Five Friday Highlights: Siestas, Expats, and Global Expectations

Global Expectations

If you have ever established residence in a country other than your own, you know that settling in involves so much more than unpacking. In today’s highlights, insight into life in Vietnam for an expat as well as issues that in one way or another reflect changing economies and customs in several countries.

When you think of Spain, do you envision businesses closing for lengthy afternoon siestas? Siestas have actually been in decline for a decade but businesses in Spain are grappling with ways to empower their employees to use their time effectively while also handling child care and other work/life balance issues (childcare can be scarce in Spain). Learn more from the Harvard Business Review’s piece, Don’t Call it a Siesta – What Spain’s New Work Hours Really Mean.

Even if you never cross the border of your own country, you are almost certain to communicate electronically with other cultures. As Bridging the Cross-Cultural Gap Through Email Etiquette explains, cultural differences need to be bridged in email just as much as they do in person. It shares four strategies for more effectively communicating across culture via email.

Get a glimpse into one of the parts of the expat puzzle (childcare) in The Cost of Motherhood for an Ex-Pat in Vietnam. Diana Metzger, whose family moved to Vietnam from the US in connection with her husband’s position with a Dutch NGO, discusses how the Vietnamese view her as a working mother, healthcare, consumerism, and the cost of living (baby formula, for example, is imported and prices can reach $65 for one canister.)

How China Can Avoid the Middle Income Trap explores the difficult choices China faces as growth slows. The author explains why some people in China see reason for optimism yet others have “serious reasons for concern; environmental degradation, corruption, high debt levels, to name just a few. Unless China can address its governance challenge, I fear that the pessimists will prove right. Issues of governmental authority will drive the direction of China’s economic trajectory.”

If you are an American who has traveled abroad, you may have been surprised at how your home country was perceived. Research what other countries tell their citizens about what to expect in the US, and you may see a different “US” than the one you call home. UK issues travel warning about anti-LGBT laws in U.S. states is one example.

What would you tell a visitor to your home country? Email me by clicking here to let me know!

Image Credit: 123rf/Timur Arbaev

Five Friday Highlights: Assumptions and Infrastructure

Global Highlights

In this week’s highlights, we look at assumptions people make about how things are going to be, a situation which can be especially challenging for those working in new countries. We talk a bit about infrastructure, and take a sip from a popular German beverage!

The “light work week” is commonly referred to in discussions of France’s labor climate. Currently, the work week is legally capped at 35 hours. In Working Nine to Four from The Economist, factors contributing to possible changes to this standard are discussed. As the article notes, “for much of the left, the 35-hour week remains not only a badge of progress but the mark of a preference: for shorter hours, more holidays and higher productivity” (the article goes on to point out that France has a higher productivity rate than Britain and Germany). Perhaps the French are struggling to let go of an assumption that the 35-hour week would have more permanence.

In global business, assumptions can provide false reassurance or create unnecessary reservations. {TWEET THIS}

As China Daily notes in China Has the Jobs, Now it Must Promote Them, China has no shortage of jobs for foreign workers. The article quotes Mary Wadsworth Darby as saying, she “believes China is already equipped with everything foreign workers would want, and now it is up to employers to educate their potential employees on what they can offer.” Interestingly, the article discusses how Chinese businesses need to understand expectations American workers have of being able to leave work to spend time with their families, an assumption an American worker could easily take to China only to be surprised when it is not met.

Infrastructure makes a huge difference in the ability to conduct business in a country, for obvious reasons. When I read Africa’s Telecoms Infrastructure: 2015 at a Glance from the itublog, I was reminded why it matters for organizations to plug away at creating infrastructure long before an established need exists. As the author notes, “The real impact of technological innovation is often not felt until long after market introduction – particularly in emerging markets.”

Equal opportunity for each gender matters. This is always a work in progress in Latin America. Women face conditions outlined by Technoserve in Helping Women Build Better Businesses in Latin America, such as “accessing finance without legal ownership or a guarantee” and  “joining traditionally male-dominated business networks.” Technoserve’s business accelerator program serves women in these countries, and was always cognizant that they “had to engage and convince business owners of the necessity of including a gendered lens in their business decisions.”

Lastly, to end on a light note and give you a “taste” of a culturally unique product, enjoy this article from the Wall Street Journal about Spezi, a popular mix of cola and citrus soda. Although an American quoted in the article characterized it as “carbonated swamp juice,” it is a hit in Germany, and some bottlers plan to expand to France and Britain. Brewer Sebastian Priller said, “It gives you the feeling of a Bavarian holiday without the alcohol.” Would you give Spezi a try?

What have you read this week that made you think differently or crave the taste of a different country? Drop me a line at melissa@lamsonconsulting.com and let me know!

Setting Global Management Priorities in a Shifting Business World

Working globally in business today means more than travelling to an executive meeting in another country. It’s a broad-ranging pursuit that requires a deeper understanding of the contexts in which we work. International business trips not only foster exposure to other cultures and perspectives in your own dealings, but also assist in creating a more worldly approach to every level of a company. For leaders seeking a more global perspective, and wanting to develop global mindset in their teams, here are three ways to set global management priorities:

Look for quality over cost:

In my work with management teams of large international brands, I’m seeing a trend away from seeking labor that is most notable for its low cost. Companies now are more interested in the quality of the work. They’re looking for a more sophisticated ROI, which means skill level, language aptitude and time zone accessibility all rank higher on the list now, too. Cost, which was once the only question asked when looking to outsource or expand, has been pushed farther down. This trend has caused an increase in near-shoring, or companies looking to countries in their same (or closer to their same) time zone, for labor. It has also allowed high-skill workforce areas such as China and India to remain in the conversation, even as the cost of labor in those countries increases. Work ethic, cultural values and timeliness are now of greater importance to global managers than simply selecting the cheapest possible option.

Think beyond the BRIC countries:

In countries with a strong reputation for skilled labor and an ascending economy it’s now more competitive to recruit than it was when these countries were less developed. It’s also the case that BRIC countries come with their own set of challenges that foreign investors have a difficult time overcoming. Brazil’s government stronghold makes business dealings complex, China and the Chinese culture is still a mystery for many American and European firms, India’s infrastructure is difficult to navigate and the political relationship Russia has with other countries is mucking up potentially successful joint venture negotiations.

This isn’t to say BRIC countries aren’t still important markets for foreign business development, there is lots of opportunity.  But it does mean that BRIC countries are no longer as easy to penetrate as we once thought they were. Managers and companies who are looking for the next frontier of a strong labor market might look a bit farther off the traditional map: Indonesia, Chile and Ghana are all labor markets poised to take very well to outside investment. Just this week, a Chinese business group announced it is investing $2B into building an industrial park in the town of Shama on Ghana’s coast. In a few years, business investors will be looking at a whole new acronym for key international investment. Smart managers can take advantage of the upcoming shift by investing now in South East Asia, West Africa, South America and other burgeoning economies.

Renew your investment in management training:

With the rise of virtual workplaces, there was a shift away from formal management training. But company leaders have found that there has been a management and leadership deficit. In John Kotter’s recent blog, Management is (Still) Not Leadership, he points out that managers are less skilled today and individuals don’t necessarily know how and when to lead.  Today, companies are reprioritizing training teams to work more effectively, especially in virtual environments. Companies are now investing more time, money and importance in training global teams and managers are seeing the need to invest in programs so employees are well equipped to lead in global context.

The productivity and retention of employees, especially in a global team that doesn’t work in the same office, can be greatly increased by investing in training on how to effectively manage global projects and dispersed teams. Along with management training, performance management is becoming a critical issue as companies have more employees in more places. How companies assess and develop managers is becoming a critical point of investment and attention, as there is a focus on business growth and demonstrating ROI. This rapid growth makes training vital, both for internal employees moving up in the business and new employees coming in. Formal learning programs in both team and personal management skills will deliver a huge return on investment, especially in global company that is growing rapidly.

By focusing on these three management priorities, companies will set a globally-minded intention at the top and business will see efficient, more productive work from existing employees. In a growing business it’s better to make one smart, considered decision than to make two quick, wrong choices. That’s why I encourage managers to look beyond bottom line in outsourcing labor, to think beyond the common and increasingly popular BRIC countries, and to maintain a commitment to training employees in a continued, deliberate way.