Strategy
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'MAKE EVERY LOCATION FEEL SPECIAL AND NOT JUST AN OUTREACH'

The world is getting smaller. Technology is helping more organisations access new markets and extend their workforce into new countries. But as your broader employee base gets culturally richer, the expectations on managers and employees change. Henry Davies, founder and comms consultant at 106 Communications, warns internal communicators that they need to take a different approach when their business goes global.

24th January 2022

You can’t create real teamwork and collaboration if the people in HQ think they have all the power.

HENRY DAVIES, 106 COMMUNICATIONS


For many organisations, the availability of talent at a reasonable price – in lower-cost markets – is always going to be a driver for extending their geographic reach.

Do you need to be based in a particular location to access that talent? The pandemic has opened up our eyes – and those of finance directors, who no longer need to worry about the costs of opening offices in different locations. With everyone working from home, we’re asking, how much do you need physical infrastructure to support your need for global talent or to get your business into different markets?

Businesses will go where the skills are – and certain locations have specific skills. In India, China and South-East Asia, there is a big focus on tech and engineering. Equally, there are plenty of outsourcing and back-office skills in Eastern Europe. With Brexit, businesses are asking themselves, what are our key skill areas in the UK?

Internal communicators then need to understand the make-up of their new, global organisations. One of the biggest issues when you have operations and offices all around the world is the sense of a centre – an HQ, even if it’s not called that, where messages are sent from and engagement is centred around. The challenge is to make every location feel special and not just an outreach that is getting communication from the big operation in the middle.


Cultural understanding is needed on many levels. We work with a construction company that recently had a project involving people from the UK, North America and India for the first time. There was friction in terms of styles of working and the communication hadn’t been clear in helping everyone appreciate the different skills in the team and the value they brought to the project. One regional team was made to look like it had been outsourced, rather than an equal, and the relationship became slightly patronising and transactional.

We need to be aware of the language we use in multinational teams, and the way we respond to project briefs and challenges, to manage expectations. You can’t create real teamwork and collaboration if the people in HQ think they have all the power.

Internal communicators need to understand how to help line managers and project managers navigate those situations. You can’t do that over Zoom or email.

Globalisation is changing the dynamic of the line manager. Remote working has made line management – checking in and making sure people are working in the right way – the priority and not a supplement to their role.

Explore ideas to get people to work better as a team and collaborate across channels, whether it’s Slack or Teams, or online whiteboards like Miro. Teamwork is intuitive in an office, but it’s less so from remote environments.

We need to rebuild the skills of collaboration in a different way. Managers need to create a psychologically safe space, where things can be discussed in an open and honest way and there is no fear of failure or reprisal and. Taking the time to do that is important.


Storytelling works well to educate people about other cultures. Enable people to talk about their lived experiences and what it means for them to work. As an example, it might be about going back to the workplace after Covid. Young people are keen, but they might be living with vulnerable parents or, in some countries, likely to be living with different generations in the same house. Going back to a workplace might be putting those relatives at risk.

Encourage people to talk about themselves and celebrate the people in your organisation, in a non-competitive way. Share insight into different work pressures and life challenges – create corporate empathy to help colleagues understand how to communicate with global colleagues, and how to get work done effectively.

When your business does go multinational, remember there will be people who have grown up with you and, if the business changes significantly, might find all the best things about a domestic organisation get taken away. Employees tend to focus on the things they will lose.

What does it mean for a national business to suddenly be in a multinational place? When you’re based in one or two countries, you feel part of a small operation, you have more access to leaders, you are helping to grow something you can still hold onto and wrap your arms around. When it becomes a global phenomenon with more infrastructure and processes, the basic tenets change. It shifts from “What’s in it for me?” in a small, much-loved company, to “What are the opportunities?” in a growing, global organisation. Employees might ask, how can I affect change? Or simply, will I get paid more?

Internal communication needs to help people make the shift in value proposition when you start doing things on a bigger scale.

Take your people on the journey. Show them different cultures and people, even if they might not actually meet them, and the great things about working in a global organisation. It can be a fantastic experience.

When you run an initiative on a global scale, think about how you execute that in different territories? Do you have a champions network you can build on? Have you engaged and consulted to see how something might land in other territories? Understand that engagement in the Middle East will be very different to how it is in North America, and be realistic about what you expect in each location.


So many organisations have English as a global language and insist all communication is in English.
Obviously, it takes time and cost to translate messages, but they will land better if they are in employees’ local language – especially those in roles where they don’t often have to use English or step out of their natural language.  

Creatively, we often go for something everyone can get their heads around – the “one company” initiative – but we dilute it to the extent that it doesn’t mean anything. We tend to be representative and show a diverse range, and default to rules about imagery and language.

How do we dial up those creative messages so they don’t fall flat? Push your campaigns to work in one territory, and then adapt it for another. Translate the language so it has a more personal and powerful feel.

Go deeper and research the markets – as you would if you were communicating to consumers in those regions. That’s the key for internal communication: embrace your emotive skills to get the message across.

 

You can’t create real teamwork and collaboration if the people in HQ think they have all the power.

HENRY DAVIES, 106 COMMUNICATIONS

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