By Heather Littlejohns
Companies seeking to locate new outsourced or shared services centers to offshore or near shore locations typically focus their exploration on factors such as price, local government support and incentives, cultural affinity with the target market, unemployment rates, labor pool, language skills, etc. But are companies really taking the necessary time to explore, assess and discuss their own points of differentiation as they are perceived by the local population?
Beyond providing a basic salary, what contribution can the business make to the lives of the people who will be employed? These cultural considerations should be an important component of the due diligence process as they are crucial to the long-term sustainability of the business. Unfortunately, they are too often overlooked.
Act “Corporate,” Think “Local”
The most effective way to select a successful and sustainable market, community and location to facilitate an operation is to spend time on the ground with local community leaders and prospective employees, using the language skill with which you expect services to be delivered. In a sense, this is a grassroots and tourist approach to the region, building on a foundation of previously completed market analysis, research and the corporation’s strategic vision.
Before investing in a destination, many basic requirements “on the ground” should be fully identified. These are easily gained through market analysis and research and by speaking directly with economic and government groups within the country/region of choice. The following check list can serve as a starting point:
• Local government investment and support
• Technology and infrastructure
• Safety and security
• Like industry success
• Education level and graduation rates
• Language skill–English bilingualism
• Skills learned (preferred)
• Affinity to Western culture
• Employable population–demographics
To truly test the likelihood of success, spend time on the ground in the community. Ask questions, document observations and understand the community from which you will hire and where you will be a corporate citizen:
• Understand how education works in the destination. Is it public or private? Is it mandatory? What is the local government’s degree of engagement in the education system? How do people get to school? Is there an emphasis on learning English/other language?
• Assess the rates of school attendance.
• Visit a school, university or community college. Build relationships.
• Determine who are the economic and community development supporters and funders in the community. When do they meet? Who are the members? Do they live in the community in which they serve?
• Attend a meeting of these community development supporters. Take notes and make observations about interactions and behaviors such as tone and pitch in conversation; gender based interactions; non-verbal communication such as eye contact and handshaking. These observations will help you adapt your body language and mannerisms to put people at ease when interacting with the local population.
• Discover the cultural customs of the local community including holidays, events and religious ceremonies. This knowledge will help when managing your new workforce.
• Understand the demographics of the region. What is the average employable age and are they male or female? What is the current make-up of the population interested in the BPO industry? Are they well-educated males or single mothers? Are they second income earners or primary breadwinners?
• Investigate local restaurants, shopping facilities and tourist hot spots. Eat at local favorite restaurants. Attend a local customary event, read the tourist brochures and spend time in the recommended areas. This will tell you what the local people are proud of within their country. Knowing exactly what gives a person pride can also act as a motivational tool. This can allow you to better identify with the needs of the people that the corporation will employ. It will allow the opportunity to learn, understand and place value on what is important to the team.
• Learn how local services are facilitated and distributed. Are these services valued and utilized? How does the role of the family contribute?
• Research health care, child care, transportation, etc. This will help provide a more comprehensive view of total costs. It will also help you “design the differentiators” that I referred to earlier to strengthen your value proposition as a “glocal” employer, and can help you in “positioning” your corporate philosophy to your future employees.
Integrate Cultural Components with Business Goals
By integrating the “softer”, cultural components of the destination you are reviewing with that of your strategic business objectives and long term priorities, your answers to questions like those below will become far more informed and accurate.
• Is a local staffing agency required to help launch the business?
• Does it make sense to place the business in the duty free zone or is an urban, centralized location more feasible?
• What type of community participation and recruiting event will need to be held?
• What aspects of the corporation should be advertised? What are the value added benefits for employees that will matter most? What are your differentiators as they relate to the community?
On the surface these concepts are relatively simple, logical and one would assume being facilitated, however, this is not the case in many situations. Cross-cultural communication and a grassroots approach is not often practiced for a wide variety of reasons. These include the assumption that knowing the statistical facts about unemployment rates and government incentives is enough to be successful, aggressive timelines, low price points driving a quick transition, lack of regional expertise within the organization or simply an attitude that cultural considerations are an “after thought.”
To truly minimize new geo risk, not only should the selection team conduct the formal process, but drive the due diligence from a grassroots perspective and through a cultural prism. Once this knowledge and, more importantly, experiences are gained, the transition or execution team should act as the “cultural interpreter” for the enterprise. This is crucial to see a new operation through to success.
Heather Littlejohns, Director-Operations at Aditya Birla Minacs and also an independent consultant, is responsible for strategic Country and Site Leadership and Client Relationship Management. She also serves as Partner & Contract Liaison, Implementation & Launch Project Sponsor and Government Point of Contact. Heather brings 16 years of rich and varied experience in directing, developing and implementing effective near shore and offshore BPO global service delivery solutions. Heather.Littlejohns-Brown@minacs.adityabirla.com