Globalization has been the buzzword of the decade, and yet, many U.S. business managers are still unaware of the skill sets they urgently need to compete in a global market, says business consultant Kathleen Brush.
“The most attractive business opportunities in this century will be outside the United States, but identifying the best bets and tapping into them requires new and augmented skills,” says Brush, a 25-year veteran of international business and author of “The Power of One: You’re the Boss.”
There are 32 developed countries with 1 billion potential customers, and 162 developing nations with 6 billion people, many heading into the middle class for the first time, with all the attendant needs and desires, Brush says. The IMF has forecast $27.3 trillion in economic growth between 2011 and 2016. Eighty-seven percent will occur outside the United States, most of it in developing countries. The forecasted growth for developing China, India, Africa, and Latin America is two to four times that of the United States and the European Union. “In 2013 and moving forward, U.S. business leaders will not come out on top without developing new skills to navigate the global opportunities,” Brush says. “Managers need to increase their understanding of how other countries operate.”
Brush offers five areas of critical importance to American business leaders:
• Knowing how to develop strategies that can’t lose. Being able to evaluate opportunities and threats around the world has to be a fundamental skill and one that is exercised regularly. This is because political, economic, and social issues are different and they change. How different are they? How about new regulations that appear without notice; judicial systems that do not administer justice; economic systems that can’t support the needs of operations, workers, or goods; and social cultural systems that condone corruption.
• Managing and motivating employees from different backgrounds. There is a good chance that Employee A from Country A won’t be motivated by the same things as Employee B from Country B. In part, this can be cultural, for example, pitting employee against employee may inspire the competitive spirit in Americans, but contests for individual supremacy can be culturally offensive for many others. Or, it may be regulatory. In the United States, it’s relatively simple to terminate an underperforming employee. In many countries, it will cost a fortune and even require external approvals.
• Traditional decisions on the 4Ps are being turned on their head. American managers have always preferred to build innovative/different products overproducts that are the lowest cost. But, this option will often be unavailable in the newest attractive markets. Besides competing on cost, there is the challenge of getting paid without credit. How do you promote products to people who read at a basic level, or in countries where there are many official languages? How can products be delivered on time when roads are primitive and airports inadequate?
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• Reading financial statements. What if financial data is unreliable due to cultural inclinations, political machinations, or manual reporting systems? Gone are the days of blindly valuing what comes in black and white.
• A strong moral compass. Operating within unfamiliar, unpredictable places can make it challenging to distinguish the gold mines from the land mines. Some cultures will see bribery, the concealment of data, and quality shortcuts as business as usual. Today’s leaders know that a strong moral compass is the only reliable navigator of behaviors and decisions.
Kathleen Brush has more than two decades of experience as a senior executive with global business responsibilities. She has a Ph.D. in management and international studies. Brush has been teaching, writing and consulting on international business and leadership for companies of all sizes, including those that are public, private, foreign and domestic.