Tips for Doing Business in Global Markets

Dlisaploegblogoing business in global environments can open up lucrative opportunities and at the same time can increase risk exposure. Most business initiatives focused on growth involve the need to adapt and tolerate some risks.  So the question is – how do you minimize those challenges when doing business globally?  In a recent interview with Lisa Ploeg, Senior International Learning and Development Specialist with Mary Kay, we discussed the following questions and identified some resources with tips from the experts:

What cultural competencies do you need to work effectively in global markets?

Speaking the language is usually the first cultural concern people have when working internationally, but there are other basics that should be considered.  For example, for an American traveling to Madrid it would be useful to know that in the evening restaurants don’t open until around 9:00 PM because that is when people in Spain eat dinner.  Know the customs and etiquette before you go and you will have fewer uncomfortable moments and surprises.

Try to learn about cultural dimensions: Americans working with Latin Americans would benefit from understanding that they are perceived as “transactional” while Latin Americans are “relational”.  Americans are typically friendly and interact quickly to transact business without needing to know personal information, whereas Latin Americans want to get to know you, and maybe share a meal with you, before they will close a deal. There is more value placed on building personal relationships and establishing trust between business partners in most cultures in South America. For North Americans, this is often less important than getting down to business.

The best bet is to be open and curious.  Make the effort to understand and accept the cultural tendencies and differences of yourself and others.  Ask questions like “how do you do “this” here?” and “what is the word for this?”  This can help improve working relationships regardless of culture. When I give training classes, I ask people to translate key words for me (like “trust”) and give example of how things are done in their country. This helps break down barriers and I enjoy learning from them. My advice is: know yourself, know the other culture, and be adaptable.

Here are some resources to learn some other “dos” and “don’ts” while interacting in another country:

Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands:  The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries by Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway

Lisa Ploeg’s White Paper written in collaboration with Bloomberg BNA:

RW3 Culture Wizard:

Global Chamber Dallas, Korina Smith, Executive Director:

How do you stay current on political dynamics in specific markets and insure safety when traveling?

Read up before you leave the country.  Here are some useful resources for current data:

The State Department:

The World Trade Resource:

World News:

U.S. Embassy

How do you minimize financial risks when doing business globally?

Work with the experts to provide risk management information and trade credit insurance to guarantee that you get paid for the products/services delivered.

Euler Hermes is an excellent resource for protection against commercial and political risks.  They provide trade information on companies you would sell to such as non-confidential financial data, payment behaviors, in-depth analysis, etc. that allow your company to grow safely but aggressively in to new markets, the bi-product of this being trade insurance. Contact Noll Saunders, Risk Management Consultant, Euler Hermes North America, 214-998-1750,

Other resources:

PricewaterhouseCoopers country-by-country tax reporting:

The Economist:

Posted in Communication, Culture, Influence, Leadership, Strategic Planning |

Is the Emperor with His New Clothes Leading in Your Organization?

emperorSometimes the childhood story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a useful metaphor for business situations.  The story is about an egotistical Emperor that was manipulated into wearing clothes made of an invisible fabric in which those unable to see the fabric were presumed to be either unfit for their posts or hopelessly stupid.  As the story goes, only a child had the courage to let the Emperor know that he was naked.

In business, the “emperor” leaders can be my-way-or the-highway.  They are the kind of leader that plays nice as long as you do what they say and make them look good.  People often pretend to go along with these “emperor” leaders to their face; but behind their backs, they say these leaders are naked.  Valuable time is often wasted as people placate the “emperor” leaders or work around them out of fear that honesty could cost too much.  These types of leaders are typically arrogant, insecure, and lacking in self-awareness.  They can be legends in their own mind.

If you are working with one of these “emperor” leaders, then you know that ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.   So like the child in the story, having the courage to give honest feedback may be the answer.  Here is something you could try:

  • Ask for feedback first.  You could ask the “emperor” leader these two questions: What do I do that you value? What do I do that bothers you?
  • After listening to the responses, ask the “emperor” leader if they would be willing to let you give them feedback by having them ask you the same questions.  Keep your feedback brief and simple.

If the “emperor” leader gives and receives feedback constructively, then you may have created some space for the relationship to improve.  If the “emperor” leader is unwilling to participate constructively, then you might have some decisions to make about how much you want to work with this leader.

Posted in Change Management, Coaching, Communication, Culture, Influence, Leadership, Partnership, Team Performance |

How Does Our Ratio of Asking to Telling Build Rapport?



So why is it that with some people we meet, there is an immediate connection and with others there isn’t?  Much of this has to do with personality and mutual interest, and some of it is about our dialogue.  When we assume others are interested or don’t know about the information we are sharing, rapport can be stifled.  If engaging others is the goal, then most adults respond better when they are asked about what they want or are asked for their thoughts before we tell.


Well-formed questions are powerful tools in building rapport with others.  When we ask questions, the other person’s brain cannot help but respond with an answer.  Questions cause people to engage rather than dismiss what we are saying.  Questions also challenge our habitual thinking patterns and help us open up to new alternatives.  Questions are the key to guiding what people focus on and how their brains process information.   If you want to build rapport with others, a good rule of thumb for dialogue is to communicate with a ratio of at least 60% asking and 40% telling.

Remember, our words cause others to respond so be clear about the intention of your message and how it is delivered.  Using questions in a way that moves toward a higher-level outcome is a skill that provides us with power and flexibility.  For example, if a person says “I don’t want…” or “I don’t know…” respond with a question that encourages them to think rather than telling them what to think.  A useful response could be, “If you don’t know, then there must be a lot of possibilities.  What might be one?” or “How would things be different if you did know?”  These types of questions will help you learn more about the other person, and if asked genuinely, they build rapport by showing an authentic interest in the other person’s concerns.

To learn more about building rapport by recognizing language patterns and developing clarifying questions, click here to read my book The Influence Matrix: Strategies for Engaging Others to Get Results.


Posted in Coaching, Communication, Influence, Leadership |

Leading Change by Firing Up Engagement

acceleratekotterHas your organization learned how to manage through the environment of constant change, but is challenged by employees who have become fatigued in the process?  The 2013 Gallup Report on the State of the American Workplace concluded the following about employees:

  • 30% are engaged and inspired at work
  • 50% are not engaged, they are just present and not inspired by their work or their managers
  • 20% are actively disengaged and are spreading discontent

After reviewing this data, most of my clients quickly sent out employee engagement surveys to assess how their employees lined up.  The engagement surveys typically indicated that the primary reasons for unengaged employees are poor leadership, and employees lacking accountability (which is often a result of poor leadership).

To have engaged employees who know what they are supposed to do every day and are motivated to do it well, you need engaged leaders who are compensated for developing employees and holding them accountable.  Engaged leaders hold themselves accountable for balancing the need for change agility with the need for efficient operational performance.  They implement engagement practices such as these:

  • Communicates change so that each employee understands the strategic business reasons for the change.  Communicates and insures that each employee knows how the change impacts their job and honestly discusses the pros and cons that come with the trade-offs of change. 
  • Schedules one-on-one meetings with direct reports to “listen” to their ideas, concerns, and what is important to them.  Allows the employee to feel seen, heard, and respected. Shares the employee’s useful ideas with senior management and gives the employee credit for their thought leadership.
  • Provides ongoing performance feedback so that the employee knows how they are on target and how they are falling short.  Coaches the employee on ways to improve performance.
  • Provides developmental mentoring to help the employee move forward on their career goals.  Discusses ways to make work fun and fulfilling.

Beyond employee and leader engagement is the need for every organization to evaluate the way the organizational structure aligns with the requirement to be change adaptive around market demand. In his book, Accelerate, John P. Kotter describes how organizations have been structured by management-driven hierarchies which are systems designed to create efficiency; consequently, they also built silos that have limited information about the big picture.  He suggests the need for a secondary system of volunteers to operate as a strategy acceleration network which communicates and drives the strategic initiatives across the silos.  The volunteers serve as a critical mass of change agents, they are self-directed with no hierarchy, and they appreciate the chance to collaborate with a broader array of people than they ever could have worked with in their regular jobs within the hierarchy.  They view being a volunteer in the strategy acceleration network as a way to develop professionally and to increase their visibility across the organization.  Click here to read more about Kotter’s “dual operating system” and the eight accelerators for embracing the bold change necessary to lead an engaged workforce today.

Posted in Change Management, Coaching, Communication, Executing Strategy, Influence, Leadership |

How to Accelerate Leadership Performance through Coaching


Who really needs a coach?  Even the most successful leaders are challenged with unpredictable shifts in market demand along with issues generated by constant change. These situations can create the need for leaders to benefit from the insights, feedback, and counsel of an experienced business coach.  Coaching; however, is not for the faint at heart.  It takes considerable humility to gain the self-awareness necessary to accelerate leadership performance through coaching.

As an external coach, I find that most of us are quite capable at articulating the shortcomings of others, but rarely do we recognize when other’s negative behavior is a reaction to our own challenging traits.  The coach’s role is to call attention to these blind spots which can prevent a leader from influencing others effectively.  The coach also facilitates the coaching process which is a collaborative effort for establishing goals, bringing obstacles into perspective, and maintaining accountability. Throughout the process, the coach serves as a sounding board so that the leader can hear his or her own thinking, and be better able to gain authenticity of perception and challenge their assumptions.

Coaching is useful for all levels of leadership ranging from the seasoned executive, the leader with developmental opportunities, or the high-potential emerging leader transitioning to a new position.  Through coaching, leaders discover how to shift their communication in ways in which the meaning and intention of their message becomes more transparent and relevant.  As leaders adapt their behaviors and listen more actively, they typically become more consistent in walking their talk. By learning to balance their ability to lead from the head and the heart, the leader’s approach tends to be more valued and trusted by others. This trust creates speed in execution because there is no need for resistance and self-protection behaviors.

Through the process of being coached, leaders learn the nuances of how to coach and engage others.  They learn the core competency of developing people to drive performance.  For more information about how coaching works, why it works, and how leaders can make the best use of the coaching process, click here to read Coaching For Leadership by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence Lyons, and Sarah McArthur.


Posted in Coaching, Communication, Influence, Leadership, Team Performance |

Developing People to Execute Strategy


execstrat4First, let’s assume that the strategy developed is aligned with the market, and is aligned with the organization’s culture.  Second, let’s assume that leaders have effectively communicated the strategy and have prioritized realistic workloads for their employees. Third, let’s assume that leaders are authentic and transparent in their communication so that people know how they need to perform, develop, and grow.  I realize this is making a lot of assumptions, but the absence of any of these assumptions will cause a strategy to fail.

Now let’s consider the individuals who will actually execute the strategy. In many organizations, people are not as involved in making the tough decisions for developing the strategic plan as they would like to be.  This can make it difficult for them to engage in executing the strategy. Their acceptance or resistance of the strategy will impact their commitment.  Coaching them to accept the strategy rather than resist it is the leader’s challenge.  Below are some coaching questions for motivating people to embrace the strategy:

1.   What about the strategy will work?

  • Mindset Shift:  Coach employees to accept “what is” about the strategy without judging it negatively, wishing it were different, blaming others for it, or any other form of resistance.  Resistance often leads to fear-filled, worrisome, and negative thinking with a focus on what can go wrong. What we focus on expands so shift thinking towards positive alternatives by having a mindset of acceptance. Keep the focus on what will work and people will be equipped to deal with obstacles in a more resilient way.

2.   How could executing the strategy make things better for you?

  • Mindset Shift:  Coach employees to move to a higher-level mode of thinking, like being curious, so that new options can surface. Curiosity opens the mind to a new frequency of thinking and interrupts negative thinking habits.  Explore all the possible ways  the strategy can legitimately improve things for the employees.

3.   What would motivate you to execute the strategy?

  • Mindset Shift:  Coach employees to see the benefits of performing beyond the status quo.  Ask compelling questions that encourage them to think in a broader and more strategic manner.  Create an environment where it is worth it for them to go the extra mile in order to make the strategy work.

Implementing strategies takes competence, commitment, and time.  Be the kind of leader that develops people to execute the strategy with passion by providing what they need to sustain momentum towards the goal.

Posted in Coaching, Communication, Executing Strategy, Strategic Planning |

Stop the Drama Now



To say the least, drama at work is bothersome and it drains productivity.  So, how do we stop it?  First, it helps to understand a psychological model called The Drama Triangle.  This model was developed by Stephen B. Karpman.  It explains how people play games to get their needs met rather than clearly communicating what they want and what they mean.  This lack of clarity in communication is usually where drama begins.  Another source that provokes drama is when a person uses a command and control approach to get others to do what they want.  This approach causes resistance and escalates drama.

Here is how The Drama Triangle works.  There are three roles, the Victim (child), the Rescuer (parent), and the Persecutor, and these roles are played by two people.  The people in the drama switch between these roles to get their needs met in dysfunctional ways.  For example, the Victim usually starts the drama by asking the Rescuer for help rather than trying to think for themselves or take any risks.  The Rescuer tells the Victim what to do or does the Victim’s job for them rather than asking them how they think things should be done.  Often the Rescuer is controlling and just wants things done his way or he needs to be needed by the Victim to feel important.  The Victim is manipulating the Rescuer to take responsibility for him.  Regardless of the motive, both parties end up feeling persecuted by the other. The Rescuer persecutes the Victim by assuming he couldn’t figure things out for himself.  The Victim persecutes the Rescuer for discounting him and treating him like he is helpless.  The Rescuer feels victimized by the Victim because he feels unappreciated for all he’s done to help the Victim.


The trick to eliminating drama is to maintain healthy adult-to-adult communication.  A way to do that is to ask before you tell when speaking with an adult.  This allows the other person to be valued for their ability to think rather than being told what to do, how to think, or how to feel.  This “telling” and “imposing our thinking on others” is typically a trigger for drama.

Communication that includes drama or lacks clarity can be a setup for manipulation or negative influence. Remember, it is frequently not so much what you tell another person as it is the questions you ask that determines how you influence the outcome of a situation and avoid drama.

This content is adapted from my book The Influence Matrix: Strategies for Engaging Others to Get Results.  To read more about The Drama Triangle, go to  

Posted in Coaching, Communication, Influence, Leadership |

How to Shift a Company’s Culture


The first question I ask clients is why would you want to shift the culture?  What are the business reasons that make shifting the culture a productive thing to do?  Shifting a company’s culture is challenging because people resist the trade-offs  that come with the shift, and people are often loyal to the old culture because it is familiar.  Shifting the culture one or two behaviors at a time rather than “changing” the culture can reduce this resistance.

In their book, Corporate Culture and Performance, John P. Kotter and James L. Heskett provided extensive research on the impact culture has on performance. They concluded an eleven year study by describing how cultures of the better performing companies had influenced their economic results because of qualities such as leadership, entrepreneurship, prudent risk taking, candid discussions, innovation, and flexibility. They saw a causal link going from cultures that value leadership and the other qualities mentioned above to superior performance.  So, if increasing performance results is the goal, then a culture shift is a place to begin.

Steps for Shifting the Culture:

1.  Assess the current culture and determine whether or not existing behaviors help or hinder the company in aligning with the present marketplace conditions.  The company must admit the truth about the things they say they do as compared with what is actually done.  This process provides a framework for identifying the behaviors that may need shifting.  Here is an example of a client’s current culture assessment:


2.  Identify the high-priority behavior(s) that need to shift in order to accomplish the company’s strategic vision and align with market demands.  For example, the organization above moves too slowly. The company would benefit by increasing risk tolerance and providing more direct and honest feedback.

3.  Implement actions to shift the behaviors identified.  Provide incentives and reward for early adopters of the new behaviors.  Build a critical mass of people that will embrace the new way of doing things.

Sheryl Troiani, Senior Controller of Granite Properties, said, “One of the positives to a “family style” culture is that loyalty to team members is stronger; however, any culture that tolerates lack of integrity will suffer from trust issues.  Trust issues will stifle thought leadership and creativity on even the most talented of teams.”   Sheryl is very clear about what works and what does not work in her culture.  Like Sheryl, be clear about how the culture impacts performance and how it has evolved over time.  Step back and consider the behaviors to stop, start, or continue and initiate a culture shift for improved performance today.

Posted in Culture, Leadership, Strategic Planning, Team Performance | Tagged , , |

The Three C’s for Gaining Speed in Execution

4disiplinesI have heard it said that the speed of the leader determines the speed of the team.  In other words, the sense of urgency the leader demonstrates drives the performance speed of the team.  I also believe that the clarity in which the leader communicates the vision determines the commitment and capability of the team.  Leaders who are able to communicate effectively don’t subject their teams to death by meetings; they precisely and concisely communicate the collective intelligence of the team.  The successful leaders and teams that I work with require the three C’s:  clarity of vision, commitment, and capability.   They do this in order to maintain the emotional resilience and stamina necessary for forging ahead toward the goals.

Clarity of Vision                                                          

A vision with well-defined outcomes allows a team to be congruent in the direction they need to take.  The vision should be compelling, provocative, realistic, and desired.  It must be communicated in inspiring and forward-moving terms that positively influence those involved. Clarity, rather than confusion, ambiguity, and political maneuvering, provides the rudder a team needs to execute with speed.


Commitment is the force behind strong morale, engagement, and accountability.  Commitment has to come from the individual team members out of a passion for achieving the vision.  People don’t embrace a vision because senior management has dictated it from above.  They evaluate the business reasons for the vision and decide whether or not it is something they value and will buy in to.  Speed in execution is therefore an issue of the heart.  The team members have to care enough to make the vision a reality, and be motivated by the results.  They must believe without doubt in the vision so that they willingly hold each other accountable and support each other in doing what it takes to get the job done.


Teams focused on a few simple goals, not overwhelmed by many, are better able to assess the skills, knowledge, and resources needed for execution of the vision.  They can realistically determine their capacity for what can get done versus what they want to get done.  These teams align around 20% of the tasks that produce the highest results instead of 80% of tasks that are lower priority.  They measure their results by things that are within their control so that they can quickly correct their course of action when things go off track.

Tools for successfully managing a team’s execution of strategy are hard to find.   In my research, I was able to find an online system in the book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, (4DX).  This book details how to use online performance dashboards for individual team members from Franklin Covey.  The 4DX software provides automation for tracking team results and managing accountability.  For more information about this software visit  It might be just the tool you need to drive the three C’s for gaining speed in execution with your team.

Posted in Leadership, Strategic Planning, Team Performance | Tagged , , , , , |

Ten Ways to Build Great Partnerships

Partnership3As the internet provides vast amounts of new information every day, it becomes more and more challenging to keep up with the skills, knowledge, and expertise we need to do our jobs.  Working with partners is becoming a way of lightening the load.  Developing alliances to share different perspectives and cooperate on mutual goals is necessary to sustain success.  Watching the Emmy’s the other day, I noticed that even the writer awards were given to partners.  As the partners were interviewed, they shared who contributed which type of idea and how they balanced each other with their content.  Partnership is becoming the new “norm” as things have become too complicated to do it all ourselves.

As much as partnerships have their advantages, keeping things equitable can be problematic. High degrees of interpersonal skills are required to maintain harmony in partnerships and that involves emotional intelligence (EQ). In Daniel Goleman’s Harvard Business Review article “What Makes a Leader?”, he defined the components of EQ as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. He elaborated the importance of EQ in this article by stating, “But when I calculated the ratio of technical skills, IQ, and emotional intelligence as an ingredient of excellent performance, emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the others for jobs at all levels.”  So no matter how brilliant a person is, if they do not have the EQ to engage and partner with other people, their success will be limited.

To gain insights on building partnerships, I asked some of my clients about what they do to build trusted and engaged partnerships.  Here is what they said:

1.   Active listening – have the courage to listen to other’s perspectives and take effective action

2.   Earn trust, learn to trust, and show respect – demonstrate character and competence

3.   Make communication a two-way dialogue in which goals and expectations are clarified

4.   Have honest dialogue when trust is threatened or conflict surfaces – negotiate differences

5.   Be consistent, keep your agreements, and be transparent

6.   Ask other’s for feedback – find out what you do that helps or hinders them

7.   Think and understand before you respond or react

8.   Collaborate to make processes more efficient for achieving the end result

9.   State opinions as your perspective not as fact.  Ask for other’s opinions and ideas.

10. Maintain positive connections with your internal customers for positive impact on external customers

Building partnerships and maintaining them takes a lot of effort, but with practice, we can all get better at it and create more positive opportunities for each other.

Posted in Influence, Leadership, Partnership, Team Performance | Tagged |