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Why globalisation is still important despite headwinds and here is how to leverage it

I’ve just returned from a week in Japan with colleagues from all over the world – the featured image has yours truly pictured in one of sessions we held 😎 I look after Microsoft Japan’s global accounts in EMEA (disclosure) from a customer success point of view – these are global companies with regional operations outside Japan. The last global connection we had was in late 2019, pre-pandemic. I’ve been doing this particular role coming on 5 years, the latter years it’s all been done remotely due to the pandemic of course. Even before this, most of my roles have been regionally or globally focused (in startup or established company) so I write with a degree of experience.

Some context for a modern day global organisation

The opening paragraph sets the scene. Here’s more.

I also work very closely with colleagues in North America and Asia Pacific who look after the same customers with their regional operations there. They also attended this session. The attendees also spanned multiple technology workstreams, many of them highly interdependent. Finally, we had attendees from Japan who look after the customer in their home country.

As you can imagine, this made for a very complex set of meetings. The fact we had been working together remotely for many years helped but it was amazing how the physical setting accelerated things and helped overcome much of the complexity.

Of course much background work happened by some very talented organisers before the week started so that helped too. We also had many attendees that couldn’t make it so this was a hybrid event as they attended remotely, another added layer of complexity.

The purpose of all the conversations and meetings were many fold but chief amongst them were to answer the following questions:

  1. How can Microsoft support our customers better in their global operations and to achieve their goals?
  2. How can we achieve our goals with these accounts by collaborating within Microsoft better, globally?
  3. How can we reconnect and reignite our relationships and network for better outcomes, again globally?

I make these points just to set the context of how globalisation works at the company where I work. Clearly I cannot share specific details and this also does not get to the heart of what globalisation is, where its at, why its important and how it can work best. For that see the next sections.

I also want to recognise that the organisation I work for is pretty exceptional. There are a lot of global corporations and organisations that work on a similar scale but not that many, that they are pervasive. Nor do many of them have the kinds of resources, wealth and capabilities that Microsoft have with a presence in 190+ countries around the world.

You could see it as the standard for the global organisation.

Globalisation headwinds

For this you should look at this article on HBR: The State of Globalization in 2022 (hbr.org). The pertinent piece for me is this one, the authors’ conclusions:

The growth and geographic reach of international flows can rise and fall over time, but the fundamental drivers of success in global strategy remain unchanged. The similarities and differences between countries define the landscape for international value creation, and the task of the global strategist is to navigate the opportunities and threats presented by both the bridges and the barriers between markets. As the landscape shifts, global strategies must be updated, but managers should avoid the costly overreactions that tend to follow major shocks to globalization.

The death of globalisation has long been talked about, since way before Trump happened to the world and Brexit, with their distinctive anti-globalisation and nationalistic stances.

Despite all of the negativity and barriers to globalisation I am as optimistic as the authors of the HBR article conclude their piece. Here is why 👇

The need for and means to leverage globalisation

The world (i.e. the planet) is getting smaller.

More and more people are filling it, we are increasingly bumping up against each other. No longer can we assume that what happens in one place will not effect another. Climate change is a great example of this – we are all in it together.

Although global travel is down, we are more interconnected than ever before. Technology helps us to connect and collaborate. This removes some of the barriers that used to be in place for us to be able to work with colleagues, customer and partners beyond our borders.

But we can’t sit back and believe that it will all just work. My getting to Japan to work with far flung colleagues reaped untold benefits but it came at a cost. I’m not talking about monetary costs, although they were substantial. I’m talking about the effort required to get clearance and visas, the time it took and the toll on energy and then what was required to make things work. It was all worth it in the end but we have to make an effort to make globalisation work.

It needs diversity.

I don’t mean the tick box of corporate responsibility. I mean diversity of thought. The more of us from different backgrounds, experiences and skills that get together, the better will be our solutions. I’m convinced of this.

None of us individually is better than all of us together. Especially in complex environments, it makes sense to understand solutions that can transcend ideology, cultures and habits.

People of all natures and type coming together to discover solutions that effect and benefit us all is beautiful to behold.

Physical interaction is still the gold standard.

After two years of virtual meetings, it has been so good to be together. The outcomes are better, as I’ve observed. The closeness, the energy, the vitality adds a palpable improvement.

But remember what is better about physical meetings and don’t try replicate what could be done virtually. I think the pendulum may have swung so far the other way after 2-3 years working mostly remotely, it has built some ingrained habits that are difficult to lose. The result can be ineffectiveness and inefficiency.

The best way out is through.

I learned even more about the fascinating culture that Japan represents in this recent trip (more on my Instagram account). What I didn’t need to learn was about the state of the Japanese economy. This has been written about endlessly starting with their so-called lost decade in the 1990’s which some posit goes much further.

The point is that Japan has to reinvent itself to again become a powerhouse of innovation and global leadership that it once was. Nothing speaks to this fall from grace as much as Sony’s loss to Apple in the audio wars in the late 1990’s. I used to work at Sony because I saw the potential it had then to dominate in the category and wrote about it briefly here: The end of ownership and the rise of usership.

Sony had everything it needed to win. Hardware (it dominated with Walkman), content (it owned several of the major Hollywood studios and music companies) and software, although this was perhaps where it was at its weakest. Still Apple beat it with the iPod and then iPhone.

This article by McKinsey (Japan’s globalization imperative) was prescient in that I hear a lot of the same things now. Which means that it is still an imperative. And the only way out is through stringent application and adherence to the belief that this will help.

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