martes, 14 de abril de 2009

Some thoughts about Offshore companies in Latin America

I've been reading lately some posts from Geoff Sowrey, Technology Director of the Hangar, Critical Mass for Latin America. He's been writing about how difficult its to start a new company in a different country with different culture, language, timezones, etc.
I really feel his pain, having worked in different companies where we either used or provided services in that way.
For me this is a critical topic that needs more discussion if we really want to have to more companies moving to Latin America; and no just moving but having success.
You see, Latin America's (LA) culture is totally different from North America. Ambitions, goals and priorities as well and if companies moving to LA are not aware of these differences they are going to suffer a lot.
And I'm not talking only about hiring services from companies in other country; I'm talking about moving and creating new companies. That's takes of course more responsibilities and challenges.
Here are some thoughts:
  • Leaders HAVE to reproduce leaders, once you invest time teaching the RIGHT people how/when things need to be done they should be able to guide other people and groups and share the load of responsibility. Of course if the cycle goes on, they should be able to reproduce and have a company that runs by itself.
  • Learning curve, for both sides of the story: you need to learn how people work in Latin America and they need to learn how you guys want things done; but eventually both sides are going to have to give up a little. You can't expect to have a warehouse full of robots programmed to work as you want, as they can't expect that they are going to receive a paycheck just for the sake of being physically present every day in an office.
  • Good resources are very important. Sadly that's the hardest thing to find. But I wonder, are companies from outside really hiring the best (and willing to pay more $$ for them) or they are just hiring people just for the sake of getting people... Hiring people "just in case we get more projects" is one of the biggest errors a company could make. That will create an awful "comfort zone" and that's going to affect the performance of the people waiting for action and the people around them. I've seen this happening before. It is sad, lot of people earning their salary but without enough technical knowledge, no ambition, no will to learn and sadly that affects others. Would it be better to have less (but good or very good) people, even if you have to spend more money but at least you know they understand you, they know what you need and they really feel part of the company? Of course a lot of these companies go to other countries to save money, but if they really don't invest in the right people at the end of the road they are going to spend more money and loose more clients.
  • Getting people to feel part of the company. Sadly Latin America is full of this: "I'm just working for a gringo that is getting rich". And that's something that needs to be changed as soon as possible. They SHOULD say: "I'm working for a GREAT company. I'm making this startup grow. I've been working really hard til midnight but we have the best project and the client is so happy, they are willing to get more things done so there should be no problem with my pay check..." Too emotional? Maybe, but that's the way every employee should feel about the company they work at. How to do this you say?? It should be part of the culture of the company. It starts having great team leads, people with passion, people that could inject that passion to others. It starts with making people feel proud of what they are doing... what about having a section in the company's web site with pictures of the employees, how they work hard? What about having a blog mentioning successful projects and the people that were involved in them? They need to feel damn proud of what they are doing so that they can give the best of them. Again too emotional?? maybe yes... but for some people that emotion is very important and could mean a big change of attitude towards the company, the client and the work they do. They won't feel they are just working for a "gringo", they will feel they are doing this for themselves and their country.
  • Processes are important, creation of standards, DOCUMENTED processes (say wiki, blog, paper, etc), something that lowers the bar for new people or people that don't not knowing exactly how to do things. Processes not only from a technical perspective, but company policies, etc. Zero tolerance for people having access to this documents and not following them. They should not be written in stone, but they should be clear and detailed for everyone. A lot of work yeah... but is going to save you a lot of work eventually.
  • Promote ownership of projects (and/or clients), again make people feel proud, but more important RESPONSIBLE. Create teams (real teams, not groups of people in one office working on a random project), combination of people where you see they get along and more important get things done correctly. Specialize people in different skills, take advantage of people with special knowledge.

4 comentarios:

Alirio Boquin dijo...

Hi Ivan,

I believe you are right with your thoughts. I think one important think is about feeling you are part of the company, feel your work is important part of business objectives.

Emmanuel Ulloa dijo...

Excellent article. I think it should be a required reading for anyone wanting to invest in Costa Rica.
I want to add my 2 cents here from my costarican perspective:
1- Eating more than you can chew. Sometimes companies get greedy and accept more work than they actually can do. Their logic is: if 1 employee has a $3000 turnaround per month, then 100 employees will have a $300 000 turnaround! It doesn't work like that, 9 women won't produce a baby in 1 month.
2- Thinking the market is unlimited. So your top Flex developer wants to leave unless (add request here: money, vacation time, working from home, better computer, whatever). Do not think it will be easy to replace. So negotiate.
3- Little town, big hell. If your company doesn't do things correctly your name will be a bad reference for a lot of people. Therefore will be harder to get best and new employees.
4- Do not assume everybody knows English. Sometimes the best developers hardly understand what you are saying. Make sure from day one you have English training in the workplace.
3- Find out each of your employees ultimate goal. Is not always money. Some will like to be at home by 5 and do OT once in a blue moon (specially if they have other interests or family). Others would love to code way late into the night everyday and be very competitive. Understand, assume, respect and workaround their ultimate goal.
4- Understand the cultural differences. So you set a meeting at 8 o'clock and everybody shows up at 8:10, well you now know what tico time is. Provide cultural training so people understand why being punctual is so important. Understand that raising your voice can be interpreted as threatening. Comprehend your employees transportation/logistics problems before asking for OT (just because someone is single it does not mean they do not have any responsibility, many young costaricans are the providers for their households). Finally even you do not like soccer go easy on them when their soccer team has big game (soccer is kind of a religion down here).
5- Finally provide some ownership to the employees so they feel they are not only working for the "rich gringo" but if the company does well, they will as well. Think about setting up an "Asociacion Solidarista" (no, is not a syndicate or workers union). Do something for the country: help a school, organize a poor children party at Christmas, help the rain forest.

Ivan dijo...

Wow Emmanuel!! That's some amazing feedback and great ideas... thanks for sharing them.
Really like your last point.. giving back to the country and to the employees. Greedy employers will get disloyal employees...

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