Business is global, and it’s going to stay that way. However, with that comes a growing need to work across cultures with a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences in how we operate and collaborate. Although there’s no silver bullet solution to bridging every cultural divide, a look at a recent project between my digital specialist company, CI&T, and our partner, NuVasive, provides a few clues about how to improve the odds of success with multicultural initiatives.
The Problem in a Nutshell
NuVasive is a medical device company and leader in spine and orthopedic technologies. They provide the necessary products and instrumentation to perform spine surgery which can vary based on a patient’s needs or a surgeon’s preference. Because every procedure can require something different, NuVasive’s sales representatives take care to get detailed specifications on each order.
Specifically in Japan, NuVasive’s team had a semi-manual workflow to fulfill orders, with sales representatives often spending time on the phone with customer service to ensure everything is right and avoid delays. They wanted to manage the whole process better to make it simpler, faster, and more effective. After some analysis, they concluded that the best path to this goal was digitalization. More specifically, their primary objectives were to optimize with on-demand ordering, decrease order processing and delivery times, and increase order fulfillment accuracy.
This problem — needing to improve workflow — is common across industries. It can occur even when companies initially have well-thought-out strategies or setups, simply because many elements can influence responsiveness and because no business can anticipate every market shift. However, as businesses try to accommodate fast growth, what often happens is that local areas create their own processes to support their needs.
On the one hand, this can be beneficial because the specific region has an immediate solution. On the other hand, a lack of standardization can mean that a business then has to find a way to manage all the different processes that are out there. NuVasive recognized this local-global tension and wanted to make sure that, even as they created a solution that served the Japanese region well, they’d still be able to learn, apply findings to other areas, and manage and evolve the solution in different regions over time.
Start Where the Business Results Are Most Promising
NuVasive works globally — they have operations in more than 50 countries and are headquartered in the United States. For this initiative, the project was led from the United States and included teammates spread across China and Japan.
These leaders could have started with a region that didn’t involve a lot of regulatory and operational complexity, but Japan is a large commercial region for NuVasive and is growing. Therefore, they opted to take Japan’s complexities head-on. They understood that having us tackle digitalization with that region first would be the most effective approach for the company overall, even if it wasn’t an easy path.
Respect What Others Know and Think
As we developed the new solution for NuVasive, the geographical spread we had over Japan, the United States, and China naturally created some logistical challenges with communication. There was a real question of how to give everybody the sense that they were all part of the same team, rather than separated by location, language barrier, or cultural practices.
To overcome these different work styles, we encouraged frequent and transparent communication so that with every iteration, people could build more trust and foster more meaningful, empathetic interactions. We conducted interviews directly with the sales representatives and customer service professionals who had the best grasp of what was practically needed.
At the same time, leadership didn’t impose American standards (e.g., how the digital experience should be), and they listened to what local users were saying. Team members made an intentional effort to learn about the cultural differences across the various regions represented on the project. Because we collectively took this inclusive, non-authoritarian approach, we were able to create a solution that was much more tailored to and respectful of the customer environment.
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Measure…and Keep On Doing It
Learning best practices is a never-ending process because situations are always fluid. You need to keep verifying what the environment is like and identifying truthful pain points and behaviors. Together, CI&T and NuVasive are collecting metrics on how people have been using the new app. By analyzing these numbers, we hope to learn fast so we can evolve both processes and solutions objectively to be even more efficient.
Once NuVasive implemented a mobile web application, the sales and customer service representatives were able to optimize how they performed their roles. The Japan team brought the number of orders processed in five minutes or less up to approximately 63 percent, and according to NuVasive CIO Aviva McPherron, “There is a 30% improvement in order efficiency — the speed in which orders are entered. There’s also a reduction in time required by sales team members to spend on this part of the process.” Perhaps most importantly, NuVasive now has a precedent. Because they faced the complexities of the Japanese region directly, they now have a framework to use for other regions.
They’ve seen not only that the solution gets results, but also that the entire process they used to develop the tool and strengthen the business does, too. For those reasons, they’re looking to apply the new mobile web application to other commercial regions.
People Are Your Business, No Matter Where They Come From
Multicultural initiatives don’t have a formula, and your situation may bring different things to the table than we experienced. But in general, success with multicultural projects boils down to balancing tensions. That’s tricky, but approaching the project with a willingness to dive into the complex stuff for the biggest influence, leverage differences, and do a little objective analysis goes a long way toward this goal. Stay people-centered and, even in today’s rapidly shifting, tech-driven market, you can find the equilibrium you need to create real change anywhere in the world.