The recent World Cup extravaganza reminded me just how rapidly we are moving toward an integrated global community.
As our economy and businesses become increasingly international, EHS managers find themselves faced with the task of solving EHS problems in unfamiliar countries and cultures. This is particularly challenging for American EHS managers of U.S.-based corporations, who are accustomed to operating in a U.S.-centric manner.
There are differences in the pace of conducting business, differences in the balance of power between management, regulatory agencies and labor (or is it labour), different philosophies around EHS risk management. And of course, language and cultural differences, which can become especially problematic in the technically complex world of EHS management.
The classic gaffe often used to illustrate the importance of clear communication in a business context is the story of the problems Chevrolet had with marketing its Nova brand in Latin America. Since “no va” literally means “no go” in Spanish, buyers shunned the car, forcing Chevrolet to pull it from the market.
You may also have heard the anecdote about what Gerber learned when they first introduced their baby food in Africa, using the same packaging as in the U.S. (you know, the one with the cute baby on the label). While later investigating lower-than-expected sales figures, they found out that it is common practice in Africa to put pictures of the contents on food package labels.
The lessons, of course, are that language and cultural differences can lead to major misunderstandings. I think it would be wise for EHS managers of global corporations to invest time understanding the cultures and regulatory, governmental and business norms of the countries in which they operate. As for the Millennial Generation members of NAEM, by the time you all are the grand poobahs of EHS management, I predict that being adept at operating in a variety of cultures will be an expectation, so it would be best to get started working on these skills now.
For those of you with international experience, what recommendations do you have for EHS managers who find themselves thrust into a global role? Any good anecdotes or recommended reading?
And to the Millennial Generation readers (surely there are a few of you lurking out there), what would you like from NAEM to help you prepare for this brave new world?