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.