Think global, act local

Feb 9, 2012 by
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Posted under: Asia Pacific

One topic which has come up consistently when talking to communication leaders in Asia-Pacific has been the challenge of how to communicate business strategy with global ideals but local values.

Communicators are seeking ways to make strategy and values relevant to the local market – no small task when you factor in differences in culture, language and hard-to-reach audiences. Then consider that most employees have a matrix of strategies to absorb – global, local, country, function, team…with this in mind, are we setting ourselves up for failure to expect high levels of business strategy understanding when we conduct our engagement surveys?

Communicating the strategy

It’s important that all communicators have an understanding of the local market they support. During some recent breakfast forums, run by VMA Group communications professionals consistently said that companies were recognizing the importance of understanding local markets. Ensuring that talent within Asia-Pacific take up key positions within global management was also seen as focus. The CEO of one business was quoted as saying, “I have 23 passports on my executive team,” in order to reflect the global reach of the business and its leaders.

Throughout the region, there are best in-class examples of strategy communication, including Hong Kong-based Rockwell Automation, who have introduced a 5-year strategic framework for their employees, which begins with the company’s 5-year strategy, then the yearly strategies, then business function and drills down to personal objectives. This allowed employees to have a clear line of sight and engage with the strategies.

At another session ANZ Singapore outlined the three basic principles on why organizations communicate:

  • Educate to action
  • Inform your people
  • Recognize success

As a team, they’re mindful of not just simply informing their people, but being clear on the framework, conducting audience analysis, understanding what has been communicated in the past and how, ensuring leaders are doing what they’re asking their people to do and then creating the message to employees (the last, instead commonly taken first phase).

When Schneider Electric discovered that by the time their messages are cascaded down, only 10% actually make it to the blue-collar workers, they introduced a global communications kit. This now allows them to localize messages into local languages – mainly Chinese and Indian – and after feedback on their video broadcasts, activated subtitles in local languages to ensure everyone could understand the global senior leader’s messages.

Engagement across different national cultures

Communicators are increasingly feeling the strain of not only managing their local markets within Asia-Pacific, but also their global colleagues. For many global organizations there are significant cultural differences between Asia and Europe, and then individual country cultures within that, from Korean to German. This recognition makes the concept of a uniform global engagement strategy outdated and ineffective.

The consistent feedback in the sessions on communicating within Asia was “it’s not what you say, but how you say it”. This concept was demonstrated by Standard Chartered Bank broadcasting their CEO’s presentations to allow their local employees to truly engage with their leader. They also tapped into ‘emotive’ triggers in the way they tailor their message to maximise the customer story: “It’s not about selling someone a loan, but helping them get a home”.

Rolls-Royce’s local initiative within China saw Country Managers telephone the parents of high performing team members to congratulate them on their child’s performance. They also provide dinner vouchers to these employees, so they can take their whole family out to dinner to capitalize on the importance of “pride”.

Further to this, Rolls-Royce also encouraged its pilots to talk with their front-line staff around how their work impacts on a pilot’s job – how through making a strong, safe engine, they’re enabling  pilots to provide the best experience possible and fly safely.

I started hosting sessions like these in 2008 and over the past four years I’ve really seen the communication profession develop in leaps and bounds across Asia-Pacific.  At VMA Group I’m certainly seeing more senior roles and bigger teams develop across both internal and external communications, along with specialized disciplines like digital communications.

The next session will discuss communication competencies: what kinds of competency frameworks do we need to introduce to ensure we’re training our team today, for tomorrow’s challenges?

* Define the skills you need to be a successful communicator

* What are the current competency gaps in our teams

* Mapping your team’s career path – typical background/experience needed

VMA Group will be sharing common trends in background, experience and education for communication practitioners both in the region, and also globally.

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