10 Tips For Stress-Free International Travel

Ten Tips For Stress-Free International Travel is now available for free download. This second book in the series is a concise companion for international executives, expats, and frequent travelers. Not only loaded with 10 fantastic tips for making sure your next overseas trip goes smoothly, it also features a bonus chapter on device security courtesy of Dr. Stahl, President of Citadel Information Group. Be sure to travel both safely, and in comfort.

Tip #1: Time “Off”

10_Tips_for_Stress-Free_International_Travel_cover
10 Tips For Stress-Free International Travel (Zacharias Beckman)

Americans work more than just about anyone else in the world. In fact, Americans prioritize work above just about everything else: Family, friends, sometimes even holidays. It’s not unusual to ask employees to accommodate work activities, even if it impinges on a holiday. It’s a stark contrast to many other country cultures. The typical American gets two or three weeks of vacation, compared to six, eight, and sometimes more in other countries. These cultures place family and experiencing life above work in their priorities, and quite often their approach to work reflects this different attitude…

Read the rest of this tip, including which countries and regions it applies to and how to adjust to different business practices by downloading your copy today!

Look For More Tips…

Look for more guides as they go to press! They’ll be posted here, just like this one… Look for:

  • 10 Tips For International Travel
  • 10 Tips For Managing International Teams
  • 10 Tips For Communicating Globally

I’m delighted to offer them to you completely free, and hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed creating them.

Download All The Things!

Be sure to visit the downloads page and download all the things…

Organizing Overseas Teams

Hi, I’m Zacharias Beckman, president of Hyrax International. When it comes to coordinating international projects, one of biggest challenges we hear about is staying on top of the project.

As an international project manager, you have to know how to stay organized, and you need to know what your team is doing. When you have several different teams, all spread around the world, that’s not always easy. You also need to make sure that one of your teams isn’t being held up, waiting on another team.

This is what Tanya ran into, at one of our clients. She had been managing a U.S.-based team. Her company had just bought a smaller firm in India, intending to set up a “follow the sun” strategy. With teams in the U.S. and India, they could move faster because one team would hand off work, at the end of the day, to their overseas counterparts.

But there was a problem. After a few months efficiency was falling, not improving. Tanya found that the teams were poorly coordinated, and more often than not one would end up waiting on the other one. Tanya needed to change her strategy to accommodate a global team. She had to refocus, and figure out how to get these teams collaborating smoothly despite a separation of over 10 hours.

She made two major changes, both of which focused on improving coordination.

She took a critical look at their project management system, and decided that it wasn’t up to the job. It had worked great when everyone was in one office. But now it had to deliver a new level of coordination. She needed something that could better drive the process, improve visibility to her management team, and show dependencies between team members. It was absolutely critical that everyone know, at any time, who was waiting on them. They also needed better requirements management, and better collaboration tools. Her new system gave them the tools, but it couldn’t solve the communication issues on its own.

Tanya also changed the team schedule, setting up short, collective meetings every day. To avoid burdening one team, she set a rotating schedule: meetings where held at 9am in the US twice a week, and 7pm twice a week, with no meeting on Friday. Team members had to join at least two meetings each week, but it was up to them to pick which ones.

Tanya’s changes showed almost immediate results. The teams became more coordinated, and situations where one team was held up waiting for another pretty much vanished.

In a multinational organization, it’s important to remember that remote teams can feel like they are in a vacuum, lacking communication or cut off. To compensate, a good manager has to be extra vigilant and put in good processes, and good tools, and also make sure that no one team becomes the favorite. Tanya spread the meetings out to share the burden of after hours meetings. By doing so, she also sent the message that both teams are equally important.

Time Orientation And International Success

If you missed the first part of this six-part series, see: Part 1 of the series, Creating An International Culture Of Success, or see the entire series right here.

How we think of time is a tricky subject, and one that varies from one culture to another, as I’ve talked about before. Does your culture view time as more fluid, a resource that is infinite? Or is timeliness and meeting deadlines of critical importance?

Time, Projects, And Business

In the project context, time becomes very meaningful. To the business, meeting a product delivery date can be the difference between success and failure — but, at the same time, different cultures will view the importance of meeting that date relative to other priorities. In strongly relationship-driven cultures, for example, the date is subordinated to relationship building. Customer happiness may be more important than shipping before the Christmas buying season. It can also imply an expectation of tolerance and understanding when dates slip.

Time can have a dramatic impact on our business relationships as well. When Japan and Australia entered into a sugarcane export agreement, conditions where beneficial for both parties. As time changed market conditions, Japan ended up with the “dirty end of the stick.” But the relationship-centered business model of Japan led to a huge misunderstanding when Australia refused to renegotiate business terms — in essence, Australia felt the timing of the deal was good fortune for them, while Japan expected that business terms would adjust as time went on. A very fixed versus fluid perspective (and one that resulted in a long and nasty dispute).

The American phrase “time is money” indicates how the typical American prioritizes time, but this approach never works in a culture that prioritizes the relationship (meaning, most of the Middle East, South America, and Asia). To these cultures, it’s more important to get to know each other, to build a trusting relationship, and then begin talking about business. There will always be time to make money together — in the future. Anyone that rushes the process is probably going to be viewed as impetuous, unreliable, or even untrustworthy.

The Global Project Compass™ identifies the following management disciplines as being most directly affected by time orientation:

  1. Project Time Estimation
  2. Quality Assurance Plan
  3. Requirements Management
  4. Testing Plan
  5. Acceptance Plan
  6. Performance Measurement

Project Time Estimation

Probably one of the most obvious consequences of viewing time differently is how we estimate time. Is that estimate a “drop dead” date that we absolutely will meet, no matter what? Or is it an average of where we’ll end up if all goes reasonably according to plan? Might it merely be a hopeful guess at what could be possible?

Depending on your culture, any of these options will be true. Understanding how your partner’s culture views time is crucial to knowing what a project estimate means.

Quality Assurance Plan

Planning the successful — and problem free — launch of any product demands forethought. It demands awareness and convergence of many different plans: Research, development, supply, construction, testing, marketing, customer support, distribution, and more. In a multinational situation, supply chain logistics and regional conditions ranging from weather, product availability, and local holidays play into it.

Assuming a quality assurance organization that is timely and schedule driven, it’s not hard to imagine how difficult their job must be. Consider a global team, where different offices have different notions about the priority and meaning of “time.”

And finally, ask yourself: How does our quality assurance organization, itself, think about time? Is being on time important? Is it one of the quality metrics they are watching out for?

Requirements Management

Are the requirements known at the outset of your project? Or are they vague and fuzzy, with new features “popping up” here and there? Scope creep, or the unending addition of new requirements, is one of the most dramatic influencers on a project.

If your business cares about setting a clear end-point for a project, the team needs to understand that. In cultures where time is fluid, the idea that a product is set in stone and cannot change will seem irrationally rigid and short-sighted. At the same time, projects that seem to shift like a sand dune under someone’s feet will drive a sequential, time-oriented person crazy.

Setting the right expectations is part of the solution, but also knowing how to leverage the strengths of each perspective is key.

Testing And Acceptance

Different products take different approaches to testing. Software can begin testing early in the product life cycle, while manufactured goods need to be tested once they come off the production line. In all cases, though, testing and acceptance is critical and needs to happen at the right time, and in the most effective way.

Both are “critical paths,” too. This means that someone, somewhere, is waiting on the results of testing or acceptance.

Will your testing team be ready to go at the right time? Will the right urgency be applied to the process — or will testing be run like like a fluid project, adding new requirements on the fly?

Time Orientation: Fixed Or Fluid?

Understanding time orientation means knowing how to build a healthy organization — one that supports the time orientation of its employees, without sacrificing necessary business goals. It’s a tough topic to master, because how we think about time is so deeply ingrained in our subconscious. It’s a part of who we are, and changing that doesn’t come naturally.

Think about how you feel, when kept waiting in the conference room for the other team. Are they late, rudely wasting your time — or are they instead thoughtfully giving you a few extra minutes to prepare, while they respectfully and unhurriedly wrap up another meeting?

Think about how hard it will be to change that initial, first reaction, the next time someone is “late,” or seems offended that you are not “prompt.”

Cover graphic attribution: The artist and visual designer Yang Liu was born in China and lives in Germany since she was 14. By growing up in two very different places with very different traditions she was able to experience the differences between the two cultures first-hand.

Where In The World…?

Have you ever wondered what makes the Global economy work? How your country makes most of it’s money? Or perhaps where people are migrating on a global scale? What language to speak in the U.S. if you don’t speak English? Here are some fantastic interactive maps and graphs to give us answers to a few of our Global questions.

What Does Your Country Export?

Do you know which export makes your country the most money? Using data from the CIA Factbook, the Global Post labeled every country in the world by its highest valued export (meaning, the commodity that makes the country the most money in the global market).

It’s probably not a surprise to learn that much of the world run’s on oil, and that Europe is where most machinery and automobiles are made (perhaps because of modernization but, also, a wonderfully centralized location). Take a look at the Global Post’s original article for a fully interactive map.

World Commodities Map
World Commodities Map: What is your country’s major export?

The Global Flow Of People

Did you know that from 1990 to 1995, about 366,000 people moved from Thailand to America — but only 72,000 did so between 2005 and 2010? Or that in the early 1990’s, most of the roughly 7 million people migrating around # moved between Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan — but that after 2005, that changed dramatically as people started to spread across India, Asia, North America, and Europe?

It’s fascinating to see how people migrate around the world, and even more interesting to wonder what motivates these changes in global flows of people. Thanks to Nikola Sander, Guy J. Abel & Ramon Bauer, we now have a fantastic interactive map to explore. Their Global Migration Flows Map was published in Science recently.

Global Migration Flows Map
Global Migration Flows Map

12 Charts To Make An American’s Blood Boil

Thanks to the article Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil, published by Mother Jones, we now know that while the U.S. economy has grown by about 60%, and corporate profits are up by about 20%, the American worker is not so lucky. “Productivity has surged, but income and wages have stagnated for most Americans. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000,” writes Dave Gilson.

Take a look at Gilson’s article, which features a dozen interesting (and infuriating, if you happen to be American) graphs such as the following one, which shows how the “top 1%” wage rates have skyrocketed in the past decade, and productivity has been steadily pushed upward, but overall wage averages remain stagnant.

US Wage Gains
US Wage and Productivity Gains, 1979 to 2009

Most Common Language Other Than English

Finally, Ben Blatt at Slate brings us the definitive answer to the question: “In the U.S., what’s the most common language spoken besides English?” He breaks it down by State, which makes it all the more interesting. I would certainly have expected some diversity, given his research and source. “One of the most interesting data sets for aspiring mapmakers is the Census Bureau’sAmerican Community Survey. Among other things, that survey includes a detailed look at the languages spoken in American homes,” writes Blatt.

His first pass was revealing. The answer is Spanish, at least in all but a few of the 50 United States. In retrospect, perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, but it did drive Blatt to take another pass, excluding both Spanish and English. Visit his original article for a more thorough breakdown.

Languages By State
The Most Widely Spoken Language in the U.S. Other Than English

Problem Solving Around The World

Have you ever wondered how different cultures approach problem solving in different ways? Here’s a quick, satirical, but not entirely inaccurate perspective on different approaches to problem solving.

How Does Your Culture Approach Problem Solving?

  1. German: I don’t know how to do this, but I’ll figure it out.
  2. Swiss: I don’t know how to do this, but we’ll figure it out.
  3. Indian: I don’t know how to do this, so we can’t do it.
  4. Chinese: I don’t know how to do this, but we can copy it to show our respect.
  5. Japanese: I don’t know how to do this, but we’ll figure it out, make it smaller, faster, and add some features.
  6. Spanish: I don’t know how to do this, but there’s plenty of time to work on it tomorrow.
  7. American: I don’t know how to do this, so we’ll buy it.
  8. Mexican: I don’t know how to do this, so I’ll work on something else right now.
  9. Italian: I don’t know how to do this, so let’s do something we know how to do very nicely.
  10. English: I don’t know how to do this, so we’ll build a team to tackle the job.
  11. French: I know how to do this.
  12. Russian: I know how to do this better than you.

Of course, country culture is much more complicated and this is just a humorous take on first impressions some cultures may give off. Really want to know how one culture might approach problem solving? Take a look at this post about negotiation styles.

Start Outsourcing The Little Things

Many small businesses don’t understand the benefits of outsourcing or where to get started. There are plenty of opportunities to lower your stress levels by hiring an outside contractor. Here are some tips on how to get started, and how to successfully engage an outsourcing company.

Hi, I’m Zacharias Beckman, President of Hyrax International and I wanted to talk a little bit more about successful strategies for outsourcing. We recently had our client of us ask how they could be more successful with their outsourcing and stay focused on what they do really well. Outsourcing helps us focus on our core competency, by taking all these distractions and letting somebody else worry about them. And for larger firms, outsourcing will reduce costs, streamline operations and quite often get us to market faster.

We don’t hesitate to outsource legal services and accounting, so, why not other things? Services like Ziptask, oDesk and Elance, make it very easy to outsource a lot of services. For example, you can outsource a personnel assistant, or web research, data entry, SEO operations for your website. You can even have an entire website designed for you very easily.

All of these services –- oDesk, Ziptask, Elance –- they provide quick work, fast turn around, low prices, but a recurring problem is getting quality work. So, here are few strategies.

Number one, don’t take the first cheapest bid that you get. Instead, take your time, review the bids, look for the most literate bids and look for well reviewed respondents. Also, make sure that your contract, your work order, is very explicit and detailed in what it is you want.

You can also test out each respondent with a little bit of piece work before you actually give them the entire contract. Make sure they can do the work before you make a big commitment.

And finally, use project management services. Ziptask and oDesk both offer a managed level of support where they will provide an English speaking Project Manager to run the project for you and make sure the quality is there.

Also, don’t be too trusting and rush right into a deal. For example, if you are doing a new product development, you might consider outsourcing the product development and construction to one firm, but outsource the quality assurance to another firm. By separating these concerns the two firms essentially become check and balance to against each other.

What Parts Of My Business Should I Outsource?

Rather than wear every hat — every single day — businesses need to be strategic about what can be outsourced or subcontracted. Outsourcing is a way to focus on what you do well. But the challenge is knowing which parts of your business should be outsourced. Here are few tips to help you on that.

Hi, I’m Zacharias Beckman, President of Hyrax International, and I want to talk about what parts of your business you should outsource.

Whenever you use an outside Attorney for expert advice, or a CPA firm to audit your books, that’s outsourcing. Outsourcing allows us to focus. It allows us to concentrate on what makes us great. A lot of companies don’t do this. They get distracted by what doesn’t make them great. But, success means focusing on your secret sauce — on the one thing that you do that nobody else knows how to do. Everything else then becomes a candidate for outsourcing. It’s a simple cost benefit analysis. If there is someone else that can do the work cheaper or faster or better, then let them do it and you stay focused on what you do really well.

Take Apple for example, and the iPhone. Their secret sauce was the industrial design behind a new phone and the software that makes it work great… not so much the manufacturing of the devices. They outsourced that to Foxconn and they delivered a fantastic product, much faster than they could have done on their own. They focused on their core competency and because of that they were incredibly successful.

Outsourcing allows us to focus on what makes us great, and not get distracted by the things that don’t.

Should I Outsource?

Should I Outsource? The pros and cons of outsourcing are significant, as are the potential gains for companies that are successful. This short video introduces some of the ways outsourcing can be a boon to growth and efficiency, but also points out how important it is to make the right strategic decisions about sourcing.

With outsourcing, we can speed up our operations, lower our costs, and even open up entire new markets. But we don’t want to become one of the nightmare stories you hear about.

Outsource For The Right Reasons

Apple could never have become one of the world’s richest companies if it had not expanded outside the United States. With outsourcing we can automate our business processes, so that we don’t need a large internal staff, or we can turn to China for incredible manufacturing capacity. We can put offices around the world and have 24 hour operations by following the sun. We can even bring on board an entire new department overnight, if we need to.

But, it’s easy to make mistakes. Business culture is very important, and incompatible business culture leads to problems. For example, Audi recently had to recall thousands of cars because their Chinese manufacturer had substituted a substandard material, and gas pedals started snapping off.

It’s important to realize that different cultures and different markets are better suited to particular needs. Cost, quality and skill varies around the world. Technology is strong in China, but intellectual property protection is not. Apple gained huge advances by engaging with Foxconn in China but, 24 hours later, there were clone iPhones popping up on the market.

Multiple cultures bring complexity. And it’s important to remember that America is pretty isolated. Most of the world focuses on building very strong long term relationships. It’s those relationships that protect your business. Trusted relationships are key, and in most of the world, it’s more important to have experience and a trusted relationship than to have a written contract.

Compensating for business culture and communication differences

By far the most common, most glaring misstep U.S. employers make in foreign markets is to assume that people, by and large, act more or less the same in a business setting. It’s a mistake I’ve seen in almost every International project, whether the global team is Russian, Indian, Asian, or South American. Business in a foreign country is not like business at home.

Business culture and communication

In the U.S. we have become very insular, expecting behavior from our workforce that simply doesn’t exist in other cultures. For example, we take for granted that employees will be outspoken and even downright vocal about anything they aren’t happy with. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” as the saying goes. But it turns out, that saying doesn’t apply in very many cultures. In fact, the global project manager needs to recognize that in some cultures, speaking out is an anathema, in any setting. This has come up with almost every outsourcing effort I’ve managed throughout Asia: People will seem to contribute extensively or not at all, depending on the culture.

While this looks like a communication issue, it’s actually power distance. Power distance is the degree to which a supervisor and a subordinate are separated by culture and society. Throughout most of the world (especially Asia), power distance is very important. It introduces a formality into the business relationship that doesn’t exist in many Westernized countries.

One strategy to begin overcoming this problem is to initiate collaboration up-front. This can be a particularly effective tool for establishing peer relationships early in the game. While speaking out is not a given, it’s almost universally true that people open up to their peers before opening up to managers (and this is especially true in Asia, where group orientation is predominant). Initiating a project with an on-site collaborative session kickstarts the drive for interactivity. We’ve found that it’s critical to stage the session appropriately. It has to be at one location, the entire team should be present, and the environment should be tailored to create effective, collaborative conversations. Remember, it’s more about building the team than about making real progress on the project.

Successful projects — and therefore successful project management methodologies — recognize that communication is a common point of failure, and put measures in place to compensate. That means taking steps to create strong team communication, and continuing to facilitate collaboration throughout the project, and using methods that encourage rich, complex communication (like frequent, short video calls). It’s very important that the team has the right tools to establish effective communication, so don’t skimp on them.

Training versus development

Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer N2growth, recently posted a very savvy article regarding the difference between training (a typically rote, stale process) and development (more dynamic, needs-based, and effective) in the context of leadership. What I really liked is his point-by-point comparison of the strengths and weakness of training versus development:

  1. Training focuses on the present — Development focuses on the future.
  2. Training focuses on technique — Development focuses on talent.
  3. Training adheres to standards — Development focuses on maximizing potential.
  4. Training focuses on maintenance — Development focuses on growth.
  5. Training focuses on the role — Development focuses on the person.
  6. Training indoctrinates — Development educates.
  7. Training maintains status quo — Development catalyzes innovation.
  8. Training stifles culture — Development enriches culture.
  9. Training encourages compliance — Development emphasizes performance.
  10. Training focuses on efficiency — Development focuses on effectiveness.
  11. Training focuses on problems — Development focuses on solutions.
  12. Training focuses on reporting lines — Development expands influence.
  13. Training is mechanical — Development is intellectual.
  14. Training focuses on the knowns — Development explores the unknowns.
  15. Training is finite — Development is infinite.

I couldn’t agree more. When it comes to leadership development, you can’t “train the leader.” Training on technical, procedural topics is of course highly effective, but leadership requires too much contextual differentiation, too much innovation, and frankly relies much more on innate skills that can only be developed over time, not absorbed from a short training course.