Going Native

Going Native by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Have you ever “gone native?”… Do you know what it means? In an organizational setting, it means that you have sided with, become like, and blindly represent “the locals.” Is this good or bad? Well, it depends on your perspective (and perhaps, the issue).

If you’ve ever been in an organization that has a “headquarters” and field offices (it could be manufacturing sites, branches, offices, etc.), you undoubtedly understand what I’m talking about and why it’s important. There is especially true in larger, global organizations. You can be a small business (or large) that has one site and does business globally. But if you’re a global, national or regional business (or organization of any type: academic, athletic, military, government, etc.), you will have tension between the “main” office (the headquarters) and the satellite sites, the remote branches, the field offices.

To complicate matters, some large organizations have a global headquarters, regional headquarters, sub-regional headquarters, country headquarters, and city branches or offices. How does everyone stay on the same sheet of music? How do you make it work? While organizational priorities should be in alignment, there can be, at times, a disconnect. How do you appropriately represent the local organization without “going native?” How do you represent headquarters without being viewed as “an ivory-tower pencil pusher?”

For almost 30 years, I have worked for global companies, organizations that do business globally, regionally and locally. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this issue. For 15+ years, I worked at headquarters, but traveled extensively in the field working with regional, country, and local offices (& manufacutirngt sites). For 10 years, I’ve worked at a remote site (a satellite site not located at headquarters). In some instances, I was located only a few hours away and in the same time zone. At other times, I’ve been located in another country MANY time zones away. It can be difficult. Trust me. … Or if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, you’ll know this from first-hand experience.

Before sharing a few “tips”, I want to highlight that there is great benefit to have remote sites, both to the company and to the individuals working remotely. There are also challenges. It’s a trade-off. What I want to specifically share are a few things to help navigate the tricky waters of balancing priorities and representation.

  1. Recognize you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will like you. Sometimes you have to strongly support headquarters, sometimes the local site.
  2. Understand corporate priorities, strategies, etc.
  3. Communicate (in-person, small group, large group, email, etc.) the priorities of the parent organization ( headquarters).
  4. Understand local needs. Listen. Understand the culture. Develop an appreciation for the unique talents, skills, interests and passions of the local team.
  5. Communicate the needs of the local organization to headquarters.
  6. Develop your ability to deal with ambiguity. It will come in handy.
  7. Work to understand the rationale behind major decisions. This will enable you to buy-in to the decision and to communicate it effectively to the field office. Plus, you’ll be better prepared to answer questions.
  8. Recognize who’s the boss. Though this can be tough at times, unless asked to do something illegal or unethical, if you don’t implement a corporate policy or follow-through on a given request, it’s insubordination.
  9. Pick your battles. Despite what I just said in #8, there can be times when you chose to take a calculated risk. Know what “hills you’re willing to die on” is an appropriate saying here. All battles aren’t worth fighting. Some are. In the end, a world-class leader occasionally must stick out their neck and risk getting fired (dismissed, terminated, let-go) if the issue is extremely critical. Exhaust all means of mediation, then make a decision and live with it.
  10. Communicate effectively, often, and broadly. You’re really a liaison of a type, a mediator. Get in front of issues. Don’t wait until a corporate policy locks you in or constrains you. Be proactive with communicating the needs of the local organization and influence the policy before it is finalized. Once finalized, it’s more difficult to change.
  11. Develop and maintain relationships with key stakeholders at headquarters. Travel to headquarters. Showing up in-person occasionally is critical. Yes, texts, emails, Skype, instant messaging, phone calls, etc. are all great tools for working remotely, but you must occasionally spend time with bosses and colleagues at headquarters.

What advice do YOU have for balancing the competing priorities of headquarters and the local field office? To avoid “going native?”

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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