We recently have many expat joining us and a team member once asked me "what did they actually bring to the table ?"
I was unhappy with the question at first (because I can clearly see their impact and didn't know why he couldn't). Then I realized it was actually a good question that touches on many points I will share more in this blog.
First thing is that I'm glad he actually asked that tough question. It means the environment we're building somehow still encourages him to do so. My "unhappy at first" was simply not a good move because it will discourage him from raising questions/concerns in the future. We need to make people feel safe and comfortable doing so.
The second thing is that sometimes we - senior managers - forget one advantage we have over our team members: we have more chances to interact and know useful data/insights than them. The company strategic plan, the interesting discussion, the insightful presentation, the "why" are usually shared to senior managers first but not properly cascade down all the way to their team members. So they will approach the same matter not equipped with the same data we have and hence have different thoughts about that.
It's actually a good thing because we can listen to a different perspective, but it's also our responsibility to actually spend time explaining to the team about the grand plan, the "why" so they will eventually understand, feel motivated and align with it.
The third thing is about the question "what did the expat actually bring to the table ?", for me I would rephrase that question a bit as "what did good management actualy bring to the table ?" since I observe those in some expat and also good local managers. Below are my observations so far
1. Structured and sustainable way to improve things
- Clear & relevant metrics. Focus on input metrics (the fundamentals) rather than output metrics
- Setup periodically review meeting and really make it a drum-beat (process that people actually follow for a long time, not just the first few times)
- Hold people accountable
- Ask smart questions that touches on either the pain-point or the improvement that will have large impact (e.g. those related to the process and accountability, not just any particular issue; those about resources or the lack thereof)
A "structure" way helps us to discover and fix fundamentals issues.
"Fundamentals" means we don't look at just the final outcome but also at the building blocks
"Sustainable" means if the manager is not there, there is a high chance his team still can carry on the work due to the process/framework in-place. If the manager is more hand-on, he might get quicker and better result in short term but in the long term, his team might get clueless if he doesn't focus enough.
2. Know-how: they're usually from the the company that did our thing long before us hence in most of the case will have clear understanding on the path it took to get there, the pain-point or risk that we should watch out for
3. Articulate the value/the why very well so that people understand and have motivation to implement it
4. Have a high bar of quality with very little compromise
5. Aggressive/perseverance when needed
Of course, not all expat/good management are the same. Some - who joined their last world-class company in the later stages - might not have all the domain expertise like those who joined in the early stage. Some might be more aggresive than needed. Some simply lacks substance.
But overall, I think they do bring valuable experiences/know-how/processes to the table and that's something most companies will need to grow to the next level.
The helpful thing for us would be open-mind enough to recognize all the good stuffs (from the expat or good management in general), willing to learn and apply them within our team. We also want to be critical enough and give feedback on the areas they need to improve.