I have been working in the cultural competency space recently. My place in this space has been forged over more than 20 years living and/or working in five different continents. I have certainly made my share of mistakes; I know the feeling of learning the hard lessons by experience and growing up in international business at a time when preparing someone for an international secondment was not considered essential. Times have changed but, I wonder, if they have changed enough. How “global” is “global”?
Being global, a global anything, be it a law firm, organization, government agency or whatever, is much more than placing the word “global” or “international” in front of a title or a name. It is a different way of thinking. It fosters a different culture. It demands an unwavering ability to lead, manage and navigate change. It is much more than tolerating differences, it means celebrating them. And, this stuff really does matter – it can make or break all kinds of relationships!
My consultancy practice and research suggests many law firms still have a long way to go before they can truly call themselves global. Here is a quick checklist (not exhaustive) that may prompt you to determine whether your firm is global in name AND by nature:
1. Values and Culture:
a. Do global initiatives reflect core values or are they really driven by one country, reflect the values of that country, and are rolled out with a few tweaks here and there in all other countries?
b. If you ask any one in your firm if it is “global” will they respond positively AND….are they able to give you examples?
2. Structure:
a. Does your firm have a global business strategy and plan AND…have you implemented global initiatives?
b. Does your firm have a global and local talent strategy?
c. How many global leadership/management positions does your firm support?
d. Are global boards, committees etc. dominated by one country or does membership track, proportionally, the multi-country make up of your firm?
e. How often do your global leaders meet?
3. Business:
a. Is doing business with your firm seamless across countries from the client’s point of view?
b. Do you have a globally recognizable and consistent approach to business?
c. Do you have a globally recognizable product?
d. Are global work projects managed globally and locally?
e. Does your firm pitch for global business as a global team?
f. Does your firm represent clients in all countries or does it only follow clients to different countries?
4. People:
a. Do your employees know their global counterparts?
b. Does your firm have global core competencies for staff?
c. Does your firm also have local competencies to reflect local differences?
d. Are your global core competencies part of your recruitment outreach in every country?
e. Does your firm encourage international secondments?
f. Does your firm prepare its employees for international secondments?
g. How successfully has your firm repatriated its international secondees?
h. Is an assessment of cultural competency part of your performance review process?
i. Is spending time AND being successful in an international office a pre-requisite for promotion in your firm?
j. Do you have a comprehensive database of multi-lingual colleagues AND…does everyone know about it?
There is no magic score, no threshold, no judgment attached to these questions. However, if your firm has positioned itself as a global firm but has not considered most of these questions or responded “No” to most of them then, I am probably not going out on a limb when I suggest you may be global in name but NOT by nature. Where you go from here is all about recognizing where your firm is placed on the continuum of local to regional to global, making a decision about where you want to be, and then aligning all that you are and all that you do behind that decision.