Identify core values, document communication rigorously, and enable personal connections.
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Growing a company is always difficult, however when that growth crosses borders, scores of new challenges arise. As globalization accelerates, companies to in a position to navigate the challenges of international business could have real opportunities to get ahead.
Alibaba is a prime example. Named the most effective brand beyond your U.S. this past year, the multinational e-commerce, retail, internet, and technology giant was founded in China in 1999, and has since expanded right into a global company with market cap of around $560 billion.
But on the way, Alibaba has already established growing pains exactly like any other company. To understand how its team worked through those challenges, I spoke with John Caplan, the company’s Chief Growth Officer. We discussed how entrepreneurs can tackle three of multinational companies’ most common hurdles.
Adopt a rigorous system for documenting internal communication – particularly when there are language barriers
The rise of collaboration software has managed to get much easier for all of us to talk to team memberseven if they’re working from different offices. But also for multinational companies, language barriers still pose significant challenges. A 2012 Economist Intelligence Unit Report showed that nearly half of the 572 senior executives interviewed admitted that "messages lost in translation have halted major international business deals because of their companies.”
When language barriers exist, communicating through multiple mediums could be like playing a casino game of telephone. As a note gets passed along, it could change slightly predicated on each individual’s translations and perceptions. This is something Alibaba realized because they began to conduct business beyond the Chinese market, so now, Caplan says, "We’re pretty disciplined and rigorous about both documenting what someone said and being very precise in what we heard and learned because ambiguity can cause inadvertent error, and we work very difficult in order to avoid that.”
Whether it’s having a translator on your own calls to take down notes and file them properly or making sure to pair your bilingual employees with those people who are working from regions beyond headquarters, it is very important to adopt an especially stringent company-wide procedure for documentation.
Related: Impact Of Ethnic Diversity And Multiculturalism In Corporate Culture
Geographical differences can impact your hiring process – but identify core traits employees must have
Fostering effective communication isn’t nearly employees speaking the same language and even training of the same work place. It starts sooner than that – in the hiring process.
Finding employees that fit your company culture (and increase it) is essential in making certain employees could work together seamlessly. Of course, that is an especially challenging task for multinational companies. Every locality has its systems and values, and you can’t always perfectly sync cultural norms across international borders.
In Caplan’s experience at Alibaba, he’s found it crucial to be ready to get outside your safe place. “It really is true there are cultural differences with regards to cultural norms, rituals, habits that take some used to," he says. "I’ve decked out in a spacesuit and gone on stage at an Alibaba conference before a large number of people and danced around. You understand, in my own career, I’ve never really had to achieve that before.”
The main point is, people may interact and conduct themselves differently across borders, but being available to nuances in communications and expectations can make it significantly better to integrate your company across borders.
And in the long run, what’s most significant is that each hire embraces and emobodies the core values of your company. “There’s a couple of values that operate at Alibaba that, whether or not you speak Mandarin as your first language or English as an initial language, actually transcend geography,” Caplan says.
Related: 3 Tips for Owning a Cross-Cultural Workforce
To build corporate culture, emphasize deep personal communication
According to a 2105 survey of over 1400 CEOs and CFOs on corporate culture, 92% of respondents believed that improving their company’s corporate culture would enhance the value of the business. But which can be tough for multinational companies whose employees haven’t met.
Caplan agrees, “There is some real value in sitting next to your colleagues and being in the lunchroom together.” But obviously, you can’t share every meal together with your colleagues around the world, so establishing a corporate culture of personal communication is a lot more crucial for multinational companies.
Rather than just sending messages over Slack, make an effort occasionally to can get on a call – even if it’s not essential. Give your employees time to activate in more casual chat at the start of business call. This may seem like a period sink at first, but it surely is a great way to have your team build more personal relationships.
And even though you clearly can’t fly your employees overseas each day, it could be immensely beneficial to do it periodically in order that every team member can truly put a name to a face.
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