How To Hire People Across The Globe

By Dmitriy Zubkov

Since we decided to go global, our lives were not the same anymore. I wouldn’t say that it was extremely difficult, but it was completely different from the experience we used to have. The level of complexity has been significantly increased because now we have to take into consideration the parameters we hadn’t had. Starting from culture fit and ending with time zone differences. But that was a conscious choice and we rebuilt our entire company around that idea. If you want to grow your international business, you have to accept it.

Challenges we faced

When you are a small company and you go international it becomes obvious that nobody across the globe knows your company. People tend to join the companies they are familiar with or at least they could make sure that the company has a sort of stable business. In our case it was completely the opposite: we didn’t have operations yet in target countries and we needed to find people who could help us to set up our business there. Building operations from scratch requires professionals who are experienced in numerous areas: sales, finance, marketing, operations, people management etc. So we demanded a lot, but there was no trust in the company yet. Therefore recruiting strong candidates was hard and tiresome.

Linkedin was a viable option for searching people in almost every country we entered, at least for executives – and we built our teams and local presence starting with them. We assess their profile and experience and translate their background into something familiar. When you’re starting with no system in place your only hope is to hire professional operators, people who could found their own startup if they wanted to. And the goal of the country managers we hire is to start a business in their country and begin attracting people as they grow. All of that became fundamentally easier when we managed to build a brand for ourselves. When people can read about your company in the news they tend to trust you more. But in the very beginning all we had was our dedication and perseverance and we still managed to hire some great people back then. 

Working remotely with people from other countries and in different time zone leads to problems with everything, starting with onboarding. But the world is finally getting used to working remotely, even large corporations aren’t able to just return people to their offices. I don’t think it’s going to be a challenge in the future. But time, cultural and societal differences will always be there. Here is just a few examples: 

  • Working with South Korea from Moscow gives you 3 hours of effective time in the mornings. Mexico is just 2 hours in the evening. And it is almost impossible to get them together in one meeting. Those limitations in effective time windows was one of the reasons for building a new company structure: we had to create divisions that are responsible for the countries, grouped by geography, not function. 
  • We operate in a couple of countries with large populations of Muslims. And they do block slots in their calendar for prayers which they do 5 times a day. So you have to be careful when scheduling calls and especially if you’re pushing for them as you might offend someone.
  • In some countries, especially in Asia, it is considered impolite to question the decision and ideas of your boss, yet this is something that we want to have in our culture. That caused a lack of proper communications inside the team and at times blocked us from finding the best solution.

Develop guidelines for local teams on how to hire their own personnel

We have decided to go global with our product and develop it in a centralized way. That concentrates the product knowledge in one place, makes development faster and cheaper, and of course makes the management easier. This means we needed to organize our management using a matrix structure. Countries are in charge of their operations, and we have a global team that builds the product and leads the overall strategy. The matrix structure is a flexible way to organize the way people work, but it also has some drawbacks, such as: 

  • If you don’t properly formalize the areas of responsibility it will lead to conflict between managers.
  • Processes in the triple-digit growing company are changing pretty fast. That means you always have some areas of responsibility that haven’t been covered at all, and some of them are covered by several accountable persons.
  • Managing a growth-stage startup means all of the company management have to focus on building these processes in order to be able to scale faster.

The process of finding great country managers is hard to fully formalize, since there’s a lot of responsibility on them – they’re practically starting a new business out of nothing. And then they gather their own team. Throughout the years we have developed detailed guidelines for country managers on how to hire personnel. 

We are using the “Who” approach from “The A Method of Hiring”. At first, we create the scorecard for the position forecasting desired results in the future. We draw up a list of all competencies and skills required for that position. It takes time, but it also makes us feel confident that we are looking for the right person. Then we conduct several interviews with different people above. For the position of Head of Sales, the candidate will be interviewed by 3-4 people. And when we’re looking for a country manager, 5 or 6 people are usually involved.

For some positions, we give a test task to understand what skills a person has and to assess how interested they are to work with us. Because this is where most people fall off. Not everyone is ready to invest their time and do the work before being hired. But this is what matters in that role – having the entrepreneurial mindset. Also, the people we’re usually hiring as country managers have probably done OK for themselves financially.

Surprising differences between countries 

Our experience of working with different nationalities has allowed us to accumulate many interesting examples. In South Korea, it is incredibly difficult to find an English-speaking person for any position. South Korea is a very advanced and developed country with a huge internal market. As a result, it’s just hard to hire people who speak English on a professional level, they simply don’t need it that much. 

We learned that in Indonesia it’s common practice to hire sales people without any fixed salary, working only for a bonus, and that’s what professionals in the industry expect. After the evaluation period we still do pay the fixed part to help them feel safer. But it does help find people with expertise in sales and, most importantly, a desire to continue doing that and get even better.

In Brazil it is usual to be late for meetings for 5-10 minutes. After joining meetings people tend to spend 10 minutes for small talks and only after that they dive into business. 

All of those examples show cultural things that we have to accept working with international teams.  

Remote means offsite (unless there’s COVID-19)

Before COVID happened we were gathering people from our countries two times a year for an offsite event lasting around a week. We’d meet people for the first time, share ideas, explain what was going on, and eat out together. That has become more challenging in the past year and a half. When you need to gather people from 10 countries in one, there’s a very complex matrix of restrictions that applies. Recently we were able to meet in Istanbul with most of our team members, but still not all of them. 

Personal communications matter when working remotely. So we’ve decided to recreate all those little details that come up when sharing an office in our online environment.  We meet with team leaders for a morning coffee three times a week. For us, this is a kind of analog of a morning coffee machine meeting in the office. It doesn’t have an agenda and people aren’t required to talk about their work necessarily. Instead, they’re sharing ideas, problems and just chatting. Some of the best decisions happened because of that process. 

We are trying to transfer the format of face-to-face interaction online. We conduct “Friday Wins” over Zoom. That is the place where everyone can share their achievements, big or small, and get feedback and suggestions. Once a month we conduct an all-hands meeting. That’s the general meeting getting everyone aligned with the company’s performance, goals, and challenges. Everyone can attend and it’s always conducted in English so everyone can understand, even though it’s not their first language for the majority of our team members. 

The byline is written by Dmitriy Zubkov, Borzo Chief Executive Officer. Dmitry has been a C-level executive for 12 years. Before joining Borzo he was the CEO at Corsini, one of the largest house appliance distributors in the Eastern Europe.

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