Sage Advice US

How to manage staffing for overseas expansion

Staffing for a US expansion should be easy. Considering the relative lack of barriers, aspirational UK businesses can simply create a plan, obtain approval, and then begin packing boxes for American shores. Considering most countries are expanding their teams here, you can too, right?

It’s not quite that simple.

International staffing plays an important role in obtaining, utilizing, and developing a team that can carry a brand’s culture and identity overseas, while at the same time, integrating effectively with the cultural and behavioral norms of its new region. Therefore, the company needs to deploy its international managerial resources effectively.

Here’s how and why you should apply all necessary resources to staffing before the expansion begins.

1. Establish a comprehensive team

Let’s first be clear about what we mean by “comprehensive.” Your expansion doesn’t necessarily need a large committee representing all company departments. But it’s good practice to have representatives from the parts of the business that will be most affected by the project, who can investigate, evaluate, make decisions, and take action.

Appoint one leader of the team who is not tasked with completing items specific to the transition, leaving the individual best placed as the team leader free to focus on the role of running US operations.

The leader can then jump in to resolve issues and make key decisions. You’ll want strong representatives from three areas—Finance, HR, and Legal—as the lion’s share of issues in any international expansion will be found there.

You’ll also want team members representing any of the departments expecting to hire personnel in the overseas office. Depending on the nature of the overseas operation (selling, servicing, or sourcing), this could include folks from Sales & Marketing, Customer Service, etc.

2. Make sure the team is balanced

Expatriates and local hires have different comparative advantages at different managerial tasks. When key managerial tasks are to implement and maintain existing company strategy, or to assist in teaching skills and company tenets across departments (if any), expats familiar with your culture and brand are often better choices.

If obtaining local knowledge and making local adaptation are crucial tasks for expansion, local hires should better fit these tasks, due to their understanding of regional norms, best practices and the like.

The need for local knowledge and adaptation is typically found more in consumer goods companies than in production, manufacturing and B2B focused services. In consumer goods industries, local resources, such as knowledge about consumer behaviors and business connections (such as distribution channels), are likely more resonant for the company and should be a primary focus before expansion.

3. Pick proven performers

When choosing team members, subject matter expertise is critical. But it is equally critical to ensure you choose and develop strong team players, as well. Their goal is to open a new, completely functioning operation, not deal solely with departmental issues. Working together will be key to your success, because almost every decision they will make will cut across departments.

Some representatives will have opposite perspectives on what is needed, so the ability to negotiate and compromise is essential. Something as simple as the choice between hiring US staff, or transitioning expats can have surprising, cross-departmental implications.

Everything from tax liability—theirs and yours—to transportation and housing must be planned and managed. Will employees be subject to foreign or domestic HR regulations? Will they need new equipment—mobile and office phones; laptops? Can they access domestic databases? Will they need local software?

The questions are plentiful, and the above examples are only the beginning. Having a team of proven “do-ers” will ease the transition.

4. Give the team autonomy over projects

Your team will be tasked with more than planning. In addition to laying the groundwork, your transition staff will be responsible for setting up operations, i.e., finding office space, acquiring equipment and supplies, building local staff, and even engaging local partners if applicable to the business.

It’s important that team members be given as much ownership of the process as possible. Take their advice on strategic issues, acknowledge smart decisions, and hold them accountable for the success of the new venture.

No matter how strong your internal team will be, there’s a very good chance that some or all of them will have not done a transition before, much less to the United States. Bringing in a specialist for international expansion, to help lead the team, will ensure they know what questions to ask and where to turn for answers.

Given the tax and regulatory issues you can face on both sides, you need someone who can help you weigh options from both perspectives, and find solutions that will be right for you.

When selecting this staff member, consider the following issues that might arise, regardless of what type of operation you open:

The process of staffing an expansion to the US is more complex, detail-oriented, and time-consuming than you may think. It takes a team of knowledgeable, experienced individuals to do this right. Not only can a larger HR team handle much of the logistical legwork, but it will also offer valuable perspectives during the process, helping you better map expansion planning.