27-May-2017

Regional Heads of Business

As a regional head of business you are in a uniquely difficult position, especially if your company operates as a matrix. On one hand, you must lead the management team who report to you and, through them, lead all the employees in the region under your "command".

Even though your title may be "regional head" you will most likely have people in your area who feel greater loyalty to the functional boss in head office, not to you or the region. Hence, by default, your leadership of the region may be questioned by the people whom you must lead.

At the same time, you must deal with your peers around the world, as well as senior people in a head office who may not even understand you work in a different time zone.

Case Study

Background

A senior manager from the US had just taken up a position to head a multi-national bank's Asian regional business. He was given the job because of his strong managerial skills and ability to "kick an organization into shape." The first problem he faced was immediate resistance to his leadership by the people in Asia. For one thing, he represented changes that they didn't like. For another, the changes he proposed needed people to understand concepts and processes that, unfortunately, were lacking in Asia. He had signed up to be a manager, but (unknowingly) was faced with the job of teacher.

Over several years, he forced through changes he believed were necessary - but at a high cost. Respect for his leadership evaporated, initiative and motivation decreased, and he found it increasingly difficult to get momentum behind major business initiatives necessary to remain competitive.

Frequently, his calls to action were ignored because his "direct reports" actually checked with their bosses in head office first, and the responses they got did not align with what the regional head wanted to achieve.

Realizing he had reached stalemate, the senior manager called Chris Lonsdale & Associates to assist.

The Process

The process used to address this situation began with a six-month coaching program for the Regional Head. Coaching focused on helping him explore the differences between managing in the United States, and the very different role he was expected to play in Asia. He came to understand that he faced a skill gap that couldn't simply be fixed by hiring new people: the skills and thinking that he was used to really didn't exist in this market. At this point his attention shifted to developing his management team.

In the second phase of the process, as the coaching process was extended, we moved to developing the senior management team. Chris Lonsdale was engage to design and facilitate a series of management offsite meetings, as well as participate in occasional routine business meetings. Coaching was also extended to some members of the senior management team supporting the Regional Head, to develop skills previously not present.

The Results

Over a few months, relationships within the team moved from being adversarial to cooperative. As the perceived safety level in the work environment improved, team members began to take more risks and give more direct feedback to the Regional Head about his management style. This feedback helped him further modify his approach, tailoring it more effectively to the needs of his team.

Old problems that had been endemic to the business started to get addressed and solved, one by one. In less than 18 months, this resulted in a significant improvement in all key measures of the business.

In summary, the results can be described very simply. The leader got better. The team began to talk. The matrix started to become manageable. The business won.

Are you a leader of a regional business, with matrix issues and issues of cross border and cross cultural communication? If you feel that you could benefit from expert support and guidance in these matters, your first step is to sign up as a FREE CLA member today.