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What “Outsourced” can teach you about being a better global manager

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This guest post is by Aubrey Daniels, author of “Safe By Accident: Leadership Practices That Build A Sustainable High Performance Safety Culture” and “Bringing out the Best in People.” You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter at @AubreyDaniels.

“Outsourced,” the workplace comedy on NBC, gives us another reason to laugh at real-life business scenarios. This show centers on an American manager who relocates to run a call center in India, and the cast of characters he is charged with managing.

The show’s premise reminds me of the challenges that organizations face in managing different cultures in a global environment and the one common mistake that most make — thinking people are different in other countries.

I made this same mistake early in my career. My client, an Italian textile company, was the first work we had done outside the U.S. We had trained an internal consultant, Enrico, to assist in implementing a performance-improvement initiative. When Enrico was preparing to return to Italy, we were discussing the details of the implementation and I remarked, “I sure do hope this works in Italy.” He responded, “It will work in Italy. Do you know why?” “Why, I asked?” He replied, “Because Italians are people, too.” Touché.

The laws of behavior are the same in Italy as they are in the U. S. — exactly the same. The principles that motivate people to do their best are the same in India, China, Russia and the rest of the world.

When managers know the scientific principles that explain why people do as they do, the setting is no longer strange and mysterious. Rather, they can see the humanity common to us all. Since my epiphany with Enrico many years ago, we have worked to help companies in more than 30 countries improve their performances. By using science as our guide, we’ve learned some advice along the way that translates across any language or border:

  • Determine the behaviors that add value. Not attitudes or competencies, but things you would want to see someone do. Make sure they are directly related to some business result.
  • Graph progress of individuals and/the group. Post group progress publicly, individual progress privately.
  • Reinforce behaviors that contribute to the progress. If you do it right, you can’t do it too much.
  • Celebrate results. Relive the accomplishment by having employees describe actions that created the result.