A number of years ago, I went through a phase when one of my businesses was growing rapidly and yet I seemed to be constantly criticising those who were working with us – particularly our overseas Distributors , I was getting frustrated that so many people were not doing things “right” – I could see the problem, why couldn’t they?  This was starting to affect everything that I did, I was becoming a grumpy middle aged man.

My wife Wendy is a tower of strength in my life, and one of my biggest critics – she recognised the change in my personality and asked me what the problem was.  The business was going well, we were meeting all of our projected targets, I had a great team of people working with us, why was I so critical all the time?  I responded by saying that I wished people would do things “properly” – she then asked me a simple question…..what do you mean by “properly” – to which I responded  ”use their common sense”.

Wendy then candidly pointed out to me that what I considered to be “common sense” was not how others may view it.  She suggested that I may have a different background to many of my colleagues, based on different approaches and experiences and hence I may view the same situation differently.  This was of course magnified even more when different cultures came into play when trading overseas.

She then went on to point out the difference between the good and poor Managers that she had worked with in her career – the good Managers did three things very well,

  • They listen to their colleagues point of view (and act appropriately),
  • They  fundamentally agree three things
    • What the individual needs to achieve (clear expectations)
    • What are the consequences for them, their colleagues, and the business if they do not meet the expectations.
    • Agree how they (as a manager) can help the individuals to achieve what they are aiming for.
  • They monitor results, and work with the individual to help them in meeting the expectations.

There have been a lot of excellent books written about Management over the years, but in my experience this is the cornerstone.  It is so simple – everyone knows expectations, and everyone knows consequence.  This not only avoids unnecessary confrontation when communication between two parties is not clear, but it enables the Manager to fairly take appropriate action over poor performance.

Good staff and overseas partners are hard to find – especially those who understand your business and have the appropriate skill sets – they are a highly valuable resource that we should protect.  In my experience so many companies lose good team members through communication breakdown or unnecessary misunderstandings.

So next time you are in a confrontational position with a member of your team, or maybe a distributor if you are exporting it may pay for you to take a deep breath and ask yourself the question – “do they really understand what is expected of them, and do they know what the consequence of their actions (or lack of actions) are?”  Is this their problem?……or is it mine?

Ideally you will want to avoid the misunderstandings in the first place.  The key to this is in the ‘set up’ – recruiting the right the partners and creating an environment where mutual responsibilities are understood.

For more inspiration

Why not get more ‘ExportSavvy’ and join our International Trade community – it is sponsored and hence free of charge to you

You might like to sign up for the Certified Export Leadership programme, and take a look at the section in ExportSavvy20  that deals with Working With Distributors and Overseas Partners – here you will find a range of modules that help you to set up your relationships effectively – this includes modules on selecting the right partners, shared commitment and agreeing and reviewing targets.

David Bone CDir – Managing Director – ExportSavvy Ltd

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