The Ultimate Survival Guide 101 for International Business
Whether you just arrived at your new overseas posting, or are a long time seasoned expatriate manager with years of experience, I hope that his short paper will put a smile on your face.
Imagine that one day out of the blue a large ship, larger than one you have ever seen arrives. Big men, and strange beasts land on your land, brandishing modern weapons of mass destruction, riding intimidating four legged creatures emitting strange sounds, and demand that you turn over your riches, your land, your women and children.
The conquerors are small in number, but big in power. They have superior weapons, better tactics, are better educated and better built. Your numbers are larger, but you are no match to them militarily. Pizarro landed on the coast of Peru in 1531 with 168 Spanish soldiers and went on to conquer the Inca Empire of millions.
If the foreigner’s numbers are small and they plan to stay there for a short time, and if you know that it will be difficult for them to return, you should try to get as much out of them as possible. Tap into his knowledge, steal his weapons, rob his warehouses, and kill them if you can.
But, if the newly arrived conquerors look like they are there to stay, what do you do? You have absolutely no competitive advantage over them, except for local geographical knowledge. And time. Time is on your side. In time, foreigners come and foreigners go but the local population is there to stay. It’s always been like that, and it will always be like that. What do you do to survive?
There are two principals that have guided conquered people over history in their survival:
Principal One: The conqueror has absolute power over you. He can hurt/maim/kill you any time. At a whim.
Principal Two: Under any circumstance, never forget Principal one.
Survival Guide for Conquered Peoples 101
How to survive and outfox the foreigner until he leaves?
On Everyday Guidelines:
Smile all the time. Smiling doesn’t hurt anyone. The foreigner might even smile back. Some of the foreigners that smile back might even think that you are sincere.
The ones that are foolish enough to believe in your sincerity might be cajoled into helping you with special favors.
Always greet the foreigner first. Greet as many foreigners as possible. This will make them feel important. Since you are the one that makes them feel important they might look out for you.
Say “yes” all the time. To anything and everything. Even when you mean “no” say “yes”. Purge the word “no” from your vocabulary.
When asked or ordered to do something, always agree. Disagreeing could mean punishment or even worse, instant death.
On Work or Rather On How Not to Work
Of course, agreeing to do something does not necessarily mean that you will do it!
You can do the work slowly. The foreigner usually has deadlines he must meet in his own company/country. If you work slowly, his patience might run out. He will either try and do the work himself or ask others to assist you. Either way, you will have lightened your burden.
You can do the work badly. If you can get away with it that is. But if you pull this one off one too many times, your butt might be on the line.
You can pretend to misunderstand orders. The simple “I no speak” said in the foreigner’s language is usually enough to have them put you in the “useless” box. If they can’t communicate with you, they can’t ask you to do work for them.
You can feign a lack of understanding if you are accused of not doing the assigned work. “I did not understand” said in the foreigners language is usually very effective. Sometimes the foreigner might doubt her own communication skills.
Play the time game. Don’t finish the work you were given in the allocated time. Then forget about the work altogether. If prompted by the foreigner the next day, week or month, as to why you didn’t finish your work, say “I understood that you only want me to work that day”
You can even act right out dumb.
If the above listed tactics don’t work, you can always say “I will do it right the next time, OK”. Said in the foreigner’s language, this is a very effective tool. Who knows when or if there will ever be a next time. In any case you know that your “right” way is
You can play the pity game. If you manage to push the right buttons they might feel sorry for you and even take care of you. Yes, there are some foreigners that are ripe for the picking.
Any combination of the above could ensure that you do not have to perform those duties ever again! Or the best and last resort is not to show up for work at all! The foreigner usually will not waste her valuable time to go out looking for you. They will forget about you sooner then later.
If, in the worst case scenario, you have to do the work, do it slowly, but make sure the quality of your work is satisfactory. Your master will either allocate more time or designate somebody to help you. In the worst case scenario, you get to work slowly and have somebody to chat and reminisce with. In the best case scenario, as a loyal servant to your master, you get to supervise that person! As you assume more responsibility, you should of course be compensated better and should work less. Isn’t that what climbing the management ladder is all about! In time you get to hire two new people to help the person who was hired to help you, and promote your first assistant to supervisor. As a result you now have the loyalty of the people you supervise. Another important lesson of how to use other people’s money to generate loyalty for yourself.
Never volunteer or let the foreigner know much you know. You might be asked to perform new tasks. You don’t want to perform new tasks, do you?
Do not show your masters what you are capable of. Either you have to work harder, or you could be deemed as too knowledgeable. Knowledge can be turned into power. If you become too powerful as a result of your knowledge, you will need to be eliminated.
Slow down the pace of change. Change is never good, as it only benefits those who instigate change. Change could mean that you lose your power base, the backing of those loyal to you. Loyalty changes as quickly as the circumstances generating that loyalty changes.
Slow down the pace of economic activity. A better economy is only going to profit the foreign rulers. That will mean that they will stay there longer and make your life more miserable.
If you absolutely have to, accept the new gods and forms of worship that the foreigner brings with him. Who can really determine what you really believe in anyhow?
On Having Fun:
The above are basic guidelines on how to make your life easier and the foreigner’s life more difficult. Making the foreigners life difficult can be a lot of fun. If the setting and conditions allow it, you can even get away with making fun of the foreigner in your own language. But beware, sometimes some of them understand or even speak your language!
Having seen how the conquered people manage to survive and have fun, it would be unfair not to prepare a guide for the conquerors.
Survival Guide for Conquerors 101
In all this mad tumult, how does the foreigner survive? The foreigner has deadlines, as well as the difficult task of having to answer to stakeholders in far away lands that are closely scrutinizing performance reports. In short the foreigner’s future hangs in the balance of the corporate balance sheets.
How to overcome the daily dose of insurmountable passive resistance that the locals dish out?
On the types of expats
When looking at the composition of foreign management talent in conquered lands, we see certain strategies at work:
Corporate decision makers usually follow one of these strategies:
A) Once you have conquered and assured subservient behavior, you make sure to send your youngest and most inexperienced people to the conquered lands. The young ones may find the whole ordeal of serving Queen and Country in conquered lands, an adventure. They will gain experience and be more appreciative of conditions back home.
B) You send your deadwood people over there. Since they probably know that they are deadwood and do not expect to make further career advancements at home, acting out the expat life style abroad might do their egos good. You of course give them stretch goals that they have to achieve.
C) Then there are those people that are about to retire in a couple of years. They have served you well, and what better way to be put out on the pasture so far away from headquarters then in a conquered land in good style?
D) Top notch, highly qualified startup experts, turnaround specialists or auditors are sent to the foreign lands to rescue the usurped corporate resources.
Regardless of whom you send over, you have to compensate them well and provide the basic amenities that they are used to at home; otherwise you will have high turnover rates. High turnover rates usually mean low profits, and we can’t have low profits.
But what of the poor sods that are deep down in enemy territory. They too have their moment under the limelight in this paper:
Survival guide for foreign managers deep down in enemy territory 101:
Remember the old movies, where the foreign masters, sitting in their posh country clubs, sipping ice cold gin tonics, ramble on about the difficulties of overseas positions. Then a dashing local employee of the foreign masters, appears on the scene, who speaks the foreigner’s language even better and more eloquently then the foreigner’s themselves and reports about a serious problem that we are having at a certain distant location. Yes, Sir! At the end it turns out that it was the same local who actually created the problem, and then went ahead and solved the problem, benefiting himself and showing off how loyal and trustworthy he is to his masters.
That local, ladies and gentlemen is the major domo. Every company/household should have at least one! They will make life for you easier, albeit a little more expensive.
The online dictionary.com definition of a major domo is:
1. A man in charge of a great household, as that of a sovereign; a chief steward
2. A person who makes arrangements for another.
These are the local people that are willing to help you with your mission, vision and to help you with your agenda. In return for selling their souls to the devil, they expect to be handsomely rewarded.
• They speak the language, so they cannot be misunderstood.
• They know local customs.
• They know the geography.
• They know every trick the locals can throw at the foreigner. They probably invented most of the tricks themselves!
• They have read the survival guide for conquered islanders 101! No kidding, the “Ultimate Survival Guide” has become an instant bestseller in many countries.
The major domo’s in themselves are the middle managers of modern day corporations. They communicate directives and information passed to them from the top down and control the work done at the bottom of the pyramid and pass on the information to the top. In turn they are rewarded. If they are not rewarded well, they may resort to slowing down business or to graft. In time and if the power of the foreign master to rule weakens, they may even resort to politics to claim power. Chose your major domo well. Never, never, fully trust your major domo. Never forget that many a foreigner has gone from major dome to major dodo in a split second in the conquered territories.
Where would we be on the democratic scale of human rights if we did not have a guide for the indispensable major domo’s.
Survival Guide for Major Domo’s 101
But the major domo knows deep inside that the foreigner will one day leave. The major domo will be left behind. He has to cover his bases. He cannot blindly and unwittingly carry out the orders of the foreigner. He has to cut the local population some slack and give in to some of their demands. He has to serve two masters. The locals, of course are, waiting for the day that the conqueror packs up and leaves. Then they plan to take care of the major domo’s and their newly acquired wealth. The major domo knows this just as well.
The major domo needs to accumulate power and wealth in order to buy the loyalty of the locals for their own protection after the conqueror leaves. They need to ensure that they are protected by the foreigner, regardless of the conquerors physical presence in the country. This they do by committing to safeguard the interests of the foreigner in his absence, entering into care taker contracts, marrying into the conquerors family, and by buying out the political dissidents in the community opposed to their rule. Dissidence can be taken care of with money, sending the dissidents overseas, or by killing them and their families. It can be explained away later.
The major domo needs to be close to the foreigner, so that he may take over the wealth and power of the foreigner, once the inevitable day of the foreigner’s permanent departure comes. This comes in stages as the foreigner’s rule of power slowly dwindles as he grows progressively richer. First, it is the big landlords that leave and turn over their estates to foreign managers/care-takers. As these managers also accumulate wealth they long for the comforts of home and in turn the cycle repeats itself as more and more foreign landowners/businesses become absentee landowners/businesses. Left behind are major domo’s to take care of the foreigner’s business interests. Many previously conquered countries today are ruled by elites who were once major domo’s and served the foreign occupiers. They usually maintain the language and culture of their former masters, are educated in the foreigners country and maintain ties with that country. Most of the time this ruling elite still requires the protection of their former conquerors.
Disclaimers: ( A whole lot of them)
In case you have not noticed, this paper is not an academic study. Nor does it claim to be historically accurate and precise, although all historical data & facts are correct. Substitute company for country and you have a setting very similar to one after merger and acquisition or hostile takeover activity involving your company.
This paper does not apply to one country or region. It is based on observed human behavior on different continents of the world that the writer has worked and lived in. People regardless of color, race, religion and sex are the same wherever you go. Like the people that work for them, companies are very similar to each other. It’s the small details that one gets to understand and appreciate in time that makes companies so different from each other. The appreciation of this fact is summarized in the word” experience”.