So, You Got Your First Global Assignment! Now What?


If you’re a senior marketer for a multi-national firm, there’s a good chance that you’ll have the opportunity to take on a global leadership role at some point in your career. This can be extremely rewarding, professionally and personally, given the significant impact that you can have on a business, but also because of the chance to interact with professionals from different cultures. However, leading a global marketing team can be difficult if you don’t establish a system that allows you to effectively work across time zones and to overcome cultural barriers. This is especially true if you lead a “matrixed” organization, where you have accountability for a business’ performance, yet local market leaders only have a dotted-line reporting relationship to you.

Based on my experiences, along with feedback received from experienced global leaders, the following is a summary of the key lessons-learned that can help you to become a more effective global marketer:

• First seek to understand, then to be understood. Develop credibility by spending time in your markets to understand – first hand – what the key local issues and opportunities are. This is especially important for those cultures where relationship-building is an important part of the business process (China, Japan and the Latin American markets are good examples). Study the market and really listen to what your local colleagues and customers have to say. Not only will this give you a better understanding of each market’s dynamics, but you’ll develop the credibility to debate and discuss that market’s business issues. Additionally, the local team will be much more willing to accept your decisions if you’ve built the credibility of having spent time in their market.

• Avoid “Out of sight – out of mind” syndrome. Being in a global leadership role requires a significant amount of travel in order perform at a high level. In addition to the point made above, being visible allows you to reinforce key objectives, marketing objectives and build camaraderie. We all strive to have work-life balance, but during your first year in a global job count on spending at least 40 – 50% of your time traveling. Later, you can try to manage this down to 30%, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being visible during the first year. if significant international travel is not suitable to your personal situation, then it may not be the right time to take on an international role.

• Actively communicate. Simply stated, don’t let distance and time zones be a reason for a lack of communication. The myriad of technological devices at our disposal today allow us to communicate from practically anywhere, anytime. When you have a question, pick up your phone and call. It’s too easy to just email; but you have to have the live interaction to help break down the barriers of time and distance. Because of time differences, this means that you’ll have early-morning or early-evening calls with Asian markets, so adjust your schedule accordingly. Also, be sure to establish a rhythm of regularly-scheduled business updates and planning sessions as another means of ensuring regular communication.

• Identify and share best practices. This is a simple, inexpensive way of adding value to a global organization. By having visibility to many markets, you’ll be in the best position to identify common issues and which tactics are best being deployed to overcome them. This is also a great way to acknowledge good performance and to encourage direct market-to-market communication.

There are many others lessons that can be shared, but I think that these are the most important. Does anyone have additional learnings to share? Please comment if you do!

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One response to “So, You Got Your First Global Assignment! Now What?

  1. In addition to the points made above, I think it’s also important to show 2 important characteristics: the first one is to demonstrate an ability to lead by listening to the specific conditions of each market, but also to be a resource and ally to the various countries. Local colleagues are normally wary and tired of corporate colleagues “wasting” their time. Becoming a partner is an essential step to garner trust.
    In this token, another key activity is to establish relatively quickly a strategic plan to grow the business on a worldwide basis that understands the differences per country, but also leverages the similarities to ignite global growth.

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