Scott Driggers is a master at finding different roads that lead to the same destination, something he’s had to do as he’s opened offices in other countries.
In 2001, the co-founder and CEO of Gemini Mobile Technologies Inc. established his company in Silicon Valley and Japan, and the wireless software company has since added a third office in China. His greatest challenge with those locations is getting 150 employees across three cultures to achieve a common vision to move the company forward, and he frequently meets with the company’s leaders in each region to discuss the specific challenges they face.
“You have to be frank and honest and create an environment where the senior management team feels comfortable talking about that,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Driggers about how to use different methods to achieve the same goal and how to know which method to use when.
Q. How do you plan a strategy that works across different cultures?
One of the key points would be, ‘Where’s the starting point?’ If you start with collaborative management soliciting ideas from the other senior managers you need to start at a point that is relevant to them and the context of their environment.
In the U.S., we might come up with a list of draft ideas. The CEO might come to his team and say, ‘Here are five goals we’re thinking about for this year. Let’s brainstorm around that.’
In Japan, you would collaborate from the bottom up. You would let the managers know, ‘Get together with your team. Bring to me what you think the top challenges or goals are for the upcoming year.’ So the managers there would go to their junior team members, who would solicit ideas. And when it comes back down in Japan, people have all felt they have participated.
In the U.S., it would be OK for the senior managers to come up with some specific ideas, then explain that to the team members and allow them to have their buy-in.
Q. How do you execute the strategy in each culture?
We may have a goal in Japan, which would be very similar to the goal in the U.S. The way we might approach that in the U.S. is ask a junior person to write up a strategy on paper, some targets, get together at a meeting, logically go through A, B, C, D, then call the meeting closed and everybody goes out and executes.
In Japan, we would spend a lot more time upfront. There would be a larger meeting; there might be 20 to 25 people involved depending on the size of the project. You might bring a vendor or a partner or a customer to the meeting. You might have to go through a number of these meetings. It’s not a linear process to reach consensus; it’s a very circular process.
It would seem very frustrating, but the value system in Japan is, we spend more time upfront, but then the execution is a lot faster on the back end because there are fewer unknowns to resolve along the way.
But as an American, you just say, ‘Hey, let’s just get the idea; we’ll solve things as we go along.’
Both approaches are OK; you just need to recognize what’s going to work in that environment. You would create a lot of stress if you tried to fit one of those processes into the other location.
Q. How do you tailor the vision to each group?
It’s not so much a tailoring of the vision; it’s a tailoring of the delivery, acknowledging what’s important to an engineer in Silicon Valley may not be as important to an engineer in Japan. In Japan, something else may be emphasized that would be de-emphasized or a nonissue in the U.S.
For example, in the U.S., people are very interested in how our technology differs from the competition. What are we doing that’s different than the company two miles down the road? We talk enough about the product that they have an understanding.
In Japan, the team members are aware of the competitors. But at the same time, it’s more focused how we are going to do this internally. It’s more focused on the process and less on exactly what this product is going to do.
Q. What’s your advice to a business that is expanding to China or Japan?
The first thing is, the senior person you hire in those markets is very critical. No. 1, make the choice of, ‘Will we open an office, or will we work through a local agent or partner in some way?’
Then if you decided to open your own office, see if you can work with someone who has had a bicultural experience. There is a certain threshold you step over once you’ve worked overseas. Rather than intellectually, it becomes a more intuitive or emotive response to understand what it’s like when you’re in another country.
That allows you to open up and be able to work across these cultural boundaries.
HOW TO REACH: Gemini Mobile Technologies Inc., (650) 227-2380 or www.geminimobile.com