Organizing for global growth


Management guru Alfred Chandler asserted that business excellence comes about when “structure follows strategy.” Unfortunately, many Canadian firms with global ambitions fail to heed this axiom. In their drive to tackle international markets, they often pay insufficient attention to how certain groups, like marketing, end up being organized and perform their functions. This neglect can kibosh even the boldest plans. Fortunately, managers can fall back on a rich trove of best practices.

Companies go global as part of an organic growth strategy or because of an acquisition. The potential returns are great but so are the risks. Given the high stakes, leaders should tread carefully but not too hesitantly.

Managers need to address three key questions up front:

1. Which organizational model — centralized at the home base or decentralized at the local office — can best deliver the growth plan?

2. What are the tradeoffs between a single, global message/program and more tailored, local campaigns?

3. How do you foster integration, collaboration and sharing of best practices between the different offices and teams?

Addressing these questions will expose latent tensions and implementation issues (and new synergies) between various approaches and groups. The story of how two firms addressed the challenge of going global differently illuminates some best practices and key pitfalls. Lets start with a company that has done it right — Manulife Asset Management, the investment arm of insurance giant, Manulife Financial.

Though a global business, it was not leveraging its international marketing and distribution capabilities to market as a local one. The leadership was looking to drive more cross-pollination of best practices and tools, better servicing of local client needs and more efficient processes and practices. A senior Manulife executive, Anthony Ostler, was brought in to reorganize the entire marketing structure. Some of the major changes included: establishing a centralized CMO office; retuning roles and responsibilities, as well as workflows; and promoting richer communication. After 12 months of transformation, the results were impressive. Lead generation and RFP success rates soared and margins widened while overall marketing spend fell.

What they did right:

  • Collaboratively redefined success and the marketing and change strategy that would deliver it, aligning all teams and offices to that single vision
  • Looked at the business holistically but did not shy away from getting the details right, like refining employee career paths, adjusting metrics and optimizing workflows
  • Adopted a “hub and spoke” model that centralized key activities like strategy and RFP creation and decentralized others like product development and local marketing support.

Ostler believes “Focusing on the client experience helped to guide all the decisions and was critical to success. At the same time, efficiencies could be recognized by globalizing certain aspects and we moved aggressively to do this. This client focus coupled with efficiencies helps the business to grow.”

At the other end of the spectrum is a professional services firm that acquired a successful overseas competitor in order to get a foothold in a market it deemed vital for growth, and to ensure retention of its multinational clients. This was not a hostile takeover and the clients viewed it favourably. However, after 18 months the forecasted revenues were not materializing despite significant marketing investment and considerable head office attention.

What they did wrong:

The new firm was managed in a controlling, overly formal fashion that was at odds with the professional services firm’s more entrepreneurial culture and practices. For example, local marketing programs were abruptly cancelled in order to capture early cost savings. Since both offices shared many of the same clients (often on the same project), the acquiring firm assumed the habits and needs of these clients were similar across geographies. In reality, each client subsidiary acted very differently leading to problems and gaps in service and delivery. Finally, the acquiring firm lacked the stamina to fully integrate many of the systems between the two companies. As a result, they were never able to leverage their important knowledge and human capital management systems and achieve the desired productivity and innovation gains.

Going forward:

Since every situation differs, a “one size fits all” approach in areas like organizational design and sales & marketing planning rarely works. Organizational, channel and program integration is not easy but must be relentlessly pursued in order to maximize program efficiency & effectiveness, minimize internal strife and drive collaboration. Using proven change management tools is critical. At its core, excelling as a global company is about dissimilar people working together. Ignoring the needs and aspirations of your teams will compromise organizational performance and business results.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc., web site.

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