Updated: Jul 13
Multinationals (MNCs) have facilities and assets in at least one country other than their country markets. Given their scale, size, and geographical spread, multinationals are naturally prone to organizational complications arising from cultural diversity, misalignment across silos and countries, local specificities, and sheer scale. Moreover, the rise of flexible work has allowed companies to easily hire globally, leading SMEs to become multinationals much faster than they would have in the past.
We work with leaders of multinationals to help diagnose the major challenges and set their teams up for success. In this article, we share a few common pain points we’ve observed and how we tackle them to help multinationals thrive.
Challenge #1: Localizing company culture
When Google first established offices in France, French employees were confused by how much the company would emphasize positive feedback. That was because the French culture encourages criticism more than recognition, whereas Google’s “American” organizational culture focuses on giving positive feedback very frequently.
The term ‘localization’ is usually used to refer to adapting a product to the country where it’s sold, and ‘globalization’ to an overarching umbrella that represents both the brand and the business, and those concepts also apply to organizational culture. While multinationals have an overarching global culture, which encompasses their values, leaders should be encouraged to localize that culture where relevant.
When engaging employees around company values, we heard from the KSA office that the wording of the Arabic did not resonate with them given the difference in the local Saudi dialect and modern standard Arabic. We brought on board a Saudi editor and facilitated a workshop with a group of employees to collect their feedback and input, and rewrite the values in a way that resonated with the Saudi team while preserving the meaning and relevance of the original values.
Of course, not all elements of the culture should be localized. In that same organization, we also guided the organization’s leaders to enforce English as the official language of the company, to ensure there would be a common language that everyone could connect in.
Challenge #2: Building and maintaining social connections in distributed teams
Connections between employees encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. The more connected a team is, the more efficient it will be. It’s no surprise that connections in multinationals can be difficult to build and maintain. The distributed nature of teams, along with the cultural and linguistic diversity make it extra hard to build mutual knowledge and trust in global teams.
One distributed team we worked with had team members in more than 10 countries. Although they met regularly and some had been working together for over eight years, their interactions were focused on the work and rarely (if ever) on building personal connections. To help grow this team’s mutual knowledge, we created an employee profile using a simple Google Doc for everyone to fill in. The four categories (see below visual) we included were: basic information, your role, and responsibilities, I can help with, and personal facts. It was truly heartwarming to see the connections that employees built with each other after completing this document. Personal milestones were shared, and common passions for obscure video games were uncovered. It truly felt like the team had suddenly come closer together after completing this exercise. Every new joiner is now asked to add their own profile to that document in their first week of joining.
Challenge #3: Rampant misalignment
Misalignment can cost an organization up to 25% of its revenue. The risk of misalignment is particularly high in multinationals. This misalignment begins at the leadership level and this challenge cannot be resolved with a bottom-up approach. The data shows us that 71% of leaders are not fully aligned with the company vision and that is the level at which we begin solving this challenge.
Oftentimes, the c-suite does not effectively address diverging opinions amongst themselves. In turn, they do not communicate the organizational goals clearly, and the teams and leaders reporting to them do not develop a clear plan for how they will implement these organizational priorities. Lastly, middle management rarely receives the development and training needed to effectively execute.
We were brought on by a global company to help them think through the future of work at their organization. In order to create alignment at the leadership level, we facilitated a training and decision-making process with the C-suite and the leaders of the various country markets. We then supported the internal communications of the decision to ensure alignment and clarity at all levels of the organization. we worked hands-on with one of their subsidiaries to implement this work model and document a set of best practices that were then shared with all managers.
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Challenge #4: Adopting global initiatives and rationalizing local decisions
When studying the relationship between a company's culture and that of its country markets, research shows that national values and norms normally prevail over organizational practices. This significantly impacts how employees engage at work and in turn, executives face resistance when rolling out company-wide initiatives, rather than getting local buy-in. We see this in our work too, oftentimes local subsidiaries are presented with global policies and initiatives they have to roll out but the context is not relevant or applicable.
We worked with one local subsidiary of a global organization as part of the company’s global initiative around rethinking the future of work. We helped the leaders of the regional entity design a relevant work model and workspace. We started by understanding the growth strategy in the local market to ensure the new ways of working would support the business goals. We then conducted a comprehensive discovery phase to ensure the diverse needs of their workforce were well understood by the leaders and could be easily communicated to their HQ. Following a series of decision-making workshops, we were then able to produce a compelling recommendation that was both in line with the global direction and accounted for the local specificities.
We concluded our mission by creating high-level planning for the transition period which would include internal communications, training and upskilling, policy development, and change management. Our efforts were recognized by the global leadership of the organization who felt this should become the de facto process for localizing global initiatives.
Challenge #5: Leaders are overwhelmed
In the emerging post-pandemic world, the responsibilities of leaders and managers have expanded significantly. Beyond managing the performance of the business, leaders now more than ever have been made responsible for the mental wellbeing of their staff, the retention of their workforce, and the creation of an inclusive work experience. They are required to do all of this in an increasingly unpredictable world.
To help leaders navigate these circumstances, we act as thinking partners helping them make better decisions, be accountable for important long-term projects, manage the human equation on their team, improve internal communication and stakeholder management skills and develop their ability to lead in hybrid settings.
We do this in the form of training and workshops, or in 1-on-1 leadership coaching sessions. Get in touch to see how we can help your leaders and managers: https://www.cosmiccentaurs.com/bookings-checkout/meet-the-cosmic-centaurs/book
If you’re a multinational struggling with any of the five areas of organizational strategy below, book a one-on-one consultation with us. Cosmic Centaurs can help you create the right environment for your organization to thrive.