Monthly Archives: March 2016

3 Way to Tell If Your Business Ready To Compete Globally

waThe imagery of a “fish out of water” is often used to describe a situation in which we feel uncomfortable.

When it comes to doing business globally, many businesses are impaired by acting more like a fish within water.

That is because the fish in the water does not ever really think about its environment. It is in water: it is comfortable, the water works for the fish, and the fish is happy in the water. What is there to think about?

But sooner or later, the fish, or in this case our business, wants to move to another environment to court the business there.

As a business, we pack our flippers, don our wetsuit and assume that when we get there, we will again be swimming in water just like the safe environment that we left.

We don’t realize that the water is different. It may be a much larger pool than the fishbowl we swam comfortably in at home. It may be murky water, or a different color of water, or a water filled with predators that want to eat fish.

Worse still, we may arrive wearing flippers and discover that the fish we came to visit and get business from doesn’t swim in water at all. It has abandoned its gills and operates on a land environment.

If we are not ready and able to function in the different environment or culture that we find our foreign business operating in, we will fail.

More and more businesses must compete in a global, multi cultural marketplace and that can mean negotiating new deals in unfamiliar places, setting up branch offices or plants in cultures completely different from our home base, and learning what is important to a whole new group of customers.

If we approach this challenge by assuming that the worlds we will expand to will be identical to the worlds we work in now, there will be disappointment when things do not work out as planned.

Here are three things to think about when considering competing globally:

1. Are you ready for culture shock? When you pack flippers and discover that your foreign business target walks on land, that’s how you experience culture shock. It happens because we all have a na├»ve tendency to think that everyone sees the world the same way we do and does things the same way we do.

2. Can you suspend your judgment calls? It is difficult for many business people to refrain from judging other people’s beliefs and behaviors when they differ from their own. Instead of judging and assuming that your cultural beliefs and protocols are superior, invest your efforts into developing your listening skills and learning about the other culture to try and understand it.

3. Can you control your responses by questioning yourself? Inevitably, you will come across a culture that is so different from your own that you have an extremely negative response to it. You can’t help it, and it begins to negatively impact your responses. When you sense that is happening, ask yourself if you have taken sufficient time to ask and learn about the country’s cultural values and beliefs that are behind the practices you find disagreeable. Ask how much of your reaction is tied to your cultural beliefs about what is right and wrong. Question whether these practices or values that you are having trouble comprehending are harming you or others. Finally, ask if the people within the culture believe a practice is harmful, or are they okay with the practice or belief.

When you conduct business daily in the same place and the same way, you stop noticing the water. Doing business on a global scale means that you will be called upon to get used to everything from tidal waves to deserts and they will command your attention. Your intercultural communication skills will be put to the test in these new environments.

How you handle these cultural diversity challenges will determine whether your outcome is beneficial or not.

The 5 Simple Rules of Business Etiquette

effThere has always been an unwritten code of socially acceptable norms and standards throughout the history of human civilization. There are just some things you do and other things you don’t do; some things that are appropriate and others that are not. But these unwritten laws don’t just apply to hospitality or fine dining. They are just as valid in the world of trade and commerce.

Unlike other industries however, in the business world, poor business etiquette can have unpleasant and even financially unviable consequences. For example, failing to be sensitive to certain codes of conduct can rub a client the wrong way and jeopardize a vital transaction or contract, resulting in financial loss and damage to credibility. Appropriate professional etiquette is vital to the healthy functioning of companies, not only with other companies but also within the numerous departments and levels of one company. In this article we will look at the importance of business etiquette and identify five key aspects:

    1. The ‘Hello’ Handshake: The handshake is still the ‘platinum’ non-verbal standard for greetings, acknowledgement and gratitude. It is almost universally accepted as a normal gesture of introducing or meeting someone and also for purposes of concurrence or thankfulness. It is considered professional regardless of the situation, race or gender of the person being interacted with.


    1. The ‘Politeness’ Policy: We are taught to say “please” and “thank you” as children and those manners really never go away. These coupled with a sincere smile and eye contact form the foundations, of not only corporate etiquette but also social etiquette.


    1. The ‘Meeting’ Mandate: Meetings are the ‘pit-stops’ of the corporate world. The way one conducts oneself in a meeting is of primal importance to projecting the right image and setting the right impression to everybody involved. Arriving on time is considered courteous and respectful to the schedules of everybody involved. During the course of the meeting, it is professional to not interrupt someone who is speaking, even if you strongly disagree with his or her view. The temptation is to jump in to voice our opinion but one must control this urge to give everyone a fair and uninterrupted chance to express his or hers.


    1. The ‘Written’ Wisdom: Written communication is probably the least likely medium to contain breaches of etiquette but it is still possible. In a world of text messages, tweets and emoticons, a new kind of ‘short-hand’ has evolved consisting of ‘intentional typos’, abbreviations and smiley faces. This is not professionally acceptable in official written correspondence. Letters and emails must be checked for spelling, grammar and typos before sending to the recipient.


  1. The ‘Taboo’ Topics: Certain issues are considered private and thereby exempt from being discussed at a professional working environment. While some of these may simply be personal, others can be contentious matters and are better left out of the workplace. These may vary slightly between cultures or countries, but generally religion, politics and sexual orientation are topics best left unopened.

It’s All About Execution, Not Strategy

3eOne of the most ancient, durable and inexpensive building materials has turned, a local Mexican company into the largest global provider of cement, aggregates, ready-mix concrete and specialty concrete products.

As the success of moving from a national, to a multinational, to a global and integrated company is never guaranteed, what have been the key drivers behind this company’s ability to grow coherently, while delivering 20% CAGR EBITDA growth over decades?

1. Define a truly “global-local” strategy

Post the NAFTA agreements with Mexico in the 1990s, the company’s survival depended on expanding abroad. To avoid the risk of hazardous expansion, it first narrowed the scope of its product lines, and next focused on broadening its geographic scope – 50 countries at the latest count.

Global strategies require local adaptation and Cemex became adept at creating multiple strategies to differentiate and take advantage of different economies and markets conditions. In the USA and Europe, Cemex has relied more on product innovation with, for example, the introduction of Insularis, a ready-mix brand that improves the energy efficiency of buildings. In South America, it has focused on providing value beyond supplying its main products, for example, showing a municipality how to structure and manage a project.

2. Go outside and develop a laser-sharp focus on making acquisitions work

Successful M&A deals allow companies to increase scale, extend geographical reach, add capabilities, and diversify their talent base. Cemex’s success as a serial acquirer is the result of the speed and efficiency with which it generates value from an acquisition.

The post-merger integration has been codified (with the manual covering only human resources as thick as a dictionary) while the same team is used for each acquisition. It is staffed with high-potential junior managers who try to strike the right balance between efficient integration and an open mind-set. They analyse the new acquisition to cut costs, and rapidly roll out highly standardized core processes.

As intensive collaboration is one of the key ingredients of a successful integration, Cemex then places circa 20 key people in different parts of the acquired company to train others on the ‘Cemex way’ and identify practices that should be shared across the group.

3. Build distinctive business capabilities

To become a high-value, knowledge intensive solutions provider, the company evolved from an efficient inward-looking company to one more connected with its environment. As cement offers little scope for engaging with customers in a distinctive manner, Cemex decided to invest in building long-term client relationships to gain unique insights into customer evolving needs.

Such insights lead to product innovation, such as low-heat ready mix concrete (preventing premature thermal cracking), as well as a high level of customer responsiveness with, for example, time-based delivery guarantees through Construrama, the largest network of materials outlets in the world. It has also moved away from just selling cement or ready-mix products to offer solutions such as, Patrimonio Hoy, its programme to help low-income families, providing them access to building materials and credit through microfinance; as well as technical and architectural guidance.

Matching its clients’ move towards more environmentally friendly practices, it has developed its own environmental sustainability capabilities: decreasing its fuel use, removing or mitigating pollutants in its materials, or lowering the cost of producing them. It has also innovated with products such as high-strength concretes (reducing the amount of building material required), or self-compacting concrete (reducing energy use during construction, and improving the strength and durability of buildings), etc.

4. Use communities of interest to share knowledge

The biggest challenge for global businesses is to act as one company across its various markets while still running hyper local businesses. To do this, Cemex ensures that all its functions (production, procurement, logistics, marketing, finance, human resources, R&D) have a global orientation and common corporate policies (the Cemex Way) that are enforced around the company, while localising the interactions with customers.

It has also introduced an internal-collaboration platform called Shift, which has helped the company reduce the time needed to introduce new products and make internal process improvements. Shift uses a mix of wikis, blogs, discussion boards, and Web-conferencing tools to help communities of employees around the world collaborate on specific issues. As such, it helps solve local problems with global talent, and store and share the knowledge they are generating.

Shift has been a key element in bringing the best practices of acquired companies, allowing Cemex to continuously increase its knowledge. The alternative fuels and waste-to-energy strategy of one acquired company became a global standard, and today Cemex is at over 28% alternative energy use, the highest among its competitors.

5. Develop Local Talent

Implementing global strategies successfully requires access to a global pool of competent managerial resources. One of the key elements is developing and retaining local leaders with strong functional and industry expertise, who know how to achieve lasting change on the ground, can rise through the ranks, and then move seamlessly across emerging and developing markets.

Teaching the Cemex Way to each of its 44,000 employees worldwide enables the company to transfer people across geographies without them having to learn entirely new ways of doing things. When Cemex’s German unit faced a shortage of engineers, the company could easily transfer some engineers from Spain, Poland and Latvia.

Cemex also dedicates a lot of time and effort to change management, to train new people, talking them through its practices, and helping them assimilate. It not only wants to retain the talent of the companies it acquires but also the way in which they think. Cemex grew to become a successful global company as a result of the way it has integrated people and companies from Colombia, Germany, the U.S., and France, among other geographies, into the way “it thinks”.

Trying to become global, many companies expand into areas where they are unlikely to thrive due to a lack of relevant capabilities, while parameters of their home country often constrain them. They also often lack the consistency, leverage and controlled local diversification that give a company a strong global presence. So what would it take for you to do it the ‘Cemex way’?

Understanding Cultural Differences Between You and New Business Partners

3tIn its own way, culture is the ultimate magic mirror. We view the world, with its colors and customs and modes of behavior, but our culture creates a lens over our eyes that somehow changes it, and when we interpret what we see, it is through the lens of what we know.

Businesses lining up to take full advantage of the global multicultural marketplace need to look past their own cultural lens.

They must find ways to allow their representatives to better interpret the new cultures they are viewing and build bridges between their own cultural lens through which they see the world and the lens through which they act.

We learn that our culture is a set of glasses through which we view the world, and that more we learn and the more we see, the more we realize we all have a different prescription.

When you live by the ocean, for example, a beautiful mountain may attract your attention as an awesome feat of nature, but it bears no special meaning to you. But if you grew up with the Quechua people of the Andes Mountains in South America, you would see the mountain as something with its own special spirit, called an “apu.”

The apu mountain spirit would be something that you feel protected by.

If the person who lived by the ocean was hired by a company to go to the Andes Mountains and build a road through the mountains, you can quickly imagine how they could alienate the local people if they had no idea of the existence of the apu mountain spirit.

This is how cross-cultural problems start for many businesses. They do a superficial survey of the country where they want to do business, summon a person who is trained in the language and agreeable to trying the food, and send them off as if they are prepared for negotiating new partnerships there.

Some parts of culture can be seen, such as the natural environment, and other parts are hidden, like the human values and beliefs.

Too many companies focus only on the obvious. However, the problems and miscommunications are more likely to emerge from those customs and beliefs that are not obvious.

To build bridges into other cultures, it helps to have an excellent guide who can make you aware of the nuances between how you interpret what you see and how your potential new business partner interprets it.

No one cultural training program can ever prepare a person to be aware of all the subtle differences between their own environment and that of another. That is why principles are needed to help build bridges for intercultural communication success. The best way to prepare your staff is to teach them the means to see through different lenses, absorb without judging, and accept without insult.