Apr 26, 2017

5 Tips for Running an International Workforce

5 Tips for Running an International Workforce


by Jeremiah Owyang

Running an international workforce has its challenges, but it is not impossible. To experience the many benefits, follow these tips to make the process much simpler.

As our world becomes more globalized, even small to medium businesses can branch out and assemble international workers. An international workforce can offer different perspectives and ideas, lower costs, and stay connected through technology.

But integrating a domestic and foreign workforce can be an arduous task, and it is easy for a business’s different branches in different countries to go off kilter due to misunderstandings. If you want to get the most out of our globalized system, here are some tips to reduce miscommunication and ensure that international workers are working with the highest enthusiasm and potential.

1. Do your research

When you plan to expand your business overseas, remember that you are not in Kansas anymore. It is not just about the difference between general cultures. It is about the difference in how business is conducted, how employees react to direct criticism, what sort of tax burdens and regulations your business will have to confront as a foreign company and a thousand other differences. There are countless examples, from Target in Canada to Best Buy in Europe, of companies which moved too quickly in a foreign market without understanding the new country and failed as a result.

Conducting basic research from avenues like the CIA World Factbook or government agencies is a critical first step towards understanding your international workforce. Informing yourself about foreign culture shows that you respect your overseas workers, and showing that respect will help build the needed camaraderie and team cohesion that an international business has to struggle to build.

2. Value diversity

Everyone knows that diversity matters, and research from consulting firm McKinsey shows that business which embrace ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform business which do not. But diversity is not just taking a 2-hour training course which says that Indians and Africans do certain things differently from us. It is a constant commitment towards building not just a business but a society where different opinions are valued and the best parts taken to create something greater.

A true commitment towards diversity means celebrating different cultures and recognizing ability regardless of where it is from. Work to have a diverse leadership both from an ethnic and gender perspective. Show your regular workers the contributions which foreign workers are making. By reinforcing the idea that everyone is part of the same team no matter where they are from, you can promote an inclusive attitude that will limit miscommunication and create a more coherent business.

3. Handle the language barrier

Celebrating diversity matters. But if you cannot understand what your foreign workers are saying, that creates a barrier which no amount of diversity training can break; and while English is the lingua franca of much of the business world, your business should still either promote learning English among your international workforce or learning the appropriate foreign language for your domestic workforce. The latter can be harder, but it is preferable as it shows your international workforce that you value them enough to learn their tongue.

Since the vast majority of international business do not invest in language skills training, your business can thus secure an advantage over most of your competition. Investing in language skills can range from promoting language classes to just giving tips to foreign workers who need help with their English. Make sure they understand what you say by asking them to summarize what you said and not by asking “Do you understand?”

4. Face-to-face communication matters

Technology has made it easier to communicate with international people than ever before, but talking face-to-face remains the most effective method. Depending on where your overseas work is located, it may not be always possible to reliably depend on communicating through the internet.

Know when the overseas sections of your business are having major events such as a celebration or conference, and do not hesitate to jet across the world with a business visa to talk with workers about their issues face-to-face. This will let you know more about overseas conditions and issues than can be gleaned from behind a computer screen.

5. Do not be scared of not acting

If your business has made it to the point where it can look at expanding overseas, you should already know the importance of delegation; but now, delegation becomes even more critical. No matter how much you try to learn about a foreign country’s skills and languages, whoever is running the business overseas will know that culture better than you will. As CIO notes, often the best plan should be to hire the best people, give them advice and get out of their way.

You will need to constantly communicate to make sure that you and your overseas managers have the same goals, but let them get to that goal in the manner they believe best. Delegating responsibility can empower them and let them do their job better than dictating a bunch of highly specific orders that do not fully understand the situation overseas.

Original source: Business

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