“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” ~ George Bernard Shaw ~
Ensuring customer satisfaction and optimal business performance when client and delivery teams are divided by 8,000+ miles, operate on opposite time zones, and each team possesses limited context.
Leadership in Action:
In 2013 I was promoted from a CFO role to a GM role as the Managing Director for CVM Solutions.
This highly specialized B2B business is the market leader, serving half of the Fortune 100 as the premier data aggregator for Supplier Diversity data, the industry innovator and developer of proprietary web enabled Software-as-a-Service applications, and the provider of unrivaled professional services.
CVM had recently been acquired by Kroll, the global leader in risk mitigation and response. This world renowned tech enabled consulting practice comprises 2,000 employees globally, in over 50 offices and across nearly 30 countries.
Tasked with stabilizing this newly acquired asset, my team comprised 50 client facing resources based in the US and a further 70 operational support resources based in Hyderabad, India.
In my new role I now faced many of the cultural and communication challenges you can expect to confront when tasking teams to work together despite their being 8,300 miles apart, on opposite time zones, and with limited mutual context or cultural awareness.
For my clients and for my shareholders, I and my teams now faced an important challenge and I could see an incredible opportunity: the upside from unlocking the potential in our offshore team.
I quickly discovered how culturally the US teams preferred exchanging low context emails, even when web-enabled facetime or in person communication would be far more effective, and in addition the Hyderabad teams would often respond by encoding high context emails that the US teams rarely had the time or patience to read.
Too often teams would work in spite of each other, fearful of delegating or involving remote groups, a reflex response to having experienced the adverse client impact of timeline delays due to communication breakdowns.
But if effective communication was the sickness and the barrier to be removed, what was the antidote and how could it be administered?
Get this right and you can achieve overnight turnaround times with a combined team covering 16+ hours in every 24. Get this wrong and what might have taken 24 hours slips to 72.
I then remembered the joke about a wife texting her programmer partner:
“On your way home can you stop at the grocery store for a loaf of bread” | “Oh, and if they have eggs can you get a dozen”
The husband returns with 12 loaves of bread.
Now I was seeing this joke played out in real life and for my customers and for those who faced them it wasn’t funny.
If you’ve told the customer they’ll have their eggs tomorrow and when you open your inbox you discover you’ve overnight received 12 loaves of bread instead, you’re going to be in a tough spot, your customer is going to be in a tough spot, and it’s all too easy to blame the guy who isn’t in the room and who you believe was reasonably tasked with going to the grocery store!
I tried putting myself in the other guys’ shoes. I’m in the store, I’m reading the text and if I’m in doubt I’d normally text my wife and ask for qualification. But when you’re on the opposite clock that’s not easy.
When you’re in the other guys’ shoes you only have three choices,
- Ask the client team for more detail, delaying the cycle time by 24 hours, and likely be told you failed to meet expectations
- Take a punt, guess wrong, delay the cycle time by 24 hours and likely be told you failed to meet expectations
- Guess right (but with no feedback loop, so the learning doesn’t stick nor gets shared)
There’s a saying “that the quality of the answer is driven by the quality of the question” and I could see the potential to improve the encoding and decoding essential to effective communication. But how?
My light bulb moment came when Kroll sponsored a workshop on effective international communication.
Natasha Crundwell of People Going Global was the workshop facilitator and I came away from the workshop informed, energized and enlightened. I could immediately see the potential and power of Natasha’s content and the potency of her delivery.
Natasha and People Going Global gave me the confidence to lead an initiative aimed at unifying our business cultures and removing the barriers to effective international communication.
In 2014 I sponsored Natasha delivering her workshop on the ground in Hyderabad with myself and my US based operational, product development, and HR directors in attendance and participating.
This was a meaningful investment of time, money and energy and I was confident the People Going Global program, and Natasha’s facilitation, would deliver the powerful impact I had witnessed in the US with Kroll.
The workshop was an incredible success. CVM retained and engaged key resources, and reduced the risks so many smaller scale businesses face where single points of failure present inherently difficult risks to mitigate.
Employee retention and engagement is all the more critical in prime locations and economic environments where demand for talent far outstrips supply, and where perhaps your brand cannot compete against the Silicon Valley giants that have arrived there.
Our service levels and performance KPI’s immediately revealed improvements in terms of transparency, identifying root causes and project turnaround times.
The first step toward continuous improvement and effective change is self-awareness, and once teams become aware of what they themselves can do differently, then they need to have confidence in the solutions available to them, in order to drive adoption.
The People Going Global workshop achieves self-awareness through its participative nature. Natasha then supports the group with practical and intellectual content that can be applied to the business with immediate tangible results in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
For any CFO’s or COO’s out there doing the math on the cost: benefit of operating offshore; make sure you factor the cost of reciprocal travel and in person initiatives such as these, as they are essential to unlocking the potential.
If you have an international team, and if you believe you could unlock more of their potential I would recommend Natasha and People Going Global as the most significant investment you could make, with an ROI that will immediately exceed any outlay.
Finally, as with any change initiative, executive support and sponsorship is paramount. I believe you have to lead by example, and if you can see how my experiences could help you and your business arrive at your destination faster and with greater certainty of success, then please, connect and let me know.