“Our mission is to be the best truly global consumer products company.”
--Reuben Mark, chairman and CEO, Colgate-Palmolive
As the quality of life improves around the world, demand for better quality services and products increases. Customers demand assurance that the product or services for which they are paying will not only meet but exceed their expectations. In this customer-driven economy, businesses compete globally. The emphasis on quality products and services is forcing global industries to adopt internationally recognized quality management systems to stay in business. All of this demands a clear linkage between global success, strategy and planning, a practice we call global integration management.
Successfully managing a global quality organization begins with a well-developed global integration management plan. Constructing the plan can be complicated by the diversity of input and unique constraints resulting from operating in a global environment. You may encounter difficulties due to a reluctance of some members to share the details of their underlying plans. For example, the development team in Korea may enjoy its autonomy and be reluctant to share anything more than the start and finish dates for its portion of the project. Demanding additional information may be regarded as a lack of trust rather than an attempt to assess the reasonableness of the plan and its inherent risks.
Risk assessment for activities performed in multiple time zones by people whom you may never meet is a real challenge. In this environment, establishing relationships and knowing an individual’s track record grow in importance. You also need to understand and take into account constraints that result from having a global organization team. Localized personnel practices, hiring freezes, cost of resources, extended vacations, popular vacation months, special holidays, delayed deliveries due to customs clearance and export regulations need to be considered as you develop plans to avoid execution delays.
Plan execution is what successful global organization management is all about. In reality, this is the most difficult aspect of managing a global quality organization. Assessing and communicating organization status is quite difficult when the team is dispersed around the world. You will need to cope with language problems and time zone issues in conducting review meetings, but a good plan can greatly facilitate the assessment process by clearly identifying tasks, milestones, deliverables and schedules according to the 5Ws and 2Hs: what, why, who, where, when, how and how much. CEOs already know how difficult it can be to hold managers to their resource commitments. When managing an organization in a global environment, it’s even more difficult because you can’t just have a friendly chat over a sandwich or a cup of coffee. In fact, you may need several days to reach the responsible manager, and he or she will likely be much more interested in meeting his or her in-country commitments than those made to you. Your management skills will need to adapt to the unique cultural makeup of your team.
There are seven aspects to successful global management that leaders should explore and understand:
Managing change can be quite challenging in a global environment. A good change control process can be invaluable, as plans can be extremely fluid in certain cultures. It’s possible to have parts of the organization revising a new plan while still supporting the old one until management approves the revisions. Multiple versions can be the global manager’s worst nightmare. Timely communication and documentation of changes based on an agreed-upon change process ensures that the team and management have accepted the change and are operating together. An annual review of lessons learned is common practice. While it may be difficult to objectively review actions and admit mistakes, this exercise can be even more difficult in certain cultures. It’s important to be aware of cultural sensitivities and stay focused on areas that can be improved.
The three essential aspects of knowledge management in a global quality organization are discovery, organization and sharing. We discover knowledge in people, workflow diagrams and procedure manuals, or through transaction output stored in databases. We organize knowledge according to the company’s preferred classifications, and we share it with those employees who are authorized to know about it and can benefit from it.
A global company’s competitive advantage, which involves capitalizing on technology, coping with organizational changes and securing employment flexibility, makes managing information and knowledge bases imperative. With technology becoming a commodity, an enterprise’s key resources are people, skill modules and information. Workers have important company-relevant, often tacit, knowledge that could spark important insights in their co-workers if the opportunity is presented.
Information is a source for global decision making, but a piece of information is more effective when presented in the meaningful context of an action record. In other words, a quarterly report by country or region may provide significant information, but it is much more actionable when analyzed in conjunction with the company’s business plan and industry trends outcome data for the past three years.
To be effective as a global leader, your organization must develop skills in strategic thinking and strategy management. Strategic thinking is a process whereby you learn how to make your global business vision a reality by developing teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking. It’s also a tool to help your organization confront change, plan for and make transitions, and envision new possibilities and opportunities.
As you develop a strategic vision for your business, there are four criteria to focus on:
Effective internal operations
Employee creativity and well-being
Successful quality management ensures that your organization will satisfy the needs for which it was created. Key parameters in the approach to quality management are the number of companies involved in an organization and their roles. Global, multicompany organizations require different approaches to quality management than single-company organizations. To be successful, you need to develop a shared consciousness on quality. In multicompany international organizations, if you are dependent on another company for a key deliverable, the other company’s openness is a critical dependency. To be successful, formal milestones and key metrics need to be established and documented for quality evaluation.
Status reports should be formal and documented as well. On-site representation can provide valuable information. Daily or at least weekly face-to-face contact on quality-related issues is critical. First-hand access to product development is key to both early warning and accurate data. No matter how effective the metrics or how frequent the milestones, off-site quality data will be filtered.
Another key parameter in quality management is hand-off time. When are the results of one location’s efforts turned over to another for completion? The correct timing of a transfer can positively affect how responsible one feels for the quality of his or her deliverable. It can also minimize costs. Incorrect timing can have a negative effect on quality and increase repair/warranty costs.
Another aspect of quality magnified by global organizations is problem resolution time. Resolution time grows longer with distance and language differences. Transmission time will take longer, and often everyone is working against the clock instead of with it. What could be described simply in one language may lose its meaning when translated to a second language. These factors can result in many requests to redefine a problem and the need for additional data. When resolution time lengthens, it’s important to have an expedited path to handle critical problems.
The last consideration is more subtle. What is viewed as strength in one culture could be viewed as weakness or loss of face in another. For instance, most Americans believe admitting faults and failures is a strength. In some cultures, the exact opposite is true. This can create conflicts in priorities and a sense of urgency associated with problem resolution. Managers need to be careful when discussing problems if such cultural differences exist.
Successful communication management ensures timely and appropriate generation, collection, dissemination, storage and ultimate disposition of information. Communication is vital for successful teams and it is particularly important for global organizations. It can be difficult to keep all members abreast of the organization’s status and key activities. In the case of global organizations, differences in culture, language and time make it even more difficult. However, the use of a formal communications process and some simple techniques can keep communications flowing and business units synchronized.
A formal, written communications plan, regular communications and the use of e-mail and other collaborative tools are essential components of successful communications management. The plan should be divided into internal and external communications and updated periodically.
The internal communications plan addresses communications within the organization. The plan specifies the types of communications, frequency, responsible parties, method of distribution and archival procedure. In the case of meetings, the plan should specify the types of meetings (e.g., in person, videoconference, teleconference), where meetings will be held and how often, the party responsible for taking minutes, and how meeting minutes will be distributed and/or posted. Other types of communications include team member status updates and planning documents (e.g., development and quality plans).
The external communications plan deals with communications outside the organization and includes communications such as management reports and status reports to stakeholders, press, consultants and the general public. The plan should include the same basic information as the internal plan but should be more specific, because the sensitivity and effect of external communications are greater. Review and approval procedures should be included in the plan. Executing the communications plan is an important aspect of global organization management, but there are some fundamental practices that you should keep in mind as well.
Frequent communications are important to keep team members synchronized. Regularly scheduled meetings keep the lines of communications open and are essential to keep employees current. A written agenda and meeting objectives distributed in advance keep meetings focused and allows adequate preparation. Distributing team member status prior to the meeting is also good practice and templates can be used to ensure consistency in approach and content. Preparation not only saves time but also allows you to obtain more detail and have better organized presentations than oral updates normally provide. Timely, written minutes are mandatory and avoid misunderstandings. Minutes are particularly important when organizational members do not share a common language.
Written presentation materials should also be used for face-to-face meetings when participants do not share a common language. The use of new technologies can improve communications for the global team. E-mail and electronic repositories have become well accepted and allow effective asynchronous communications within and outside the organization. Extending these capabilities using new collaborative tools can increase the effectiveness of global communications by allowing multiple document authors, automated review and approval workflows, and Web-enabled application sharing and viewing to improve the effectiveness of teleconferences.
Successful risk management ensures that your organization will identify, analyze and respond to risk. In global organizations the element of risk can be greater due to team members from one country assuming that things can be done the same way in another country as at home. This puts the onus on the senior manager to validate plans in the country where they will be executed. An experienced global leadership team can minimize these risks as they develop the expertise to trap faulty assumptions early in the strategy planning sessions. Communications play a big role in minimizing internal organization risk based on poor planning and false assumptions. Good communications also play a big role in understanding and planning the management of external risks over which the team has no control, such as weather and fluctuations in currency exchange rates.
In our experience, Murphy’s law--anything that can go wrong will go wrong--is not necessarily accepted as widely in some countries as it is in North America or the United Kingdom. The denial of risk’s negative outcomes tends to arise in certain cultures where all decisions are made by top management, and corporate belief in excellence allows little room to admit that errors do occur. In this situation, the notion of planning for and managing risk is viewed as boring at best.
Logistics management ensures the successful acquisition of goods and services from outside the organization. Of all the knowledge areas, this is often the area of least involvement.
It is better to subcontract critical dependencies only within your own country for timely support by the legal system. Never outsource a core competency without a great deal of hesitation. Be aware that vendors can and do subcontract your work. If (or when) this occurs, the problem resolution path will lengthen. Depending on scheduling concerns, timing and pressures, it may be critical to know and have access to the real suppliers of service, despite what contract law advises. Know if you have influence or control over vendor selection. In global companies, it’s not always possible to control to whom work is contracted because of other considerations. Beware of international holidays and their potential effect on delivery dates.
Being successful as a manager in global quality organizations requires a great deal of adjustment. Different cultures have different work ethics and values. Time and distance realities can create unanticipated difficulties. A global team cannot have a sense of unity if members don’t spend time together, both face-to-face and on phone conferences. To accomplish this, international travel is needed. Managing global quality organizations requires a great deal of flexibility. Being a successful manager in an organization that involves more than one company or division requires you to understand, accept and work with the culture, values and objectives of the other divisions. Understanding the ground rules is required to work effectively and be successful.
In an organization where the sun never sets, you can easily be overwhelmed. Never leave home without your global integrated management plan.
H. James Harrington is CEO of the Harrington Institute Inc. and chairman of the board of Harrington Group. He has more than 45 years of experience as a quality professional and is the author of 22 books. Visit his Web site at www.harrington-institute.com.
Frank Voehl is COO of the Harrington Software Group. He has more than 30 years of experience as a systems engineer and quality professional and is the author/co-author of 16 books and hundreds of articles and papers on quality management, continuous improvement and teamwork. Visit his Web site at www.harringtonsoftware.com.