Are you a manager overseeing operations in many countries?
How would you compare the experiences when managing one country versus more than one?
Being a regional manager is satisfying in all possible ways: socially, emotionally, intellectually, and financially. But at the same time, it presents a unique set of challenges because each country has different political, social, economic, and cultural climates. This means that if one is blind to reality and assumes that one management practice will serve every nation, there is a risk of losing people who have a different perception of what management should look like and sometimes legal implications.
If you are a new regional manager, it is quite possible to make some mistakes from how you greet people in that country to how you approach your work. The appealing thing is that some mistakes are not fatal and can be easily forgotten. But others can cause grave consequences not only to you, but also the company.
In this article, we are more focusing on the latter and have compiled tips that will help you to do better if you are managing operations (or planning to) in several countries.
Even though the practices will differ depending on the industry, and whether you are based in one region and have other managers reporting to you and you only travel on a needs’ basis or you travel frequently to different places, the tips are laying a solid ground for you.
- Understand the countries you are managing in depth
If you are a regional manager, your understanding of a specific country should be more than the major towns, political parties, top executives, to-dos, best places to visit, and the weather. You should actively aim to understand different aspects in the social, political, economic, health, and cultural such as the following:
- What is the economic growth in the country?
- Is there a trend over the last couple of years in terms of economic growth?
- Are there specific actions being taken to boost the economy? What would be their effect on your area of profession?
- Are there laws that are being formulated to boost the economy? If yes, what would be their effect on the industry you are working in?
- What is the rate of population increase and the effect on the market?
- Which are the fast growing industries in the country?
- What is the political climate of the country throughout the year?
- How does the political climate change when elections are close by and being held? If there is a history of tension when elections are near or are being held, how will work be affected both generally and in certain industries?
- Who are the industry representatives in your area of profession?
- How does the industry relate with others and leaders in the political and economic sectors?
- What are some of the objectives that they are working towards?
- Are there health concerns in the country?
- How often do they occur? How does the government respond in such cases to prevent economic collapses? How do other players in your line of work respond?
You do not have to go all the way back to history to understand a country and refine your management practices. Looking at publications from the past year to a decade can give you a holistic picture of the country.
- Understand regional relations
Apart from digging into a country’s social, economic, political, and health matters, you should also look beyond the geographic borders.
Every so often, countries enter into agreements for mutual benefits. This means that when the activity being agreed upon is implemented, the effect will be felt in multiple countries. Similarly, the collapse of a union between countries would have widespread effects.
Even know you may not know everything that is being planned in a country, understanding a country’s unions will help you to know where the country is headed. A good example is Kenya and its position in the East African, Eastern Africa, and African region. If you are planning to become a manager in Kenya, it would be wise to learn about the climates in the neighbouring countries, the main areas of focus for the East African Community, and the effects of the unions in your area of profession and the country as a whole.
In that case, aim to know at least the following:
- How does the country relate with its immediate neighbours and others? What is the effect of the relationship to your industry and others?
- What are the objectives of some agreements established with different countries?
- Are there anticipated changes in the unions?
- Are there plans of the country entering into agreements with other countries? If yes, what are the objectives?
In a nutshell, the objective should be to get as much as possible so you can plan ahead.
- Understand the labour market
The greatest concern to you as a manager is the labour market. Needless to say, countries have different labour laws, but the labour market is not standalone; it is affected by changes in the social, economic, health, and political aspects.
In this case, it would be risky to assume that in-depth understanding of labour laws is the responsibility of the human resources professionals. As a manager, you will be applying the laws more than anyone in your day-day activities hence it makes sense to also understand them better than anyone.
Explore concepts such as the following:
- What is the supply versus the demand of professionals?
- Are there special rules when it comes to recruitment within the country and across the borders?
- What is the minimum wage of different professionals?
- Which are some of the labour unions?
- What is the working culture in the country?
- When does an official work day start and end?
- How does that compare to other countries that you are managing? In France for example, a work week is said to have 35 hours while in Iceland, Icelanders should not work for more than 48 hours every week. This is a matter that would require close examination if you are managing operations in both countries.
- What is the difference in time zones and how would you best combine operations across the regions?
- Are there any labour reforms in the pipeline that could affect your line of work?
- Identify the major differences in the countries and analyse deeply
While actively seeking to understand the climates in different industries, it is not unusual to identify huge differences. If for instance by law a work-day should start at 9:00am in one country and 8:00 am in another at the same rate, then it is wise to be mindful of the legal, financial, and social implications of employees in one area working from 8:00am and others at 9:00am. In such situations, it is best to pull brains from professional, economic, and legal fields to find solution that will be suitable for everyone.
- Understand the social matters of the country, population demographics, and regions
Every country has its way of life and beyond the professional title of a regional manager is a person who has different social needs and interests. It therefore makes sense to get to know what matters for the people who are close to you for better relations.
Start from the national level to the lowest possible and you will see that the needs become more specific to different demographics. In your search, you will see the depth of some matters and get a picture of the anticipated changes in the country. For example, if you are based in an area where residents hold weekly and not-so-peaceful protests with an aim of prompting the government to enforce laws against noise pollution, then it means that work days may be affected if the protests are ever out of control. Knowing intimate needs of the people who are close to you will help you to better adapt to situations and also respond appropriately, effectively, and quickly to the needs of the people who are close to you.
- Learn common languages
In simple terms, management is impossible without communication. More often than not, the first thing that a regional manager does is to learn a language that will help in communicating across the countries and as time goes by, learn other languages. Being able to speak the language of the people closer to you breaks the ice even further and helps you to connect with them even more easily.
- Identify standard management practices
It can be quite overwhelming to change your management practices every time you move into a new country. It can feel like you are becoming different people every so often and eventually feel like the job is eroding your sense of individually. The good thing is that in spite of the different needs across the countries, some aspects such as effective communication and attention to detail are standard. This basic understanding will take the pressure off the situation and help you to shift from one management style to another easily.
- Define the ground rules and the different practices for all regions
After conducting your research in all the areas listed above, it is best to make sure everyone concerned is aware otherwise the search will be of minimal value. Identify the rules that are applicable regardless of the region and then proceed to give guidelines for specific regions. Seek feedback from as many people as possible to better refine your management style. Also, make the resources easily accessible for anyone who may want to consult. This will make it easy to tackle any issues that may arise.
The key to management across countries is to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all. Every country should be viewed through a fresh pair of eyes.