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Category Archive: Ireland/Global Irish

Irish SME Owners…Introductory Post About Growing in US

Sometimes synchronicity is there for inspiration! Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Stuart Allcock of Applied Business Support (he is based in Ireland) and arranging with him to exchange posts. At the same time, I began working with an Irish SME who is ready to expand actively in the US. Knowing the kinds of details that just seem to pile up as a company seeks a physical presence here in the US, it made sense to write an introductory post. Sure…you know you are looking for customers but what else do you need to do at the same time?

Here is the link to my post on Stuart’s website: Keys To Growing Your Business In the US – Where To Start

(While the post is written for Irish SME owners and executives, the information is certainly appropriate for other SME’s from around the world. )

If you missed it, check out Stuart’s post about exporting to the EU: Starting Exporting To Europe – Planning It Out

As always…if you have questions about expanding here in the US, please take a look at my services page,  Expanding In the US and let’s talk. All initial consultations are complimentary as it is my intention to make your expansion here as smooth as possible.

Related content: 8 Tips For Expanding in US for Irish Small Businesses

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STARTING EXPORTING TO EUROPE – PLANNING IT OUT

It is my pleasure to introduce you to a talented colleague. This guest post is by Stuart Allcock, a business consultant and entrepeneur based in Ireland. His company Applied Business Support Ltd helps businesses internationalise their activities, removes barriers to business growth, and works with universities to commercialise their technologies.

US business exporting into EU, export planningThis article is intended for the small to medium-sized US business looking to export for the first time and thinking about selling into the European Union (EU).  Realistically this article’s tips could apply to any part of the world you’re thinking of exporting to, not just the EU.  There’s plenty to do to prepare yourself before you think about jumping on a plane going eastwards.

 Business planning

Planning for exporting isn’t really much different to formal business planning for any organisation.  Some owner/managers argue that you can’t really plan a business strategy until the company has already got some hard trading experience behind it.  This may have merit.

 However, the flaw is that sound business planning is done on a foundation of diligent market research (MR).  If it’s done properly, it’s designed to uncover important facts about what pitfalls and risks to avoid in the venture as much as opportunities to exploit.  Risks in exporting can be costly so mitigating those risks with good MR makes good sense.

Planning starts with diligent market research

It’s like arranging a car vacation to a region you’ve never visited before.  First you need to research what the region is worth visiting for such as culture, countryside, coast, food specialities etc.  Otherwise you could be unaware of all these tourism opportunities, at best coming across them by chance.  Then you would plan out where you are going to visit, which route you will take, and where to stay.

As best you can, you’d maximise the best use of your resources – mainly your quality time and money for an enjoyable vacation.  With no planning you might go nowhere of particular interest and pay a lot for mediocre hotels and food.  See any analogies with business planning?

 Export planning is no different

Simply put, with export planning you’re still looking at selling products or services into markets and territories, taking into account all the resources needed, calculating the financial impact for commercial viability, and addressing risk.  If export planning wasn’t already part of your original business planning, then there are quite a few additional things to consider.

 Some of these points are mentioned below.  It sounds a bit dramatic to say ignoring them is at your own peril – that might be a “worst scenario” situation, but there’s some truth in the statement.  Realistically exporting can be fun (if you like travelling and experiencing different cultures!).  It also has to be lucrative so it helps if a bit of common sense and good MR and planning is employed from day one.

Some suggestions

Risks can usually be reduced and costs minimised if a few general things are observed in the export initiation process.  A few suggestions are:

  • Do your research diligently.  You don’t even need to leave your desk to collect a lot of usable MR information.  All you need is online access and a telephone.
  • Supports might be available from your local government agencies to assist with export preparation.  There are other sources too.  For example in Ireland, if you’re considering setting up your own offices and maybe such as production or assembly, you should talk to IDA Ireland (www.idaireland.com) to see if and how they can help you.  Each EU country has its own inward investment government agency.
  • An exploratory visit to your selected country/ies will be essential as part of the initiation process and even before selling starts properly.  This could be for visits to potential end-users for validating the product or service, meetings to evaluate future sales partners, or research at local exhibitions.Differences in cultures (= the way we do things) may mean your existing products/services aren’t quite the right specification – or even could be downright inappropriate for some countries!  There are 28 sovereign countries in the EU, most of them with distinct cultures between them.

Selling in the EU

 Broadly, Ireland and the UK and maybe even the Benelux countries don’t differ too much in the way business operates and products are accepted.  In any case, wherever you’re intending to sell in the EU, it’s almost certain you will come across this issue at some time so these facts need checking out very carefully before selling starts.

  •  Different ways of doing business in different countries can impact on various business processes.  For example – impacting on debtor days, how your goods are sold such as needing field trials beforehand, and the extent of shared responsibilities with in-country partners such as resellers and who pays for certain marketing outlays.
  • Be cautious about proliferating the number of countries you try to sell to when you start exporting.  This especially applies to the small business with limited external sales resource – who is often the owner/manager in any case.
  • Are you personally geared up for exporting?  Often, unsociable travel times and lugging suit cases around required a certain level of fitness.  Spending time away regularly can also impact on family relationships.  All this needs taking into account time because different people react to this in different ways.  Do you need to carefully schedule time away or should you consider recruiting a sales person – even part time if you can afford it?
  • Last but not least, with all this focused activity going on to get your overseas sales off the ground, be careful not to take your eye off the ball with your established home customer base.  There’s no sense in losing lucrative home market customers through poor service because you’re focusing all your efforts on getting sales in export markets.

 Happy exporting!

About the author: Stuart Allcock  is a business consultant and entrepreneur.  He’s a Brit who’s made Ireland his home and base for his work.  Stuart has a passion for growing businesses and developing international markets.  He’s been running export-oriented companies for over 20 years and before that, virtually lived out of a suitcase for many years to care to remember, selling European products and services on a global basis.  His company Applied Business Support Ltd helps businesses internationalise their activities, removes barriers to business growth, and works with universities to commercialise their technologies.

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CEO Mindset: Confidence When Your Business Is Struggling

CEO Mindset, confidence, business owner, business executive, turnaroundWhen I wrote the post “Confidence- An Often Overlooked Business Tool,” I received some great feedback. However, one theme that came up in conversations with Irish business owners as well as other business owners is the importance of having a realistic perspective. Business owners and executives must be truth-tellers first to themselves and then to the stakeholders.

Call it what it is…a turnaround

One of my clients is in the midst of a turnaround. His business is seriously struggling and there are a number of larger economic factors which are working against him plus some mis-steps made by himself and his staff. To his credit, he recognizes that staying focused on the here-and-now brings him one step closer to getting beyond this mess. He has moments when he feels doubt about getting through.

Turbulence and doubt

These are the roughest times for any business owner or high-level executive. It is not uncommon for a business owner to hide in his/her office and worry. Time seems to change by speeding up or slowing. You watch the business’ finances dwindle at an alarming rate and may have creditors or the bank calling to discuss how you’re going to pay them back. This is a scary and turbulent time.

Try a little tenderness

There is a surprising first step that must be taken. Apparently Otis Redding was onto something here. Treat yourself with compassion. Odds are, you didn’t try to get into this mess. In a 2012 study about self-compassion, researchers discovered that treating yourself with kindness and mercy produces four effects:

  • see the possibilities for change and making amends
  • increase the desire to make the changes
  • take steps to correct the situation or follow through on planned action
  • compare self with those doing better as if to use them as role models

Instead of berating yourself, acknowledge that there has been a failure. This allows you to treat yourself with compassion and open your mind up to find possibilities and cope with the consequences. Consistent with Carol Dweck’s work on the fixed mindset and the growth mindset, it is apparent that believing you can find a solution or learn a way to manage a problem is much more empowering. This is true even when you are faced with noxious choices.

Paradoxical thinking

This type of thinking is part of the growth mindset. Paradoxical thinking is the ability to hold contradictory concepts at the same time. You can tell yourself the truth that things are dire. However, for this to be truly paradoxical, the business owner (or executive) must also hold the concept that there may be a way out. Bear in mind that this is not arrogance or willful blindness. Confidence requires self-belief, humility and open mindedness if it is to be any use to you.

Taking action supports the feeling of “I can” and fosters confidence

Finding confidence when your business is struggling takes compassion, paradoxical thinking and an growth mindset. This is not necessarily an easy process but it is a necessary one.  Anyone leading a business is used to taking action and producing results.

To rebuild your confidence, start with basic questions:

  • What does the business do well?
  • What does the business owner/ executive do well?
  • What resources are available?

Taking the answers to these questions and developing a plan of action means

  • re-establishing yourself as the leader of your organization
  • communicating clearly to and with your staff
  • identifying what needs to be addressed first
  • re-connecting with customers
  • following up with leads and prospects
  • providing an optimistic, strong and thoughtful perspective

Possibly the greatest test of your career

Looking back isn’t productive. Regret eats away at your confidence. You are in this situation now and it needs to be rectified. There aren’t even guarantees that you will lead the company to an ideal result.

Even so, do:

  • Treat yourself with compassion
  • Acknowledge that this is a terrible situation and there is a solution or a way to manage the turbulence
  • Identify what is still working, your leadership skills and available resources
  • Develop a written plan and take action

Finding your confidence while your business struggles is a challenge. There are plenty of reminders of problems. But for your company to exit the situation with any degree of grace, you have to believe you can find a way out and get things moving in the right direction again.

Confidence enables finding the possible.

About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, executive coach and trainer who guides established small to mid-sized business owners and executives in the US, Ireland and Northern Ireland to be comfortable in their own skin. Change can be growing your business, expanding in the US or adapting to a new leadership roles. Visit my Services page to see how we can work together or schedule your complimentary coaching session here.

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8 Tips For Expanding in US for Irish Small Businesses

Irish small business owners, expanding in the US, exportI was just reading the other day in The Irish Independent that the Irish Export Association changed its forecast from positive to negative. They attributed the contraction to weaker demand in EU and US markets as well as other international markets. It may not sound like the best time to consider doing business in the US but it does give you time to prepare. You already know that preparation is a key piece for growing in your current market. As one of my Irish clients discovered, there are a lot of details when entering the US market. Here are eight tips to make your process smoother.

8 tips for expanding in the US

1. Know “why” – Your reason for expanding in the US is the cornerstone for the effort you will put into this venture. Identify your strategic intent and business goals for why this is a good move for your business. Be sure that you are operating from a sound business reason and not from the extremes of naivete or cynicism.

2. SWOT and/or PESTEL analysis- The US is a big country and, despite some consistent cultural qualities, there are a number of sub-cultures due to geography, ethnicity, race, politics and economic class. Conduct a SWOT analysis to clarify what is going on within your business and a PESTEL (also known as a PEST, PESTLE) analysis to clarify what is going on outside of your business. There may be regulations, demographic trends or other information that you need to know.

3. Do your marketing homework- Americans don’t think or experience emotions like Irish people. As an example, the ads that run on RTE or UTV use different emotional touchpoints than the ones on American television. Even language (even though we all speak English) is used differently. This applies whether you’re selling food, software or medical devices.

4. Hiring/outsourcing- If you decide to hire someone or outsource,  first learn about benefits and legal responsibilities. It may be useful to speak to someone who specializes in human resources to make sure your company doesn’t violate any regulations or laws.

5. Legal entity- It is often necessary to establish a US-based business entity when expanding in the US as it may be more cost-effective, increases options for funding, reduces how much you travel and other considerations. For example, a foreign small business who establishes a legal US-based business entity is eligible for assistance from the US Small Business Administration (the SBA).

6. Work with someone who can help you with the details- The are a number of brokers and organizations that can help you expand in the US. However, many of them require a fee upfront before they help you. Another (and less expensive) option is to work with a non-profit group like The Business Coalition who can provide advisors and/or a liaison for immigration/visas, business law, rental space (offices, manufacturing, living), transportation,  mobile phone companies, explain cultural differences and other business needs during your growth phase.

7. Develop and write a plan that outlines funding, personnel, risks and goals- There are a lot of details to keep straight between the business goals, who is responsible, legal requirements, regulations, schedules and so much more. A written, living document allows you to see progress, benchmarks, accountability and potential problems so you  can respond appropriately.

8. Your role and identity will change- Becoming the owner and/or executive in an international business is a transition for everyone. As you interact with new people who may be from a different country or economic class, it is not unusual to feel as if you are in over your head or are somehow a fraud. Just traveling back and forth will open up experiences that are good and bad. This is where the CEO Mindset will serve you so you can manage your stress, exhibit confidence and adapt to your new status.

Smoother process, less stress

While these tips may not the workload any less, they do provide you with an outline. There will be easy victories and perplexing problems. But it is an exciting venture well worth preparing for so someday you can say, “yes, we serve customers in Ireland and the US.”

*Update as of 8/15/2013- Sometimes things change on both a micro and macro level. This is more the macro level.  The Irish Times reported today that Ireland and the Eurozone emerged from recession during the spring months of 2013. Irish exports played a major role in growing the economy.

image: iStockphoto Andrew Johnson

About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, a small business coach and executive coach who guides established small business owners and executives in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the US to use the CEO Mindset and be comfortable in their own skin. I have a deep appreciation for learning and understanding my client’s business style and culture. Whether you are re-focusing your small business or expanding in your own backyard or into another country, my 3 keys coaching process helps clients move from being excited about growing to having the tools to make it actually happen. Curious? Schedule your complimentary consultation here.

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Confidence – An Often Overlooked Business Tool

small business owner, Irish business owner, confidence, busines tool

This blog has been a little quiet as I’m after being in Ireland for a business/family visit. While I was there,  I watched the new television programme, Taking Care of Business on RTÉ. Like Fergal Quinn’s show, Retail Therapy, a struggling business and its owner are the focus for each episode. While there is much conversation about business plans, debts and the relationship with banks, the most striking thing that is talked about is the low confidence level each business owner exhibits at the beginning of the episode.

Ireland is a tough place for small business owners right now

I had quite a number of conversations with various small business owners while in Ireland who described their frustrations and worries. There are many questions about the rising tax levels, continuing austerity budgets, the obstacles business owners face accessing credit, the high debt levels and the actions taken by the Irish government.

Confidence has taken a hit

Confidence is a remarkable thing. It is not the belief that you can do no wrong nor that everything is going to be the way it was.  It is the belief that “I can handle this somehow”, even under pressure. However, when you are faced with what seems like never-ending obstacles, confidence can be undermined so even normally confident people get to a low moment. As I’ve written before,  it’s not unusual to question your values, choices and actions during a major crisis of confidence. It is also overlooked as a business tool during times of crisis because it seems so tenuous and airy-fairy. Yet, it is the underpinning for what makes a small business owner effective.

To be confident, you need focus

Daniel Goleman, who studies emotional intelligence has discovered that focus is an important ingredient in confidence. In an interview with Dr. George Kohlreiser, he quoted Kohlreiser as saying:

“How you manage your own emotions is determined by how you focus. The mind’s eye is like a flashlight. This flashlight can always search for something positive or something negative. The secret is being able to control that flashlight – to look for the opportunity and the positive. When you do that, you’re playing to win. You’re able to focus on the right things and maintain that positive self.”

Getting that groove back

Someone once wrote that “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain when you start out the climb” in reference to changing one’s heart and mind. There is a tension between old expectations and current reality. However, building up confidence brings the small business owner back to what makes him/her tick. This is the focus.

For some business owners, they need to be meeting prospective customers. This is where they get get their groove back. For others, they need to be doing something else to get their groove back…meeting with current customers, revising the business plan or accessing help from an outside resource. For my coaching clients with struggling businesses, the return to basics (reviewing the business plan and current goals, looking at up-to-date financial reports and completing a SWOT analysis) plus acknowledging the emotional aspects gets their feet back on the ground and their minds looking forward.

Confidence…that overlooked business tool

For Irish small business owners, indeed small business owners in many places, it is an uphill climb. The slow pace can feel grueling and the wins seem so small. It is so easy to think so-and-so has it easy because of their location or specialty but you don’t really know what their story is. And it’s tempting to ignore that you have certain skills, have faced adversity before or that there are other small business owners like yourself.  People gauge how well your business is doing by your posture and how you speak (Amy Cuddy has a fascinating TED talk about body language and confidence). Your prospects get excited if you are enthusiastic. Your staff and/or outside resources will feel more secure that you are projecting solidity. And most importantly, you will discover you can weather what comes your way. Confidence isn’t about the bad stuff going away. Confidence supports finding a way to face forward and seek solutions.

**After 2 active conversations on LinkedIn started due to this post, I wrote a companion post, “CEO Mindset: Confidence When Your Business Is Struggling“,  to flesh out more about what makes confidence such an important business tool.

 

About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, a small business coach and executive coach who guides established small business owners in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the US to use the CEO Mindset and be comfortable in their own skin. I have a deep appreciation for learning and understanding my client’s business style and culture. Whether you are re-focusing your small business or expanding in your own backyard or into another country, my 3 keys coaching process helps clients move from being excited about growing to having the tools to make it actually happen. Curious? Schedule your complimentary coaching session here.

 

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Small Business In Ireland – Time of Doubt, Hard Work and Hope

Irish Small BusinessThere are reports that the Irish economy is growing, fractionally, but growing. And there are reports that things are very bleak. The truth probably contains a bit of both.

 

Conflicting reports about the Irish economy and small businesses

  • In February, 2013, the Irish Independent reported that small business failures dropped by 32 percent
  • In March, 2013, The Irish Times reported that the services sector grew at a slower rate
  • Also in March, 2013, Business + Leadership reported that in a IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) business sentiment survey, indicators showed strong  improvement in business confidence at the start of 2013
  • In April, 2013, the Journal.ie reported that Davy, a stockbroking firm, revised its projections upwards for the Irish economy due to better performance and foreign investment
  • In April, 2013, FinFacts Ireland detailed that “Half of all lending to SME (small and medium enterprises) business is in arrears, according to the Central Bank”

But I got curious and asked my counterparts and peers in the #SMEcommunity in Ireland. I posted a query on the Facebook page of the #SMEcommunity.

A few perspectives

Geraldine Kennedy : (Jerros) “I have a boutique in Birr and I am seeing a lift in confidence. People are still cautious but definitely more optimistic. We are seeing more people out and about compared to last year which was desperate at this time.”

Debra Harper: (Tús Nua Designs and co-founder of the #SMEcommunity) “From what I can see there is a lot of small guys emerging, a lot of bigger established companies struggling with big overheads. A lot of biz based from home. There is a real fighting spirit going on, its not easy but the desire to succeed is there. A lot of frustration around new government schemes, all the right language is used but they are not moving with the times, not taking into account that the emerging new biz are tech or digital so can not forecast as easily as someone with a traditional shop and stock.”

Ray Wilkins:  (TotalGiftz.com) “There is a change in the air alright, a little more positive than before, small businesses continue to struggle though and changes are badly needed to help these businesses grow and create employment…government need to listen to the needs of small business and stop overlooking them..then we will see a bigger improvement…desire,drive,determination are all there..government ignoring SMEs causing road blocks..unnecessary.”

Debbie McDonnell: (The Marketing Shop.ie) “There are still no realistic options for a small business owner who provides a service or is a sole trader. If you can create a product or you opt to become a limited company you can get more than advice. Frustratingly there are situations where an enterprise board in one region can provide a lot more than one a few miles away too so your postal address can work against you which is all wrong. I think our government are doing a lot of talking about what they’re doing for small business but I know so many with viable businesses that get nothing because of rules, many of which were created pre-recession e.g. innovation vouchers which were last updated in 2007.”

Not exactly bullish

 While this may be not a technically representative sample, their comments reflect the frustration and concerns shared by SME owners in Ireland. There are calls for the Irish government to create policies that support the business growth of indigenous established small businesses. With the overall Eurozone trending downwards  and mixed signals in the Irish economy, it isn’t going to be an easy ride but it isn’t impossible either.

What is your observation about small business in Ireland?

If you could get someone from the Dáil to listen to you, what would you tell him/her?

What do established small businesses need to succeed?

What makes you optimistic about the future of Irish small businesses?

iStockphoto image by Artsy

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Latest Posts On TweakYourBiz, Corpnet.com and KaizenBiz

If you haven’t seen these posts, let me tell you about them.

On TweakYourBiz

This site is designed for small business owners. Since it’s based in Ireland, I often write posts that are useful to Irish small business owners. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing John McSweeney, project manager of Small Business Advice programme to learn more about this free service. If you are a small business owner in Ireland and would like to get some advice regarding a dilemma or opportunity, read Small Business Advice Programme- Interview with John McSweeney.

 

On Corpnet.com

With the new year upon us, many of us are looking at our strategic plans to see where we might go in 2013. It might be time to make a new friend out of a SWOT Analysis so you have the best data available for your plan. You can read why a SWOT Analysis Really Is Your Best Friend on Corpnet.com.

 

On KaizenBiz

Each week, I lead a conversation on Twitter in which we take a look at an business idea and delve a bit deeper. Before each conversation begins, there is a framing post to help guide the conversation. You can read the latest post, Negative Feedback and Performance: Can You Handle the Truth? (you are all welcome to join us any Friday on Twitter at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT. Just use the hashtag, #KaizenBiz)

 

I hope you’ll take the time to look at these posts and any past posts that catch your attention. Let me know what you think and continue the conversations!

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Are You Managing Out Of A Crisis? Irish SME’s Guide

My new adventure…I was a news reviewer on The Small Business Show with Kehlan Kirwan and Brian Cleary this past Saturday, September 15th (I’ll post the podcast link when it goes live). This radio show focuses on Irish SME’s by highlighting interesting companies as well as discussing news stories that affect small business all over Ireland.

Managing Out Of a CrisisOne story in particular caught my eye…

The Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton TD and the Minister of  State for Small Business John Perry TD announced that a guide titled, Managing Out of a Crisis. This guide is supposed to be something that struggling small business owners could use immediately. With the news remaining grim, it can feel overwhelming or even paralyzing trying to keep things going.

Where do you start? Click here to read more »

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Back at TweakYourBiz.com

Elli St.George blogging on TweakMyBiz.comOn this blog, I write a lot about managing the business owner. Sometimes the business owner who needs to do some self-management is…well. me. I took a break from writing on TweakYourBiz.com (formerly Bloggertone) to take stock of what I wanted to do next. (I’ll write about my experience in another post.)

Well, I’m back blogging on TweakYourBiz.com and, frankly, I missed my blogger friends and the comments that often follow the posts. You can read my posts here:

How Collaboration Creates Growth For Your SME  I’m a big fan of collaboration and working with complementary professionals. It is a terrific way to see what you do through another eyes, improve your skill set and serve your customers well.

If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative. - Unknown. Perhaps it’s due to the upheaval triggered by the global economic uncertainty or maybe the seeds were planted in the 1990?s but there is more talk about collaboration. This could be an underestimated strategy to growing your business. Read more

What You Need To Know Before You Export to the US Growth stages are growth stages, no matter whether you’re aiming to attract a more sophisticated customer, grow within or beyond your region or meet a need in a new market. However, if your SME is poised to export to the US, planning can help prevent some painful lessons.

Are you considering growing your business by exporting your products to the US marketplace? There are  opportunities to grow beyond your local borders for small businesses. Thorough planning will highlight what you need to know before it becomes a problem. Read more

I hope you will find these posts useful, add your comments and share them.

 

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Preferences, Biases and Global Business

Preferences, Biases and Global BusinessOne of the things I noticed most during my recent visit to Dublin, Ireland was how many new nationalities that could be seen on the streets. Since I’ve been to Ireland over the course of many years, it’s interesting to watch it change over time. There seem to be different groups each time I visit and it’s something to hear the multitude of languages.

In Boston, I experience this on a daily basis. It’s one of the things that makes me love living in such a cosmopolitan area! I get my suppositions and hypotheses about people challenged on a regular basis. But…what preferences or biases am I following without being aware?

Look like us = One of us?

Pankaj Ghemewat wrote an interesting post on the HBR Blog Network, Stretching Your Global Mindset. His previous post opened with an observation about how the Arab Spring and the tsunami in Japan made it very apparent how interconnected and even interdependent the world is. When supply chains are disrupted, there is a network of businesses that reaches beyond borders right into our own backyards. Maybe it’s your business and you had to figure out how to respond to a global event.

In Stretching Your Global Mindset, Ghemewat discusses a study that reveals that the further away people affected by a disaster live, the less sympathetic people feel. In a nutshell, if a disaster occurs on the other side of the world versus one in your own country, you will care a great deal more about the people in your country.

Curiously, travel seems to mitigate this.  Well, maybe it’s not so curious. When you meet people from somewhere else, that place becomes real and the people become less strange. They become “one of us”. And when you live there for a length of time, could you (or part of you) become one of  them?

A past client of mine who has a strong affinity for Japan presented an interesting request. She explained that she lived there so it feels like home to her. Speaking Japanese is effortless for her. Her request was to modify how we approached writing her business plan to include imagery rather than creating a linear document.  The result? Her business plan is formatted as a mindmap and is mostly in Japanese. (She provided a translation for me so we could measure her progress).

You’re not from around here, are you?

Maybe it is something wired into our primitive survival instincts. If you’re different, you’re a potential enemy. It underpins the argument for isolationism in political debates.  If you hear someone saying, “I’m not racist but…”, are they really expressing hatred or are they trying to understand how their neighborhood is changing? The thing is, the world has become so connected with social media, ease of travel and  immigration that we can meet someone different very easily. We don’t even have to physically leave our own country to do business with someone who speaks a different language and looks different.

It’s not always comfortable.

It’s easy to get out of your comfort zone while interacting with someone from another country. There can be language barriers. (Yes, even with other English speakers. I’ve managed to create a lot of confusion just telling bar staff that I didn’t want another drink.) There are phrases and slang that we use without thinking. In a business setting, this can create unnecessary tension. There are countries where “yes” isn’t actually yes. Speaking a foreign language is challenging if you’re building up your proficiency. In some places, you have to develop a relationship before you discuss business. These are some of the things that can highlight your preferences in a hurry.

What is going on in your head anyway?

  • Do you want everyone to communicate in your language?
  • Do you have certain beliefs that all (other nationality) are (generalization)?
  • Does the business relationship have to follow a particular pattern?
  • Are you willing to learn the language of your customer/business collaborator?
  • How would adapting your behavior change your thinking?
  • What else are you thinking or feeling?

Not every business is going to do business globally.

But if your business is one of them, becoming aware of your cultural filter is essential. We hear stories, we meet people and we have the choice to broaden or narrow our mindset. There are some days when landing on an alien planet will make more sense. The tension felt is an opportunity to see what biases or preferences you have. Your greater self-awareness may be the difference between going forward or staying home.

*Please join us on Friday, August 5th at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog as we explore this topic in conversation.

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