How to replicate your culture in your international offices
It doesn't have to be difficult to open offices overseas, as long as your culture takes centre stage
The most important tool in your arsenal when setting set up an international office is culture. At hedgehog lab, we have been able to expand into three continents and four countries, with six offices globally, within a single decade. During the process, we learned a lot about growing a business internationally – and the challenges associated with it.
Setting up an international office (if planned well) is not as challenging as it looks on paper. The key is always to identify the right location and start small. It’s possible for large corporations to make a heavy investment. Small and medium organisations, however, need to have a good understanding of the local market and dynamics before making such a commitment.
Hence, it makes sense to start with a one man office. This can then be expanded to a full-scale operation at whatever speed the organisation deems appropriate.
But the individual who launches the office plays an important role and therefore needs to be chosen carefully. And among his or her chief attributes must be a clear understanding of the company’s culture.
All processes, methodologies, projects, equipment and training can be transferred from the HQ to an international office with a little effort. Culture, by contrast, is the most challenging thing to replicate.
The culture of an organisation determines the way the office will be built and how this team aligns itself with the global goal of an organisation, its ethos and its vision.
A constant focus
But the question everyone asks is: how do we ensure this culture is replicated exactly to enhance the vision of the organisation? There is, of course, no single recipe for success. But there are best practices to turn to.
First and foremost, the business must pick the ideal candidate to run the office. When we set up our India office, for example, we hired the now managing director Sanjeev Pratinidhi while he was still in the UK, letting him work at our headquarters for several weeks before taking over the new operation.
This time enabled Sanjeev to understand the culture and vision of hedgehog lab, making it significantly less challenging for him to replicate it in the India office. Nurturing and inculcating a culture requires ongoing activity – it is not something that can be achieved in a single session. The leader chosen should ensure that this culture is shown in each and every activity. It should also be kept in mind when thinking about processes.
The second most important method for imparting the culture across offices is to create visibility between the senior management across sites. Today, we work with remote teams on a daily basis; the leader could be located in UK while his or her team could be in India or vice versa. This could create a lot of challenges in maintaining the culture across offices and teams.
One way to mitigate this risk is for leaders to travel to meet the teams they manage. This gives them a better understanding of their day-to-day lives and creates a strong bond that enables easy buy-in of the culture from the team.
The third important principle for maintaining the culture is to ensure that processes and practices are similar across each office. And that involves overcoming any difference in understanding policies around benefits, holidays or work.
Sometimes it is difficult to replicate a policy, especially when it comes to local holidays, which will vary depending on location – and will need to be planned as such. But annual leave can be managed to ensure largely consistent policies are put in place, taking proper account of culture.
To be fair, we’ve not quite mastered this yet. But with over a decade’s experience behind us, we are now able to understand and appreciate the differences we need to work with to ensure our culture is embedded across our offices
Nurturing culture is a continuous process. We are always thinking of ways to help our global team buy into it.
Sarat Pediredla is speaking at the CBI's Global Growth Conference in Newcastle on Monday 13 November
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