recommended, it is the most obvious and natural first step to solving the problem:
“Hey Manager 2, we’re colleagues. We’re both from Country A. You work in headquarters. I have worked in HQ. Changes were made without our input in Country B. It is hurting our business. We need some help getting our message across to the right people in HQ. Can you help us?”
This all seems straightforward. If it were, there would be far fewer problems between HQ and countries within global companies. The fact is, however, there are problems, and many of them.
Because this is such a complex topic, I’ll mention just one key point.
One thing must be done in order to find a solution to the problem, to establish, maintain and deepen the bilateral relationship between HQ and Country B.
Colleagues in HQ need to understand the nature of the business in Country B, to understand why certain decisions from HQ hurt their business. Colleagues in Country B have to explain to them the deeper-lying cultural drivers.
In other words, the operating assumptions, the fundamental parameters of Country B’s business culture must be explained. It’s not enough to say: “Hey HQ, that decision is a bad one for our business.”
Why should HQ believe that statement? If colleagues in HQ do not know Country B, do not know the nature of the business there, they are not in a postion to judge whether the statement is true or not. They have to trust it blindly. And who likes to do that? How could they do their job as HQ if every country could demand special treatment just by claming “that is bad for our business”?
Country B needs to explain why the product changes hurt the business. Not just on the superficial (surface) level, but on a deeper level, on the level of how the business actually works in Country B. In other words, Country B has to first educate HQ about the nature of the business, the deeper-lying drivers.
These are seldom discussed. They are taken for granted. In fact, many people working in their native business culture aren’t even aware of these deeper-lying factors. It’s all they know, all they have known.
Most likely they have never been asked to identify, describe and explain them. And because of this they assume that the cultural factors native to their country are universal. If universal, then they are true for and in Country A, too.
On the flip side, colleagues from HQ need to listen carefully. In order to fully understand, they need to be aware of their deeper-lying cultural assumptions. For there can be no true understanding of another culture’s hard-wiring, without an awareness of one’s own hard-wiring. We all see other cultures – colleagues, businesses, products, etc. – with the eyes of our home culture. We need to understand the eyes with which we see.
It could very well be that colleagues in HQ made product changes which they believed were helpful for the business in Country B. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that they want to help Country B succeed.
But what are the chances that HQ understands – at a deeper level – Country B? Its national culture, its business culture, the needs of their customers?