Mentoring to accelerate international growth

In our first white paper preview, we introduced a few of the key elements about mentoring and its connection to strategy. In order to give you a bit more meat on these bones, here is another part of the paper giving a specific angle on a strategic use of mentoring to accelerate international growth:

Accelerating International Growth

Mentoring accelerating internationalisation

With the globalisation of markets, it has become essential for organisations to internationalise, to adapt business models to different cultures and to identify opportunities beyond their usual territories, beyond their comfort zone.

The key issue for most would-be international businesses is their lack of insights on cultural subtleties. Their approach is pretty much straightforward on a first run: « We proved it worked in Germany, let’s take it to UK, … or Taiwan ». On a second run, they usually over-compensate and try way too hard to project their business model in the new culture: « If we have to sell the product in China, let’s do what Apple is doing… plate it with gold ».

Going global calls for a deep understanding of cultures which cannot be learnt in books, or deviated from market studies.

Many western corporations that try to get a foot in any consumer market in Asia, are for instance quickly stone-walled by their low context culture in a high-context culture. And if you don’t know what it means, reading Edward T. Hall on the subject will help, but won’t give concrete solutions. 

Solutions to international expansion, always start with cultural embedding.

Granted that there is a huge difference between a national company that wants to create a subsidiary abroad, and a sprawling multinational that wants to rebuild a « glocal » culture, however the key is identical.  It is direct contact and inter-cultural exchanges that can truly help people develop not only knowledge, but integrated understanding of foreign markets.

Other things being equal, a strategic internationalisation will very often be efficiently sparked by a strategic cross-cultural mentoring programme.

Obviously here, the key dimension at play is « ➌ Height », to be able to build up new perspective from above your usual business logic. But, at play there is also « ➋ Speed » to make sure that the organisation doesn’t lag in its adaptation to changing realities from geographical zone A to B.  In that regard, the HR management cross-cultural mentorship is not highly complex. It is highly specific.

Let’s see how it would support key moments of an internationalisation project:

One year before launch… A specialised consulting team maps local market drivers and strategic opportunities. HR study the various employment laws, local employees’ expectations and needs. Legal and Finance work on currency hedging, local contracts jurisprudence, etc.

➤ Local managers from other (non-competing) companies start to mentor key executives.

Eight months before launch… Local offices are scouted and rented. A mix of marketing, and R&D people get embedded in the new local market to prototype new offers in one-week hackathons. Newly hired local sales people get training in the corporation business processes.

➤ A group of junior local talents is recruited in sales and marketing, and as mentors to every team manager involved in the international project.

Three months before launch… Production and communication are at full activity for the new market. First early adopters are targeted and get previews of the product. An internal extension to the customer relationship management system is used to compile local best practices in the new market (how to treat customers’ concerns, negotiating prices in a different culture, how to speak of the brand that is yet to be known, etc).

The CRM system is also used as an internal social network connecting sales people to mentors that have been active around the project for months, and that provide guidance and specific recommendations on top of the documented best practices.

Sixth months after launch… Errors have been made and corrected, production, sales and supply chain are up and running. Local suppliers have been selected and start to deliver. HR start to scale up local recruitments for next year’s campaign.

➤ As an on-boarding process, new local recruits are immediately paired to a senior mentor in their business unit, to adapt to the group’s business culture, and to accelerate their business readiness. But also, headquarter’s managers in supply-chain and purchasing, are mixed with local equivalents from key suppliers in a mentoring programme focused on quality.

This story is adapted from one of our customer’s international deployment.

Don’t consider it as a best practice per se. It only demonstrates in a specific way how mentoring facilitates, compliments and strengthens a given internationalisation strategy. But mainly, it emphasises how to avoid an « us » versus « them » atmosphere, where the company would play defence, close on itself, and try to format new talents to the exact headquarters’ way of working and thinking.

Cross-cultural mentoring brings ways to learn from foreign markets, that will propagate throughout the whole organisation.

Mentoring being a medium to long term relationship, encourages exchanges at human level including gaining a deeper understanding of someone’s culture and accelerating the cross cultural learning, far more than a book or a training. A mentor can share knowledge about legal system and its workings, subtleties of language, business codes as well as the subtleties of human interactions in various contexts,  behaviours to avoid and all these related to real-life experience.

We’re flying to Tokyo for work and then a few days off. When I’m back in France, you should be able to find the full white paper on the blog. In case you’d want it sooner, just contact me. ; )

Author: Stéphanie

Specialist of Executive Coaching and Entrepreneurial Mentoring, insightful and open-minded, Stéphanie accompanies organisations in their cultural transformation to support innovation and business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.

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