Resist the Urge to Over-Americanize When You Decide to Expand Globally Avoid common mistakes on your road to international growth, including a lack of cultural awareness.

By Erika Lance

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Global expansion can be an attractive prospect for companies of all types and sizes — and one that many U.S. companies are pursuing. In fact, according to a Standard Chartered Borderless Business study, a majority of companies in the U.S. are planning to expand globally over the next 6-12 months. That said, few companies actually succeed at going global.

There are many mistakes organizations can make on their route to global expansion. One major misstep is failing to fully understand the cultural and local nuances that exist in the new location and the implications for employee relations.

Companies rely on employees to get work done and employees play a major role in helping companies achieve their strategic objectives — if, of course, those workers are engaged, motivated and productive. Cultural hurdles can hinder companies' efforts to achieve desired results.

Global expansion is fraught with the potential for cultural missteps

Too often, companies and their managers fall prey to cultural missteps because they fail to fully understand the cultural nuances of the country they're operating in. It's a challenge to sustain a company identity with the addition of an international office. You don't want to "over-Americanize" customs or procedures onto foreign-based employees. Managers need to be mindful of diverse norms. Glassdoor highlights some interesting variations:

  • In Israel, the typical work week runs from Sunday through Thursday.
  • A law in France prohibits most professionals there from responding to emails they receive after work hours.
  • In India, being 15 minutes late to a meeting is considered being on time.
  • A friendly thumbs up is considered to be quite offensive in Nigeria.

The first major blunder many of us are guilty of making is simply believing that "the U.S. way" is the right way or the only way. The attitude that comes with "just the way we do things here" will cause a stampede to the door. "My way or the highway" won't win you any favors especially with today's labor-shortage crisis. We need to find ways for avoiding these all-too-common cases of nearsightedness.

Related: How to Take Your Company Global

Taking steps to avoid cultural blunders

Before expanding and engaging with employees and customers in other locales, it's important to conduct ample research. A variety of tactics can be done to help boost the odds that you'll be culturally aligned with your new staff members and those they serve.

  • Do your research

There's simply no excuse for not looking up information on cultural and work-related norms in foreign locations around the world. A Google search can be your best starting point for gathering information and identifying additional questions or areas of potential exploration.

Related: 3 Steps to a Successful International Expansion

  • Partner with HR experts in your niche

Many HR colleagues have expertise and experiences to share for helping to navigate through different cultural norms. Don't hesitate to call on them. You can find them among your existing network and through organizations or trade associations.

  • Mine your existing employees for insights

Your employees — both local and those in the global locations you're expanding into — can be an excellent source for information, if you take the time to ask. Turn to foreign nationals who know the terrain, if not those who will be working for your organization. Invite staff to share and offer opportunities for interactions over group luncheons or socializing in chat rooms, for instance. The better we know others, the better collaboration we'll achieve.

  • Provide cultural competency training for all staff

Even staff members who may not have direct contact with employees in foreign offices may have experiences they're willing to share on working with business operations overseas. All employees should be positioned and prepared to serve as positive brand ambassadors.

  • Seek input continuously, make needed updates, and remain humble

Life is about continual learning and work-life should be no different. We may make some errors in judgment along the way, but hopefully, we learn to use them for helping colleagues, staff and even HR.

As you bring on new employees from global locations, recognize the foundational elements of your onboarding program shouldn't change when you cross borders. You will still need to educate new employees about the company, its products and services, its culture and its customers. You will need to establish expectations and processes for communication, as well as equip entrants with the right tools, resources and access to others they'll need to work successfully.

But as you do these things, keep an eye toward aligning your best practices with the culture you're joining and try to resist the urge to over-Americanize.

Related: 5 Boxes to Check Before Expanding Your Franchise Outside the U.S.

Erika Lance

Chief HR Officer

Erika Lance is chief human resources officer for KnowBe4, the world’s largest security-awareness-training and simulated-phishing platform.

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