A global expansion can be a company’s greatest triumph or its most difficult period. Moving into new markets can mean increased reach and revenue. But if you focus too much on the big changes to your bottom line, you may end up with disgruntled employees working hard just to keep pace with this rapid growth.
Global expansion can have a dramatic impact on organizational design and structure, which often means a new centralization of resources. People who have been with the business since its early days may feel they’ve been pushed away from the center and are less in touch with what’s happening. This is especially common in companies that have headquarters in one country but distribute their functions globally. What employees used to experience as flexibility and empowerment now feels like being blindsided and out of control.
I often see this in my work with Fortune 500 companies. One technology company, for example, grew through acquisitions over three years. It needed to centralize its back-office functions — finance, human resources, and IT — to free up time for client-facing work. This shift in responsibilities away from local offices not only changed relationships and job descriptions but also brought up a lot of emotions.
Employees sometimes experience the five stages of grief when facing changes in the workplace. And it’s difficult to implement a smooth expansion if employees are angry or depressed, for example. In the end, change is adopted when people are part of the process. Employees buy into what they help create.
Investing in Human Capital
Whether you’re announcing expansion plans to current employees or building a workforce in a new market, human capital investment is critical. Do you need to transfer some select managers to a new location to build the brand there? Should you hire local talent? What’s the best strategy for connecting with the culture in your foreign offices? Evaluate your team’s strengths and decide which areas would benefit from further leadership training or fresh talent.
Whenever you talk about new hires and directional shifts, long-term employees get nervous. They want the company to succeed, but they don’t want to lose their jobs in the process. Even if you guarantee their safety, they still have concerns about how their day-to-day responsibilities will change. Their jobs are investments in their own futures, and they want to know they’re making a good bet by staying with your organization.
Here’s how you can retain a happy and productive workforce while your company’s market share and profits grow:
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Don’t underestimate the number of times you need to share a message before it’s truly heard. Broadcast expansion details across different platforms, and partner with internal advocates who can relay the information to their colleagues. Be consistent in these messages, and create forums for people to ask questions and give feedback. As JetBlue Airways founder Dave Barger said, “When you think you’ve communicated enough, triple it.”
If you’ve already begun hiring new team members, make sure they receive accurate, up-to-date information as well. Translate any news into the appropriate languages so they feel in the loop, and adapt to the local preferred communication styles.
As the company grows, you’ll find it harder to connect with people individually, but you must stay visible. Leverage video conferencing, company newsletters, and chat services to maintain an open-door policy. Build your leadership bench, enlisting local managers to help deliver a consistent message in each location as an extension of the executive team. The more human touch you can put on the expansion, the more confident your staff will feel.
2. Give everyone a seat at the table.
Once you’ve informed every one of your growth plans, involve them in the initiative. If employees help create the change, they’re more likely to adopt it, so develop action teams or feedback systems through which they can contribute. Hold small meetings with employees, and observe who gets excited about which projects. Then invite everyone — come one, come all — to participate in upcoming strategies. The more voices, the better and more accurate your solution will be.
3. Help your employees grow, too.
Employees don’t want to stagnate in their present positions; they want to improve their skills and earning power. Global expansion presents a great chance for employees to sharpen their analytical, collaborative, and intercultural abilities. Offer continuing development opportunities, such as leadership training and skills workshops.
Employees are more likely to weather the changes that come with expansion if they see paths to advancement within the company. Rather than fretting about their futures, they’ll be excited to be part of a dynamic, growing organization. People want to feel useful, so nurture their desire to learn and let them drive your company forward. Want proof this works? Companies with engaged employees outperform those with low engagement by 202 percent.
4. Build a better mousetrap.
During periods of growth, companies tend to focus first on external targets such as customer satisfaction and market share. Many lag in how and when to bring employees and processes along. But expansion is an opportunity to move beyond the status quo, engaging your team to work toward continuous improvement at all times. Focus on doing things better, not just getting them done.
Hold regular meetings, in person or virtually, to share cross-discipline projects and keep everyone aligned on big-picture goals. This gives employees a chance to ask questions, offer ideas, and address problems that are holding them back. Even brief check-ins will keep employees moving, instead of letting initiatives stall because of a lack of direction.
Measure your human capital investments during your expansion and beyond. By tracking your people development and retention strategies, you can determine which have the greatest ROI and emphasize those in the future. Growth is hugely important in our increasingly globalized economy. But the only way to keep up is to stay connected with your people and let them grow alongside you.
This article originally appeared on Business 2 Community.
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