In my work as a research specialist in a small but international company (3S has offices in Stockholm, Barcelona and Singapore and 16 years’ experience of working with multinational customers), I have thought quite a bit about what challenges this implies. Running a business globally can be challenging for many reasons but in this post I would like to address two specific aspects of being international.
If you work as a manager in a global company, you might have thought about how the international environment affects your day to day. Broadly speaking, there are two influencing aspects that we often see: on the one hand, the cultural differences between the countries in which the organization is based or does business. On the other hand, the operational differences between local country units within the same organization when performing the same task (for example, selling a product).
To develop successful relationships both internally, with the members of his or her team, and externally with partners, distributors or customers is a key part of most manager roles, but in an international context adds a dimension. They need to have competence in “international cultural intelligence”, meaning , in particular, to gain knowledge on different dimensions like culture, religion, traditions and local languages. And, most importantly, be open-minded and motivated to achieve this competence!
International organizations also increasingly have the need to recruit leaders who are not only good from the operational point of view, but also have an excellent ability to manage the particularities of each market. Given local differences and a dispersed organization, getting a good overview of what is working and why can be a challenge. Why are departments or teams in different countries achieving different results? Why do sales teams within the same organization, that sell the same product, get such different results? What do the best ones do differently? And, the other way around, what do the other ones do? Or, probably most important, what don’t they do?
One way to find out what is happening in the countries in a structured way is to work with research and surveys about for example, how the countries proceed when it comes to selling the products or services of the organization. Once the results are ready, the country with top sales results can be defined as a benchmark and replicate its model as best practice everywhere.
So, what do you need to be aware of when conducting an international survey?
A research project at a global level should have a cross-cultural setting that takes into account cultural differences, behaviour, and attitudes among countries. Aspects such as the following:
Related to the language:
- Quality of the questionnaire translation to local languages. This is essential to avoid biased results.
- If the survey is conducted in English in all countries, which reduces the risk of bias from the translation, the level of English of respondents needs to be considered. Is that good enough to respond to the survey?
Related to the local culture, behaviour and attitudes
It is a great challenge for a researcher to know to what extent different results in different countries are due just to different ways of doing / thinking or if it has more to do with differences in culture among countries.
- Difference of criteria when responding – For example, according to a study by Research Now, Americans tend to give more extreme ratings on 0 to 10 scales, compared to Europeans, who tend to offer more neutral scores. Also, it was found that response styles among countries were very different. People from Brazil and China, for example, often gave extreme responses, while the Japanese leaned toward midpoint answers.
- Different interpretation of scales – Consider if a scale 1-10 is similarly interpreted in Malaysia as in Italy? In order to minimize bias, use of worded scales (eg extremely dissatisfied; satisfied; extremely satisfied, etc.) is a good idea. Additionally, you can carry out pilot surveys with groups of participants with different cultural backgrounds before sending the real survey to detect possible biases.
- Response rates also vary depending on the country – It is not possible to be categorical and provide a ranking on which countries have better rates because there are too many factors involved (subject of study, methodology, target audience…). There are though some studies that provide information on that, such as the study by The Research Council of Norway, where it is said that the highest rates in Europe are currently in Eastern Europe above the Nordic countries.
- Correct interpretation of the results by the researchers. – This can be managed from a quantitative perspective by applying a correction factor or, from a qualitative perspective. For example, it is known that when assessing a sales manager, sales reps in Germany will be tougher than in Japan for cultural reasons. Sometimes it might be very difficult to set a statistically reliable correction factor so, it may be better to just consider that cross-cultural fact qualitatively when comparing Germany and Japan.
In the future, number of intercultural interactions will keep growing due to globalization. That will mean a growing need for Global Managers to get this “Intercultural intelligence” competence to be able to develop effective international relationships.
Do you want to know more about how to maximize the value of international research, please contract Jofre Cusi at firstname.lastname@example.org.