Building a Global Mindset Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Most companies are international long before they’re global. Becoming an international business requires you to sell to customers outside your home market. But becoming a global company is much harder and more complex. Going global actually requires you to change how your company thinks and operates. Here is a quick chart that can help you identify, at a glance, where your company falls on the spectrum.

International CompanyIn BetweenGlobal Company
Revenue targetsOne target for international, another for domesticTargets for each major regionCountry-specific targets
C-level supportInfrequent and sporadic mentions of internationalOccasional mentions of international business and specific regionsFrequent and continued mentions of specific countries and regions
LeadershipVery few functional leaders with “international” in their titleMore people with “international” and regions in their titleLocal leaders, many people with “international” in their title, and many regional leaders
Team DistributionVery few teams working across time zonesMore teams spread across time zonesHaving teams connected across time zones is the norm
Cross-functional collaborationOnly one or two functions responsible for driving the international businessSeveral functions work together to drive the international businessAll functions collaborate to drive global growth
Cross-region collaborationRegions are extremely siloed and rarely work together Some collaboration across regions begins to happenRegions collaborate frequently

So how do you get from Point A (international) to Point B (global), and can you skip the in between stages? Actually, it’s not that easy to speed up the process, because organizational change takes time.

Looking at this chart, you might think that the items that define a global company on the far right are fairly easy goals that any company can achieve. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a global mindset from early on, transforming a company into one that thinks globally is actually really hard, much more difficult than most people tend to imagine.

Why so? If you’ve ever tried to change your own mindset or behavior in any way, you know how hard that can be, even when you’re the one in full control. Now, imagine trying to create behavioral change within an organization of hundreds or even thousands of people. You can’t control all of those people. No one person can! Rewiring an entire company to think globally requires significant support, including:

  • Top-down support from executives. You’ll need to engage C-level, EVP/SVP, VP and Director stakeholders to ensure they are committed to supporting the international cause. With so many people to engage at large companies, this in and of itself is a pretty big undertaking. Also, executives always have a number of other items that are top of mind. Often, the international business actually should take a back seat to other initiatives, especially during certain phases of the company’s evolution. The irony is that the better the international business performs, the less likely it will need to be on the C-level radar, but that’s precisely where it needs to be to move more in a global direction. 😉
  • Mid-level management commitment. In addition to execs, many initiatives need full buy-in from people in middle management. To get them on board with international, you’ll need to understand how your international growth goals connect to their KPIs and how they will be measured. To convince these folks, you’ll need to get them to see how international can help them achieve their own team-level or department-level goals that they’ve committed to hitting.
  • Grass roots enthusiasm. One of the trickiest things about transforming an organization’s mindset as opposed to convincing just a few people is that you’ll also need to find ways to inject global thinking into an organization systematically. Ideally, you can find ways to influence their thinking from the time they are hired. There are plenty of ways you can do that, but it has to be a steady drumbeat from your international business to keep it high on the radar for all parties. Communication and internal marketing become critical for this purpose.

Can a company be global from the moment it’s first born? Yes, it’s possible. But to do that, you have to build your company in a globally extensible way from day one. Founders who can create a globally-minded company from day one are pretty rare, although they do exist. They usually are not born and raised in the United States, but either an immigrant themselves or have lived abroad. If you’re not in that situation, it will likely take your business longer to go global, unless you hire someone with international expansion experience to lead the charge.

The point is, becoming a global company is typically a process. For most companies, it’s also a long process. It might even take the better part of a decade! It requires commitment, grit, and tenacity, and most of all, patience to see it through. But, it’s extremely rewarding to look back on and see how far you’ve come, once you get there.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly Kelly is an award-winning global marketing executive and cross-functional leader in B2B SaaS, with experience at both startups and large public companies. The author of three books, her latest is "Take Your Company Global" (Berrett-Koehler). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly is based in New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.


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