Regional process variations are ok for multi-national companies

We had one of our multi-national clients approach us with this question recently. They've made really good progress in a couple regions and now they're aiming for consistent standardised processes further across their global operations. This is of course a sensible objective.

Should we really aim for globally consistent processes?

Should we aim to build a single set of global standard processes that all regions can access?

A single base of global processes would bring obvious benefits including; standardisation, centralised process ownership, reduced risk of region specific changes, a single point for change management, etc.

In our earlier years as a business we would have said of course you should.

Unfortunately, whilst it may sound logical and workable, for many types of processes the disadvantages of managing all those region specific exceptions can end up outweighing the benefits.

In our experience with multi-national clients attempting the one 'global standard' process their efforts usually imploded under the weight of personalities, politics, slightly different terms, slightly different job titles, slightly different partner organisations,  slightly different systems configurations and so on.  Sure, some of these are valid battles to be fought on the way to global standardisation, but another big factor is that teams just didn't like the globally standard processes - they were generalised to the point of being meaningless. They felt no connection to the everyday reality of operating that process.

So we often end up recommending that clients should not aspire to this perfect outcome of single global process. Instead start with separate processes per region initially, (even for easier types, like internally facing processes). This gives you a simple platform to prove the real level of difference across regions. If it seems even remotely achievable to merge into a single process set, then this opportunity can be taken relatively easily after say, a gap analysis. A global process owner can be assigned to work with local teams to respond to exceptions. (NB - easier said than done we know!)

We believe that with good process knowledge sharing tools, the bulk of benefits (> 80%) can be achieved by collaboration across regions by other means, without the need to force the perfect outcome of one single process.

TIP: To manage collateral like regional specific forms in one knowledge base, try this: an agreed global naming convention, coupled with regional suffixes (not prefixes). Document browsing and searches will cluster all like documents together. It makes sharing easier, and saves head-aches with future change management.

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Comments (3)

  1. Sue Pridgen:
    Mar 04, 2013 at 08:59 PM

    No, I agree. Especially these days when there is so much change in everything global. To settle for a 1 standardized process, then changes take place I would think you would have a lot of extra work to do trying to update on a regular basis. Instead of a Different Process for each region and implement a Constant Improvement.

  2. Tim O'Brien:
    Mar 05, 2013 at 03:33 AM

    Some thoughts: 1. Standard processes are one thing; standard systems are another. Both can be key to driving signfiicant process improvements and reduced cost but the latter brings big concentration risk; network failures or loss of a central facility can bring a global business to its knees in a very short time. I think this risk is often underestimate and businesses assume that their business continuity plans will adequately compensate. 2. Step outs around processes are probably inevitable for local legal or fiscal reasons but surely you would not think of this option if you thought that culture would be an issue.

  3. Maarten:
    Mar 18, 2013 at 05:15 AM

    One side remark: it is a natural balance to go from local to global and back, and in times of crisis probably more the last movement. Beside the inconvenience of changing systems to support "best in class processes" , to me it looks like it is more the change management where all hierarchical layers lack experience to be effective in implementing those superior processes. Every plant has the nature to push their way of working supported by the "not invented here syndrome". Of course every site could have well motivated exceptions. KR Maarten

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