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Imagine this scenario: A corporate vice-president and a regional director of sales are at odds. Both consider the other to be a savvy leader with solid business acumen. So what’s the problem?

Chances are the issue has to do with global expectations versus local expectations. Mike Kossler, of the Center for Creative Leadership, says that one of the biggest challenges for global leaders is managing the tension between the need to be globally consistent while taking into account local differentiation. In the example you just heard, the challenge is immense for both leaders. The corporate VP is responsible for the whole picture. He operates out of his home country and culture, but travels extensively to regional operations around the world. He relies on regional directors to implement the corporate strategy, but he isn’t immersed in the culture or the work the way his direct reports are.

The regional director has another set of challenges. In this case, he may feel that much of the corporate strategy breaks down or becomes extraordinarily complex when applied to his office. He is frustrated that the vice president can’t see that.

Corporate and regional leaders need to create strategies for balancing the tension inherent in their positions. According to Kossler, they can do this in three ways:

First, they should think and act globally. A global mindset is needed when the organization is developing universal policies and procedures, seeking efficiencies of scale, and integrating decision-making across global boundaries. For instance, the human resources function of a large, multi-national organization should keep its worldwide management policies updated.

Second, they should think and act locally. Global organizations should try to meet local needs and maximize regional adaptations. For example, the HR function would likely take a local approach to establishing healthcare benefits. Benefit programs in each country would be determined and managed at the country or regional level and in response to employees’ cultures and needs.

Third, leaders should think and act “glocally.” This basically means trying to operate locally and globally at the same time. An either-or approach to decision making is often faulty; many times global and local perspectives need to be considered simultaneously. HR might take a glocal approach to developing the organization’s hiring strategy and processes. Recruiting, selecting and utilizing the best talent is implemented through an integration of global and local efforts.

Kossler explains that optimum balance is a result of knowing when to act globally, or locally, or when a new, yet-to-be-invented “glocal” approach is required. By considering the three approaches, global leaders can more easily determine when to let go of an issue and when to roll up their sleeves and work through the complexities of creating a “glocal” approach.

3 thoughts on “A Big Balancing Act: Local vs. Global

  1. Phil says:

    Money is always a problem!
    I work in an international company, and am currently abroad in one of our branches.
    I work with a team of locals and expats. Although I train my locals as much as my expats, the locals know that our expats will always get a sustainable larger paycheck at the end of the month.
    Even though the expats are expected to resolve harder problems, those problems represent a small percent of the work load.
    Finding leverage to motivate the locals is very difficult because ,in the end ,even if they were doing the same job with the same expectations from our HQ they know that they would never receive the same salary!

    1. Matt says:

      Hi Phil,

      Are expat salaries a lot higher even when the lower local cost of living is considerably lower?

  2. Janis Apted Yadiny says:

    Incentivizing people differently for the same work (or what they will perceive as the same) will never work. It’s a disincentive that global HR needs to address.

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