One of the most difficult—and least-examined—steps of getting international business right is choosing the right people to send. Whether you’re setting up a branch office and need someone to staff it for a year, or simply sending one of your people to negotiate a deal in three weeks, sending the right people is the key to success. It is also the most common cause of failure in international business. Studies have shown that up to 75% of overseas assignments fail, costing American companies $2 billion per year in direct costs alone. The opportunity costs of lost business, of course, are much higher. Too, as North American markets continue to struggle with recession and the dollar falls against most world currencies, businesses are turning to international markets and partnerships to survive in difficult economic times.
How can you make sure your business gets it right? That’s the subject of our book, Carry a Chicken In Your Lap, Or Whatever It Takes to Globalize Your Business (St. Martin’s Press, 2009), available at Amazon, Books•a•Million, Barnes & Noble, and many other booksellers. Critics have said:
When companies embrace global commerce—which veteran businessmen Johnson and Ayres believe is, in most cases, the right choice—much can go wrong. To keep that from happening, Johnson and Ayres delve into the economics, legalities, culture shock, personnel and travel practicalities (including the permutations of jet lag), to demonstrate the right way to get your business a global footing. Relationships are paramount, as is the right attitude: "The international arena is no place for the weak in character." Although some advice seems simplistic—"No matter what country you are sent to, reach out to the local people with humility"—there's plenty of easy-to-overlook common sense tips that should help develop a reader's perspective: "American companies should shed their previously strong sense of exceptionalism," and simple transparency can "keep your company out of a lot of trouble and limit the damage" when mistakes occur. Further tools include a useful foreign phrase-book and time conversion charts, which one might not think are so important; Johnson and Ayres's discussion of what can go wrong, however, will convince otherwise.
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“In a word, this book is outstanding. It presents basic but not usually well-known information in a delightfully interesting way, laced with the authors’ personal experiences. Carry a Chicken in Your Lap should be required reading for every person contemplating an overseas assignment, as well as anyone who is contemplating an overseas business. Senior executives who will make the final critical decision regarding the person(s) best suited for this assignment will undoubtedly benefit from this fine book. . . . A most worthy addition to the current storehouse of knowledge regarding the underlying difficulties in doing business outside of North America. [This] book sums it up in an easy-to-read but fascinating style.”—Richard Zimmerman, former CEO of Hershey Foods
“Too many firms look at foreign markets as just another trip to MacDonald’s—same stuff, just a different location. And they pay for that misperception with failure, over and over. What these authors have done is to take much of the guesswork and all those bad ideas out of the effort of starting up in a new place where more is different than just the language and the scenery. Local customs, traditions and long-established work habits, family structures, and even diet all play a role in success and therefore in failure of any endeavor in a new place. If you think foreign markets are for you, this book is both tour guide and key; what they have done is to turn the lights on to that new and sometimes thorny path. Plus, it’s a great read!”—Greg Garrison, former CBS News legal analyst and host of The Greg Garrison Show
Key themes that the book covers include:
➢ Not Everyone Can Succeed Overseas: The central truth that most companies fail to grasp, and that most international business books fail to mention, is that not everybody can be successful in the international environment. “If he’s good in Dubuque, he’ll do great in Dubai” is a sure recipe for disaster. This is the basic point on which everything else we have to teach rests.
➢ Who You Are Matters: Basic characteristics—gender, race, religion, family—matter when you go overseas. We’re used to an environment where they don’t—where everybody is treated equally in the workplace regardless of whether they’re male or female, black or white, Christian, Jew, or Hindu. Much of the rest of the world isn’t like that. We’ll show you how to identify people who can work with these realities.
➢ Attitude Matters: Although much is written about communications barriers in international business, one thing usually comes through loud and clear: attitude. Employees’ attitudes towards local customs and culture, different languages, and different ways of doing business can smooth things considerably—or wreck all chances for a deal. We’ll explain the attitudes needed for success, and teach you how to identify them in your people.
➢ Time Matters: We’re used to platitudes about a “shrinking world”. But the globe still has 24 different time zones all the way around it. Just because you can pick up a phone and call any spot on the planet at any time doesn’t mean you should. And just because it’s possible to travel around the world in a matter of a day or two doesn’t mean that your people will be any good when they get where they’re going. We’ll explain the often-misunderstood dimensions of time in international business, and how to identify people who have the right characteristics to manage it.
➢ Politics, Corruption, and Trust: The international arena is ethically and politically complicated. Rules are different, cultures are different, and expectations are different. Finding people you can trust to do the right thing and not damage your business is difficult—but critical. And understanding that, when you go overseas, you’re working under somebody else’s rules is vital. We’ll explain the ins and outs of corruption (what it is an isn’t), avoiding difficult politics overseas, and finding partners who you can work with confidently.
➢ So What Do I Do Differently? Despite the realities of what it takes to succeed in the international arena, companies often choose people to send overseas for a wide variety of other reasons—hence the high rate of failure. We’ll talk about how to avoid those traps, and what you should be doing instead to make sure you’ve got the right people for the job.