GLOBALIZING Employees’ Thinking

globe_america_hiresBackground

My client-turned-employer had dominated the global electronic connectors market for decades. The company had operated internationally from its U.S. base until the Board selected a new CEO who had spent years running the company’s Asian business.

His first objective was to shift the company from U.S.-centric to truly global. He initiated the changeover by separating corporate functions from operations in the Americas and establishing a regional business with a president, equivalent to the regional businesses in place in EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) and Asia-Pacific.

That meant that I, as the head of communication, and my team had to reorganize employees’ thinking about the business from being run by Americans to working as equal participants in a global business.

Challenges

  • American employees might interpret the globalization decision as exporting of jobs.
  • Regionalization of the Americas would redefine my Corporate Communication staff’s role from management of domestic communication with some coordination with EMEA and Asia-Pacific to oversight and collaboration with three regions for global consistency.
  • The restructuring could significantly affect the number and type of roles of the communication staff.

Strategy/Tactics

Reorganizing the communication function was a top priority. Anyone on my staff working on U.S.-related communication would have to be transferred to the new Americas organization. That meant almost everyone since that the 52-person department I inherited had been almost all U.S.-focused.

Fortunately, I had been reshaping the department over my first two years by hiring several professionals from outside the company with broad corporate and some global experience.When it was time to split the group, I retained functions that were corporate/global in nature (e.g., advertising and corporate identity) and individuals whom I thought had the vision and flexibility to adapt to the new business structure. The final team numbered 16.

Product-related functions – e.g., marketing communication and trade shows – as well as support activities (design, audio-visual, etc.) would be reassigned to the Americas region.

Redirecting priorities was also necessary. It was the mid-‘90s and digital channels – internet, intranet, etc. – were making their way into corporate life. However, few staffers had experience in that area. Regardless, I decided that rapid and full-immersion in the technology was the only option if we had as a global communication group whose mission would be to link the three regions as one corporation with one voice. I gave the staff a deadline of three months to shift almost all of our communication from paper to electronic formats.

Recasting of corporate messages was important, which led to creating phrases, talking points, and visuals that could be used universally and consistently when communicating with employees and other audiences anywhere in the company’s global network.

Remaking communication channels to be global was a huge undertaking. Included in the plan was the conversion of the employee magazine from an English language publication with occasional non-U.S. stories to an international publication in multiple languages. We were prepared to contract with a firm that had developed an efficient system for redesigning publications to accommodate the formatting idiosyncrasies of various languages.

However, internal resistance and cost forced us to postpone the project. Alternatively, we increased the number of employee video magazines from four to six, then eight times a year, and launched an aggressive schedule of filming worldwide to ensure a global perspective on the business for all employees.
We also created Town Hall Meetings in the years before that format became popular and electronically easy. My ingenious staff was able to stage live video discussions between executives and thousands of employees around the world.

Results

As the plan unfolded, I and my team wove the new global story into virtually every formal and informal communication media, from television ads to identity taglines, and from story feeds for country newsletters to speeches by the CEO. Additionally, the group built the company’s internet, intranet, and the foundation of a corporate university – all internally in less than two years with just 16 communicators and a skillful team of IT professionals.

To demonstrate the company’s coordinated, anywhere-anytime capabilities to serve the fast expanding global economy of the mid-1990s, I and my team created a powerfully simple booklet that took a point in time – “At this moment around the globe” was its title – and described in bold images and spirited copy what employees were working on in Korea, Norway, and elsewhere. The booklet was a companion piece to a graphic corporate history, which we had produced a year earlier.