Economic globalization is imposing a greater rate of cultural interaction that sets the basis for a unique, modern cultural output. People are must transcend their original cultural boundaries in order to function and integrate with one another both as citizens and consumers.
International business travelling is a unique integration mechanism for companies aiming to run operations in different locations around the world.
Business travelling today involves more people than always before (e.g., Managers, technicians, and consultants) across different ages, nationalities, time zones, and distances. The new reality of reaching the most distant places in comparably brief periods of time is the result of technological innovations that bring people of different cultures into contact more than ever before.
Companies are also aware that enterprise success increasingly relies on people working together and sharing common ways of functioning and interacting. It is common to send personnel on global assignments, enhance the use of virtual communication systems and teams, and promote constant short term business travelling. The global manager frequently travels to manage business located units in different parts of the world.
The globetrotter manager does not suffer from the usual worries of expatriates (e.g., the “next-assignment -syndrome“, or the pressure exerted by the difficulties encountered by their families in the new surrounding). Being usually on his own, and for a limited time, the travelling manager has the chance to focus on business exchanges, and learn from the issues that need to be addressed and solved. She or he may furthermore share these findings with other colleagues and exchange best practices for enhancing and building a new organizational culture. In other words, international travel is a way for global managers to build and disseminate organizational culture.
The glamorous depiction of international travelling managers depicts them as staying in luxury hotels, visiting exotic places, sipping cocktails with colleagues, earning airline travel mileage and. . . working. In reality, the international travelling manager is primarily working at different offices or any available place that provides a table to get their work done, such as restaurants, cyber cafes or airport lounges. They mainly stay at hotels near airports, do whatever they can to stay healthy, and constantly learn how to avoid needless danger. Of course, there is the obvious need to navigate different foreign languages and manage weakness effects in the best way possible.
The life of a travelling manager is indeed rich in encounters and opportunities to expand both personally and professionally. The possible downside is the constant consideration for work life balance. International business travelling should have a significant meaning first of all for the traveller. It should be consistent with his or her value of success, and each individual must evaluate the impact of travelling frequently on what is cherished most. The effort involved in travelling will be very difficult to sustain long term if based only on the corporation’s needs.
The effective international business traveller profile is characterized by a mix of technical and linguistic competences along with a high level of adaptation. A travelling manager should (a) master setting priorities (e.g., Avoiding travelling on weekends to the extent possible); (b) be creative in getting the job done (e.g., Holding phone call and tele-conference meetings), and (c) manage one’s calendar effectively (e.g., Organize trips in advance as to avoid the problems that come with last minute travel arrangements). Personal pacing and discipline are needed to avoid burning out. It is important to know enough about one’s personal effectiveness to recognize when to walk out of the role if travelling for work becomes inconsistent with personal values.
In the book, Travelling Managers, this group of executives is defined as the new nomads of globalization. Just as traditional nomads of the past, these travellers move around with limited luggage (e.g., small suitcases, multi-use garments, etc.) and simple to access support systems in order to ensure success (e.g., personal computers and personal digital assistant).
The nomad lifestyle contrasts with that of the sedentarian. Corporate Nomads, such as travelling managers, are mobile while Corporate Sedentarians are confined to one work location most of the time.
Traditionally, in the nomads-sedentarians exchange, nomads were usually quick problem solvers, creative, and carried their knowledge and experience from one place to another. Sedentarians were less stimulated to solve immediate survival problems, were more reflective, could develop competence in a more systematic way. Out of exchanges between the two groups, new objects, new ideas, new experiences unfolded, and cultures were modified and developed as a result.
Corporate Nomads and Sedentarians are found in modern companies. Their interaction should add value to their businesses. The exchange of Corporate Nomads – Sedentarians can be seen as an important for integrating business. The big issue is how to maximize their encounters to make sure they add value.
By reviewing the key principles of Transculturalism, the Travelling Managers book stresses the need to look simultaneously at the different cultural codes that exist in each individual’s personal and professional lives (i.e., Ethnic, social, family, professional, philosophical, etc.). The goal is to build relationships by looking for similarities among the different cultural codes, rather than focus on fixed and statistical information about cultural differences. In this way a win-win outcome is possible.
Julio Gonzalez is Corporate Human Resource Assistant Director for the Tenaris Italy office. He and Massimilano Santoro are the co-authors of Manager Viaggiatori. Nuovi nomadi nella globalizzazione” (Travelling Managers: New nomads of globalization). Julio can be reached at Julio@dtui.com