Competing on a global playing field

Payroll and HR | 05.06.2024

by Rebecca Winther Sørensen Akgül

The challenges and benefits of international business expansion

Cross-cultural leadership poses challenges for entrepreneurs as they explore new markets, acquire foreign businesses, and adapt to remote work. Managing diverse teams and fostering a unified business culture requires understanding of cultural differences, motivating the team, and developing essential leadership skills. In this article, we will explore the global shift to remote work, strategies for managing international growth, and effective approaches to cross-cultural leadership. 
How do business owners get started?

Public awareness and observing others engaging in international expansion often serve as motivating factors for business owners. Those who venture into exporting or establishing overseas operations often discover it to be less troublesome and more commercially beneficial than they first thought. Fear is a significant deterrent that prevents many from taking this leap. However, we are witnessing a rising number of international clients pursuing these opportunities. 
“I think the way the world's changed, this has kind of opened the doors to different ways of going international, whether it's opening an office on day one or doing the reverse, which is finding the people first.” 
- Chris Herd, founder and CEO of First Base, a management platform for remote work. 
Rise of the knowledge worker

Recruiting globally gives companies access to individuals with diverse experiences and viewpoints, whether on a national or regional scale. With the rise of knowledge workers, particularly in technology and service sectors, the scope for global recruitment has expanded. 
Another aspect is the opportunity to hire people within the same country who may face challenges working in traditional office environments, such as single parents or individuals with health conditions or impairments.  
Having a team across borders, with backgrounds in different education systems, distinct cultures, diverse ways of thinking and problem solving, brings cognitive diversity to the company. 
Managing an international team

Juggling several teams spread across long distances comes with its own unique challenges, but also specific solutions. Having a business plan that remains conscious of what each team needs to develop is a great starting point. 
Focus on outcome

Outcome-focused leadership is crucial when you can’t always be there in person. Understanding actual outputs on a weekly or monthly basis is important, as well as aligning these outputs with business objectives. 
Be aware of local challenges and solutions

It is also vital to consider alternative perspectives and not attempt to impose a head office model onto different international countries, disregarding cultural challenges. Factors like cultural differences, language, currency dynamics, and business maturity need to be considered. Rushing to replicate the home country business in overseas ventures is misguided, as each entity requires distinct treatment. 
“The business has to change to meet the local culture rather than the other way around.” 
- Chris Horne, Azets’ group chief executive officer 
Have a global strategy

Have a clear strategy that ensures everyone understands their role in the organization. As the company grows, maintaining this clarity becomes more challenging but remains important. The global strategy is divided into regional strategies, preserving the same values and purpose. This approach ensures that day-to-day tactical decisions align with the size and maturity of each business unit. 
Keep maturity levels in mind

Measuring success based on the maturity level of each business unit is crucial. For instance, comparing a new department to one that has been established for years can dampen the joy of success. Instead, it is important to celebrate the achievements of each team in their respective contexts. This approach allows local teams to thrive based on their own progress. 
Embrace the remote workday

The last few years have seen a global shift towards more flexible workdays and workplaces. Employers either realized they had the necessary software tools already available or adapted over time. When considering how to communicate across teams in different countries, adapting to remote work tactics becomes obvious. Remote work is shown to improve employee comfort and satisfaction, as well as efficiency.  
I think the realization becomes pretty quickly that people are doing their work, and they're thriving and excelling in terms of the amount of work they're producing.”  
- Chris Herd, founder and CEO of First Base, a management platform for remote work.  
Shifting from command-and-control leadership to a more empathetic approach becomes crucial when you are not interacting with people in person on a daily basis. 

”The type of work that a lot of our people do working remotely, with no distractions, is a powerful way for them to become more efficient rather than less efficient.” 
- Chris Horne, Azets’ group chief executive officer 

A more international future

Inevitably, the world's progression towards a knowledge economy and the crucial role of highly skilled individuals in determining business success cannot be ignored. If competitors possess a greater pool of talent, it is only a matter of time before they gain a significant advantage and outperform. 
“Given that I believe talent is spread universally, there are incredibly talented people here. The ability for an organization to play on a global playing field is going to be determined by whether they can access that talent and make them successful.” 
- Chris Herd, founder and CEO of First Base, a management platform for remote work.  
International expansion offers significant growth opportunities for SMEs, and entrepreneurs should embrace it without fear. It provides insights into local markets, access to diverse talent, and requires acknowledging differences and valuing diversity. Effective cross-cultural leaders possess excellent communication skills, adaptability, approachability, and delegation abilities. Embracing international talent and opportunities is crucial for entrepreneurs aiming to compete globally. 

About Rebecca Winther Sørensen Akgül