You’re an up-and-coming regional executive at a large multinational, representing an emerging-market or a cluster of emerging markets. You believe there is a huge opportunity if the business makes the right kind of investment in your geography. You’ve put together a nice PowerPoint presentation, have done your financial analysis, and you’re ready to make a compelling argument to your global management team. Or so you think.
While we all like to believe that companies make decisions in the most objective, rational ways possible, the reality is often a bit messier than that. When two equally compelling cases are made, what are the things that make the difference and sway corporate decisions? What should country or regional heads keep in mind when making their case? At our latest global strategic planning workshop in New York City, we posed this question to a group of senior leaders, and got some fascinating insights about the softer, less obvious factors, that can make a difference. While in all cases, the business argument was by far the most important thing being considered, here are some other factors that make their way into prioritization discussions. If you happen to be managing country or regional teams and are looking to coach them on effectively communicating up, here are some factors to consider when looking for opportunities to train, develop, and coach them.
- Demonstrate credibility with both long-term strategic thinking and short-term tactical effectiveness
In high-risk emerging markets investments, your team needs to be good not only at thinking big and communicating a strategic vision, but also at demonstrating they have a handle on the day-to-day tactical management of the business operations, even in the most strategic of global emerging markets. For example, a few of the clients at our event were swapping stories about China teams, one of which was fantastic at tactical financial management, but couldn’t demonstrate a bigger vision, while the other company was struggling with the opposite – a team with great strategic ideas, but difficulty putting them into practice. You need both to have credibility for winning the case for investment, and you need to work on systematically proving yourself and your team as strong in both areas.
- Proactively shape the narrative about your market
Some markets get less positive media coverage, which can subconsciously shape corporate perceptions, even if this is not borne out in the reality of how your business operates on the ground. For instance, at our event, one of the reasons why executives believed their companies had invested more in Brazil than Russia over the years was because Russia is perceived as less business-friendly than Brazil, despite lack of evidence that this is true for the vast majority of firms. If you know what the negative stereotypes about your country are that you need to counter, you can focus on consistently correcting these and building an internal company narrative (ex. “Russia has been friendly to us and we’re actually a lot more profitable there than we are in Brazil”) that can counter the media narrative.
- Surprise them
Sometimes you deal with the opposite problem – making the case for a market that is just off the radar for senior management. The good side of this is that you can shape a narrative from scratch; the bad is that you need to come up with a compelling, memorable narrative to stand out. For example, we find senior-most executives to be consistently surprised by the fact that Central Europe is one of the most overlooked emerging markets success stories over the past three years. If you can bring in a fresh idea or an overlooked opportunity to the senior team’s attention, the novelty of it itself can be powerful in supporting your case.
- Work on your communications skills
Although these things shouldn’t matter, the reality is that language skills and ability to confidently, compellingly communicate an investment case does make a difference when trying to persuade a complex organization to change course, and this was reflected in some of the discussions among executives at our event. For up-and-coming general managers from emerging markets, fluency in the language of the HQ country and a solid understanding of cultural expectations is a hugely valuable investment, not just in their own career, but in their ability to accomplish what they need to for their country of responsibility. Strong performance alone will increasingly be insufficient as more markets vie for attention and further investment.
- Build informal relationships
This is another piece of insight coming from discussions at our NYC event that straddles personal and business priorities. We’re not talking about corporate politics, but about ability to repeatedly make your case, establish a relationship of trust, and increase the effectiveness of your communication, particularly as it relates to cultural norms and corporate culture. The executives we spoke with – largely US-headquartered companies – cited individuals who had studied in the US or lived in the US as more effective at communicating with HQ because of their understanding of US cultural norms and corporate dynamics. Of course, not everyone can follow this path, but ensuring that you make the most out of visits to HQ or visits by corporate team members to your own market to understand these cultural expectations can help complement your compelling business case when the time comes to make it.