Global ROI Part 2 – The Zen of Opting to Do Nothing

 

Last week I started this article series on ROI and received some great feedback. We started with the premise that there are other impediments to going forward in expanding internationally than just having a great deck and spreadsheet, by exploring the first great barrier to obtaining international growth – the costs to decide.

This week we dig in to the next great barrier, and the singular wholesomeness of instead opting to do nothing. Sounds more exciting than the simple reality of opting to focus on other things, and fulfilling our brains need to drop things off the priority stack that we can’t actually juggle. Some of these things may not apply to the organization you find yourself in, or have less visibility than others.

Often the quickest answer, and most likely the best option from an expense point of view, is to reject requests without making any effort to understand them. You may also get to this point through careful analysis, but 95% of the time you will get here quickly with no paddle in sight.

You may have experienced this from an exec, or a finance or operations person in the past. It may have been frustrating, seemed terrible, and reduced your global footprint, but it was also likely the best decision they could have made.

So, let’s take on another assumption: If this is your executive team, if this is your board, if this is you manager – your main target group for fulfilling your needs is generally unreceptive to new asks.  I have to be super honest here, asks from content and localization teams take a much lower priority than asks from product, marketing or engineering. In turn, these asks take on a lower priority than asks from a customer – they are the ones your business was formed to have after all.

Planning Priorities Properly

Let’s consider a hypothetical organization that takes on a partner who happens to be a dominating multinational firm. Work is identified that needs to be accomplished to complete the contractual terms and keep the customer happy. The initial deal and ROI were built on the dollars on the table vs the product and engineering effort to fulfill it, in all likelihood. No dollars were allocated for content or localization. So Finance reached into their pockets and funded these teams to deliver. Planned spend, planned revenue, set an expectation with Wall Street, and went off to the races.

If, three months later, you are coming to the table and asking to create the in-language components, you are essentially coming to the table telling smart folks with some ego that they messed up. Or, that you did. That the organization may miss target earnings for the quarter, year, etc. No one likes a gun to the head decision.

You have already missed the important timing window that would have enabled you to get what you needed, when the deal analysis was running. Likely localization wasn’t involved, and to avoid being an exception, and getting into the stream, you need more than to be an impediment to success. You need to become aware of these deals, and you can. It is not instant however and some work finding and tracking data is needed.

Let’s make that paddle to get back into the stream.

To start – track what costs were explicit to these exceptions, and if you received funding for them.

Share these details with your leadership and finance teams – start with finance. Either you still need some money or a good explanation of why you blew your budget. After this happens more than once, finance will usually be very happy to work to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Including fostering your needs to be involved in corporate deal making to account for the cost of going global, rather than creating a problem for them, again and again, where expected margins, release dates, or expected costs could not be reached. This is deeply unhealthy for your companies future.

In this case the paddle is made of 2 things – data, and the will to increase financial governance from both the finance org as well as your own. With finance as a willing partner, it becomes much easier to tackle the next 2 elements and to change their zen of doing nothing to the zen of action. Also, to reinforce the ongoing need of involvement to keep everyone doing the right things and the budgets and margins on track.

The same paddle gets you to the table with planning and prioritization of internally driven work, if your organization has not already included going global in core planning. Often expense is quite reactionary, and good visibility is simply part of solving the problem.

Are you Dying your Hair?

Another significant reason these fall lower in priority is that typical localization organizations do not have consistent, predictable spend, and transact on unique basis compared to other parts of larger organizations. To many budget controllers, this creates a view they are not good stewards of this part of a business or operate in a less mature business model. Although this may not be accurate, it has a huge impact across the industry.

Most people outside of the global industry don’t believe that needing to have deep expertise in the globalization business to be successful is a strength.

If you have been feeling “red-headed” in some meetings, you should ask yourself if you are dying your own hair. Unfortunately solving this is a repetitive process, and you will have to explain it again and again over time just like introducing our friend the Translation Memory, or sharing how MT works.

Inheriting a lot of word-count-based variables into your ROI equation will make them more brittle and prone to problems. At both very low and very large volumes of localization work, things like per-word metrics and pricing can become fairly meaningless. You may also consider adopting more common business models with your localization suppliers, it has a lot of other benefits besides not having to explain how you do business as often.

Inheriting Credibility

There is a huge potential for BS in ROI models, I’m pretty sure a lot of people understand this potential for BS. The more complicated the calculation, the harder it tends to be to communicate, and the more likely some error will invalidate the whole thing. Simpler proofs with fewer assumptions are more impactful and more credible (but they can still be wrong).

If, you have made finance your friend, your models can greatly benefit. Using data and models previously acceptable by the decision making bodies in your organization will both make global expansion models more robust with real data, and will provide the basis of successful models from the past.

Combined, these will greatly reduce the overhead to decide for not only these reasons, but lends immediate credibility. If the finance team produces credible data based on credible models and has spent a lot of time honing their skills in presenting these simply and actionably, they have an enormous amount to offer. By using these models, patterns and data you inherit some of the credibility of it’s sources. By spending the time with finance, you raise your own credibility with them on your outcome, and as a bonus generally learn if there are any snowballs with chances in reaching your goals, or if the other priorities competing for attention and resources are simply going to overwhelm any asks you have.

If your numbers are believable and drive better goals than other initiatives, it could easily be that finance becomes a backer, or can tell you when to bail out before spending more time. When to save the ask, and build an ROI case later when the time will be valuable rather than worse than wasteful. When a huge effort will result in no action, doing the work to formulate a great ask is a revenue loss each time. Asking again and again for the same thing magnifies the diminishing returns of each ask.

More often than not we don’t make progress on these types of goals because it was best to dismiss the request without analysis. When the cost of inaction is zero, it is often the best choice.  Timing is so significant here it cannot be stressed enough. If it’s not going to be the right time, bail out. Embrace the zen of inaction and the other priorities at hand.

In fact this will make you more credible, and reduce the costs to decide in the future, making it higher ROI to defer decision making. This in turn changes the cost of action vs other potential investment over any span of time.

You will also form the basis for the value of your credibility factor in your equations. If cost to decide today is 400 hours, and tomorrow it will likely be 100 hours, your credibility has a value of no less than 300 effort hours. If a decision is needed from teams above, these 300 hours may cost significantly more than 300 of your salaried hours. If from lower totem-pole people, you may be the most expensive human component of the decision, in either case – it’s real money and measurable.

Now, don’t overly fool yourself here, cost avoidance cases are usually a pack of lies. But this and more are simply bringing us to the next points – Tradeoffs and Priorities – coming up next time.

-Ben (ben@spartansoftwareinc.com)