This is a guest post from Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, founder and managing director at Clearly.
It has been interesting to observe the number of companies that have opened an overseas office since the UK voted to leave the European Union. We have seen it ourselves, with a handful of clients announcing their intention to expand into key markets such as France, Spain and United States.
While exciting and incredibly pleasing to see such expansion and ambition, especially after the storm of the last 18 months, businesses and brands need to be cautious. If they get their comms and messaging wrong across each of their new markets, those hopes and aspirations can come quickly crashing down.
Navigating complex nationalities
Ten years ago, I relocated to Croatia to take up a role as interim head of comms for a European scientific publishing house. It was a position that kept me there for two years (not that I was complaining, of course) and gave me a crash course in managing and leading culturally diverse teams.
I started with a team of 20+ people who spanned a wealth of nationalities – culturally, each nationality had its differences.
I loved them all. Their quirks, humour, attitudes, mentality, and the way in which they would process information and make decisions. It opened my eyes to a diverse range of ideas, which would become extremely beneficial when I started Clearly in 2014.
Let’s not think for one moment that being British is a benchmark we should all judge other cultures with. We Brits aren’t exactly easy to work with. We have penchant for saying ‘please’ way too often, our impatience for lateness is world-famous, and we have a wonderful ability for confusing the heck out of people and failing to say what we really mean. For example, when we say, ‘If you have time, you may want to check out…’, what we actually mean is ‘Check the damn thing out now, got it?’
But culture doesn’t just relate to one’s nationality, it also refers to psyche.
Indeed, when I arrived in 2011, Croatia was marking the twentieth anniversary since the start of the first Balkans war that was fuelled by the collapse of the former communist-led Yugoslavia. For the next few years, civil war ensued and inflamed historic cultural divides. It also divided generations, too.
From what I could see, those within the team who were schooled pre-1991 followed the indoctrination of their former communist leaders – to toe the line, never question those in authority. Even the careers they had were determined at birth; if you lived closer to an engineering than a textiles college, you would become an engineer. End of.
But for those who went to school post-1991, theirs was an altogether different mindset. Western ideals were introduced, and people were actively encouraged to challenge the status quo, dare to dream of leading a better life filled with possibilities, and to choose a career based not on where they lived but what they wanted to do.
As a manager, this was rather challenging. One half of the team would follow instructions and go about their work without hesitation or recourse while the other half had no fear of pushing back and asking questions. It made for interesting team meetings, I can tell you.
Regional differences need to be observed
Such nuances are not the reserve of somewhere like Croatia, the United States can be challenging, too. We have clients opening on both the west and east coasts of the country, and the disparities can be enormous.
Indeed, from my own experiences, Bostonians can be conservative and seem rather British-like. They are more likely to ask where you come from, how the business got started, or who the key people are and their stories. New Yorkers couldn’t give a jot about any of these things, they cut to the chase and want to know what’s in it for them from the off. West coast Americans are different again. The Californians I’ve interacted with were a chilled bunch who like to spend time establishing a rapport before getting down to the business of the day.
Multiculturalism has made me a better leader and innovator
I love working with multicultural teams and not because it is a politically correct thing to say and do. It’s because as someone who has worked in-house, as well as in my current role as an agency leader, driving forward new ideas and innovations are of critical importance.
Diverse teams create diversity of thought, and that has enabled my previous teams and the organisations they represented to gain that all-important competitive edge within each market they serve.
This experience has influenced my own way of thinking. Because I have become so used to hearing often-conflicting ideas, I now naturally look at a particular scenario and consider how some of the people in my previous teams would approach it. I now court the opinion of those within my current team who I know will view said scenario differently to me. It is this approach that has seen us a business benefit enormously over the last few years, and the experience gained has made me a better, more rounded and open-minded agency leader.
As a leader, none of us has all the answers. But as a team, and a diverse one at that, the solutions will invariably be found.