Going global Going global

Going global
30 Nov 2017

It seems to be the accepted wisdom that when expanding internationally, firms need to yield to local market conditions and established regional working practices. But when we at Creditsafe began our global expansion programme, we chose to go against the ‘norm’. Instead we decided to export our internal culture elsewhere under the belief that what had been created locally would stand the international test.

But such a strategy was not without its risks and challenges, particularly from a HR perspective, and it would be inaccurate to say that a ‘template’ approach was or could have been used. While it is obviously necessary to adapt business culture in order to ensure it is not completely rejected by local markets, the key is not to adapt it too much.

To illustrate the point, our business is largely built around telesales. Our telesales operation has helped us become the world’s most used supplier of company credit reports, by means of which we provide information about more than 190 million companies worldwide.

So we have succeeded in creating, developing and managing large outbound telesales centres that drive business growth in each market that we enter. But in a number of countries such as Germany, France and even across the wider UK (we are based in Wales), we were told that this approach wouldn’t work.

Despite the warnings though, the value proposition offered to local staff has on each occasion facilitated and supported our approach. We differentiate between our version of telesales and what the wider industry refers to as ‘call centres’ by providing staff with greater freedom to express themselves within their role. Where call centres use scripts, we encourage personality and creativity. Where call centres have rigid frameworks, we reward our staff on performance and support them in their achievements.

In order to make our cultural export approach work, however, we identified very early on that it was necessary to place existing senior managers in new entities overseas so that they could inculcate the required business culture and practices. Doing so also seemed to defy conventional wisdom, however. This states that local managers are the best choice as they understand regional customs and industry requirements.

Secret to success

But the secret to our success is in finding the winning balance between employees exported from within the existing business and locallyhired staff. Our ‘exports’ were selected for their knowledge and skill, but even more so for their passion for the business in its position as a challenger within new markets. So we were in the fortunate position of being able to offer staff the opportunity to experience new countries and cultures, which is a real benefit from a recruitment standpoint.

Local managers, on the other hand, were hired for their local knowledge and perceived readiness to embrace the Creditsafe culture – although they were encouraged to challenge practices where they felt it necessary. As a result, in most of our offices around the world, the culture could be defined as 90% Creditsafe and 10% local.

Given the industry in which we operate and the nature of telesales, our average staff member belongs to the Millennial age group. Key to grabbing the attention of this generation has been to have a transformational, charismatic leader pushing the business to new heights.

Cato Syversen left his home in Norway in 2001 to lead Creditsafe UK and spearhead its international expansion. With the aim of creating a business “where people wanted to come into work on a Monday morning,” Cato’s focus on staff engagement was evident from the very beginning.

Most recently, exercises to encourage cross-border relationship-building and communication have culminated in group-wide events, where staff are treated to long weekends away with their international colleagues.

Speaking from a personal standpoint, I have found that supporting local HR managers in day-to-day issues can be challenging. As with any dispersed virtual team or collaboration effort, being geographically distant from the person(s) or situation(s) you are working with, reduces the opportunities for first-hand observation or evidence-gathering.

Working to a common goal

But as an HR professional, I feel it is hugely important to be as balanced, forensic, analytical and objective as possible in assessing a situation, particularly when you are supporting it from a distance and potentially have access to limited information given that you are unable to see what is happening for yourself.

In my view, global HR professionals need to be brave enough to allow local managers the headroom and space to make mistakes. I see my role as guiding people towards meeting common goals without being overly prescriptive about it. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that I need to have all of the answers - in fact, for the record, I would say I rarely do. But what I have got is the ability to coach people in order to help them find their own answers, which is a far more effective approach in my experience anyway.

So I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and what we continue to achieve. Our cultural export model may not work for all businesses in all industries and, as an HR professional, you will need to decide what works best for your individual company. A cultural export approach may prove too complex if the organisation wants to grow by acquisition rather than organically, for example.

But our model continues to work for us - engagement results among our 1,000 employees across the group improve year-on-year and for the last five years, our UK operation was rated among the ‘Top 100 Best Companies to Work For’.

And because our offices are full of happy people, our business is very successful. Our compound annual revenue growth rate has been a consistent 28% over the last five years and we now have an annual turnover of €96 million.

We currently operate in eight European countries as well as the USA but sell into more, servicing the needs of more than 90,000 customers in the process.

So to conclude, we believe that our organic growth has been made possible by our decision to recreate the vibrant culture that we have in Cardiff and Caerphilly, Wales, in other countries around the world. Our next move into the Far East may prove the most challenging yet, but if we stick to our 90/10 rule, I’m sure everything will turn out just fine.

 

Gareth Way joined Creditsafe in August 2002 as group HR director and has supported the business credit information provider’s growth since it launched into the UK. He has also played a leading role in helping the company expand into France, Ireland, The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, the US and Italy. Gareth is also one of the team responsible for ensuring that Creditsafe UK was rated as one of the Times Top 100 Companies to work for over five successive years.

It seems to be the accepted wisdom that when expanding internationally, firms need to yield to local market conditions and established regional working practices. But when we at Creditsafe began our global expansion programme, we chose to go against the ‘norm’. Instead we decided to export our internal culture elsewhere under the belief that what had been created locally would stand the international test.

But such a strategy was not without its risks and challenges, particularly from a HR perspective, and it would be inaccurate to say that a ‘template’ approach was or could have been used. While it is obviously necessary to adapt business culture in order to ensure it is not completely rejected by local markets, the key is not to adapt it too much.

To illustrate the point, our business is largely built around telesales. Our telesales operation has helped us become the world’s most used supplier of company credit reports, by means of which we provide information about more than 190 million companies worldwide.

So we have succeeded in creating, developing and managing large outbound telesales centres that drive business growth in each market that we enter. But in a number of countries such as Germany, France and even across the wider UK (we are based in Wales), we were told that this approach wouldn’t work.

Despite the warnings though, the value proposition offered to local staff has on each occasion facilitated and supported our approach. We differentiate between our version of telesales and what the wider industry refers to as ‘call centres’ by providing staff with greater freedom to express themselves within their role. Where call centres use scripts, we encourage personality and creativity. Where call centres have rigid frameworks, we reward our staff on performance and support them in their achievements.

In order to make our cultural export approach work, however, we identified very early on that it was necessary to place existing senior managers in new entities overseas so that they could inculcate the required business culture and practices. Doing so also seemed to defy conventional wisdom, however. This states that local managers are the best choice as they understand regional customs and industry requirements.

Secret to success

But the secret to our success is in finding the winning balance between employees exported from within the existing business and locallyhired staff. Our ‘exports’ were selected for their knowledge and skill, but even more so for their passion for the business in its position as a challenger within new markets. So we were in the fortunate position of being able to offer staff the opportunity to experience new countries and cultures, which is a real benefit from a recruitment standpoint.

Local managers, on the other hand, were hired for their local knowledge and perceived readiness to embrace the Creditsafe culture – although they were encouraged to challenge practices where they felt it necessary. As a result, in most of our offices around the world, the culture could be defined as 90% Creditsafe and 10% local.

Given the industry in which we operate and the nature of telesales, our average staff member belongs to the Millennial age group. Key to grabbing the attention of this generation has been to have a transformational, charismatic leader pushing the business to new heights.

Cato Syversen left his home in Norway in 2001 to lead Creditsafe UK and spearhead its international expansion. With the aim of creating a business “where people wanted to come into work on a Monday morning,” Cato’s focus on staff engagement was evident from the very beginning.

Most recently, exercises to encourage cross-border relationship-building and communication have culminated in group-wide events, where staff are treated to long weekends away with their international colleagues.

Speaking from a personal standpoint, I have found that supporting local HR managers in day-to-day issues can be challenging. As with any dispersed virtual team or collaboration effort, being geographically distant from the person(s) or situation(s) you are working with, reduces the opportunities for first-hand observation or evidence-gathering.

Working to a common goal

But as an HR professional, I feel it is hugely important to be as balanced, forensic, analytical and objective as possible in assessing a situation, particularly when you are supporting it from a distance and potentially have access to limited information given that you are unable to see what is happening for yourself.

In my view, global HR professionals need to be brave enough to allow local managers the headroom and space to make mistakes. I see my role as guiding people towards meeting common goals without being overly prescriptive about it. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that I need to have all of the answers - in fact, for the record, I would say I rarely do. But what I have got is the ability to coach people in order to help them find their own answers, which is a far more effective approach in my experience anyway.

So I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and what we continue to achieve. Our cultural export model may not work for all businesses in all industries and, as an HR professional, you will need to decide what works best for your individual company. A cultural export approach may prove too complex if the organisation wants to grow by acquisition rather than organically, for example.

But our model continues to work for us - engagement results among our 1,000 employees across the group improve year-on-year and for the last five years, our UK operation was rated among the ‘Top 100 Best Companies to Work For’.

And because our offices are full of happy people, our business is very successful. Our compound annual revenue growth rate has been a consistent 28% over the last five years and we now have an annual turnover of €96 million.

We currently operate in eight European countries as well as the USA but sell into more, servicing the needs of more than 90,000 customers in the process.

So to conclude, we believe that our organic growth has been made possible by our decision to recreate the vibrant culture that we have in Cardiff and Caerphilly, Wales, in other countries around the world. Our next move into the Far East may prove the most challenging yet, but if we stick to our 90/10 rule, I’m sure everything will turn out just fine.

 

Gareth Way joined Creditsafe in August 2002 as group HR director and has supported the business credit information provider’s growth since it launched into the UK. He has also played a leading role in helping the company expand into France, Ireland, The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, the US and Italy. Gareth is also one of the team responsible for ensuring that Creditsafe UK was rated as one of the Times Top 100 Companies to work for over five successive years.

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