Höferle: Cultural competence matters for 'glocal' business

During the past decade, the Tennessee Valley has had to learn how to go global in a hurry. The Chattanooga area is becoming a model for how urban renewal in a small metro area can work. A lot of this change is owed to the significant investments by foreign companies. How sustainable this success story is also depends on whether the local economy masters cultural competence.

First things first: the word "glocal" in the headline is not a typo. It's obviously a hybrid of local and global. Those of you fluent in marketing speak probably know how it refers to the way globally marketed products or services are adapted to meet the specific needs of local markets. The cars Volkswagen is building in Chattanooga are a prime example of a glocal product.

People sometimes overlook the fact that Glocalization is an economic process which works in the opposite direction as well. In an interconnected world, every local business is now competing on a global level. Well, technically they are. Unless they fail to develop the cross-cultural skill set which is needed to be successful in today's economy.

Companies who fall behind on building cultural competency are leaving money on the table. Not just a bit, but a lot of it. Chris Morley, president USA for market research firm Nielsen, says "Multiculturalism is no longer optional, but a foundational factor in business and marketing."

As the buying power of the multicultural market grows, entrepreneurs and business leaders want to know how to motivate this market to buy, how to engage with it to build a lasting business relationship, and how to develop solutions for this increasingly diverse customer base. In addition to that, glocal business owners want to know how to inspire, manage and lead team members who come from various cultural backgrounds.

Our clients at The Culture Mastery rely on us to lead their teams to more success across cultural borders. We are the aspirin for their glocal headache. That's why we researched some of the most important success factors and compiled them in this incomplete list here.

The guiding question in this was: What does a community need in order to be well equipped for global business?

* Infrastructure. One important piece of the glocal readiness puzzle is how well developed a metro region's infrastructure is. This goes beyond roads, railways, ports and airports. If a community can't compete with international standards in digital infrastructure, public transport or utilities it will have a hard time attracting clients and investors.

* Politics. Reliable and predictable legal frameworks, as well as stable political systems are key in landing international business. On top of that, any glocal market wants to make sure to have a basic understanding of what the legal norms and the political and social culture are in the countries it is doing business with.

* Schools. The level of access to quality public education determines at which level the next generations will participate in the glocal economy. International benchmarks include foreign language instruction and globally comparable testing standards.

* Labor. How a metro region develops a steady flow of talent is critical. Without available and well trained human capital no economy can sustain growth. This includes multi-tiered post-secondary education, skills training, and vocational or trade schools for a diverse workforce.

* Red Tape. How easy is it for local businesses to market, sell and export their goods and services? How accessible are government services for international investors? How many regulatory hoops do businesses have to jump through for glocal success? The less red tape, the quicker the close.

* Recreation and consumer goods. If you think R+R has nothing to do with business, think again. A vibrant scene can be powerful advertisement for a glocal community: restaurants, galleries, theaters, cultural events, sports, concerts, coffee shops, bars, etc. The same is true for a retail market which can listen to the oftentimes very specific needs of a multicultural clientele.

* Cultural competence. How well do members of the community adjust to representatives of different cultures? Are they able and willing to create a welcoming environment for inbound expatriates and executives who arrive with different value sets and a contrasting concept of "how we do things around here?" The more open to otherness a community becomes and the more natural it is for its members to accept difference, the more agile it will be in competing on a global level. Of course, this does not mean to negate one's own culture. Quite to the contrary: The more aware a community is of its own cultural uniqueness, the more compelling it can tell its story. And in return the community will be more adept in listening to the uniqueness of the diverse people it serves and collaborates with.

Not all of these aspects can be realized over night. The Chattanooga region has been quite effective in bringing about the changes necessary to succeed as a glocal market. Obviously there is always work to be done.

How will you build your cultural competence?

Christian Höferle is the founder and CEO of The Culture Mastery, a consulting firm for clients who want more success across cultural borders. His team has been training, coaching, and mentoring with companies such as Recaro, Wacker, Johnson & Johnson, ZF, VW, Plastic Omnium, Bridgestone, Alcoa and Evonik. To receive a complimentary copy of a Cheat Sheet to Crack Cultural Codes, visit theculturemastery.com/#contact

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