We are happy to share an insightful article written by one of our Impact’s mentor — Steve Oriola — which is particularly relevant for this first week of Impact USA and the arrival of our French CEOs in the U.S. Steve Oriola is the CEO of Pipedrive and in this article he shares his experience of managing a cross borders team — between Estonia and the U.S.

Successfully running a global business requires more than strong management skills and a willingness to work across multiple time zones. Understanding how different cultures operate is critical, not only when it comes to working with customers, but in effectively leading employees, as well.

Pipedrive, provides cloud-based CRM solutions for small and medium-sized businesses. Of course, a lot of firms provide SaaS products geared to smaller companies, but we’re unique in that we have a global footprint, despite being a relatively small organization ourselves.

From the start our founders knew that the market in their native Estonia wasn’t large enough to support the business they wanted to build. So they worked to establish themselves in markets outside their country, especially the United States, where they could develop a customer base that would support continued growth.

That meant creating more than a token American presence. Pipedrive operates from offices in Tallinn, Estonia, and New York City. Although more of our employees are based in Estonia, everyone is committed to our vision of helping small businesses succeed wherever they happen to be.

We work very hard to make Pipedrive function as an integral unit, no matter where the employee or customer is located or whatever their background might be. Succeeding at this requires a lot from a business leader: a willingness to openly listen, to understand multiple cultures and how they approach business problems, and to be present among employees, even when they work half a world away. Simply put, if you think you can run a global business without leaving home, stick to your domestic market.

More than nuts and bolts

In the year and a half since I joined Pipedrive, I’ve learned a lot about managing across borders. Some of the challenges are easy to address. For example, I get up extra early each morning to make calls and participate in meetings in Tallinn, where the day begins seven hours before Manhattan’s.

But that’s not enough. As efficient and cost-effective as tools like Slack and Skype might be, they don’t allow you to understand the workings of a culture that’s centuries older than mine and 4,000 miles away.

And really, when it comes down to it, the challenge of managing a global company is mostly about culture. Great companies create cultures of their own, but the most effective leaders know they can’t simply impose an environment based on what works in their home country.

Early in my career, I took on a global role at IBM. While I had far more resources than I do now, I learned difficult lessons about cultural differences when I tried rolling out initiatives and campaigns developed by my team in New York. Around the world, local teams ripped our plans apart to make them work for their own markets.

This was eye-opening: Much of the world operates differently, and everyone involved in a global business must invest the time to understand their colleagues’ culture if they want to work effectively with them.

Being a global leader

That’s especially true for the company’s leaders. You have to show up. I spend almost one week a month in Estonia, most of it engaging with the staff. Besides running our monthly company meeting (which the U.S. team participates in online), I have breakfast with new hires, sit down with different working groups to review their progress and kick around ideas, and of course, manage.

As the CEO, it’s important that everyone know me. That doesn’t happen if they don’t get the chance to see me — and talk to me — in person. And when you want your company to be about trust and teamwork, many conversations, both rewarding ones and difficult ones, have to happen face-to-face.

And when you’ve gone home, you need people in place who’ll continue delivering your message. If you’re a global company with multiple offices, this means having leaders on the ground in each major location. At Pipedrive, half of our executive team works in Tallinn, providing the leadership necessary to keep our offices in sync and executing our strategy. A U.S. company going “international” and opening “remote offices” can never hope to compete with a global company operating in multiple locations with leadership and employee loyalty built into the local markets.

For Pipedrive, the importance of understanding multiple cultures is about more than our internal dynamics. Our team encompasses 22 different nationalities, speaks 23 different languages and has been educated across Europe, the United States and Latin America. We serve more than 30,000 customers in 140 countries. When customers call, they often reach someone who speaks their language, and engage with an individual who understands their culture. This allows us to develop deeper relationships based on social cues and cultural mores that aren’t reflected by language alone. This is especially important for companies serving small businesses, whose leaders don’t have time to waste on miscommunication and misunderstandings, whatever their cause.

Today’s technology allows small companies to pursue markets that were once the domain of organizations large enough to have resources around the world. But a global company’s success depends on more than technology. It requires a commitment from everyone involved to learn how colleagues as well as customers think and interact. Only when you do that can you build a business that will succeed, no matter the distance between offices.

If you enjoyed this article check out the Pipedrive blog, where my team and I share sales and management advice for small businesses.

About the author

Steve Oriola

Steve Oriola is the CEO of Pipedrive, a SaaS CRM that helps small businesses control the complex selling process. Steve has 20 plus years of experiencing helping early stage tech companies scale including 10 years with Constant Contact. Connect with him on Twitter @sjoriola.

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