Aperian Global turns 30 years old this month. As part of this anniversary, we thought we could share some of our key lessons learned over the past three decades – covering what we’ve seen and where we’re going.
Don’t forget where you came from. We started off distributing videotapes — actual VHS tapes — to different companies, focusing initially on business practices in Japan and China. Go ahead, young people, ask your parents about these mysterious “VHS” tapes. Today, we may deliver our insights virtually — but the spirit of learning, discovery, and breaking down barriers is still the same, and there is a demand for high-quality digital video content.
Cash flow is important. While we both knew a lot about Japan, we had to learn a lot in a hurry about financial management. It turns out, as we learned the hard way, strong sales projections for next month don’t necessarily mean that you can afford to pay yourself this month with the cash on hand! We are now very grateful for our finance team and their professional approach to keeping our organization financially healthy.
Diversity can spark creativity. Our two founders are very different individuals: extrovert and introvert, intuitive and analytical, tools-oriented and consultative. Employees sometimes worried when they disagreed. However, having such differences on our initial team, and many more diverse voices and backgrounds as the company has expanded, has been a powerful creative force so long as we have also been aligned around a common purpose.
Good people will come. At first, we had to beg people to join us while explaining that we couldn’t really pay them very much beyond what they could produce themselves. But as the company began to gather momentum, smart, dedicated people found their way to our door, and many have now been with us for a decade or more. We deeply appreciate each person’s contributions and believe that something we do offer is a profession that one can take pride in and feel good about working at each day.
Looking within your own organization can help to better understand your clients. We have all of our clients’ challenges — different time zones, remote team members, matrix reporting relationships, subsidiary legal structures, and more. Having first-hand knowledge of what they’re going through has helped us provide a true helping hand to the companies we work with. Learning to “Practice what you preach” has been frustrating, rewarding, and instructive — sometimes all in the same day.
Listen to clients — and expand your business to match. We have always paid close attention to what our clients were looking for. Based on their requests, we gradually added people and materials to address the additional countries and business objectives that were high priorities for them. These now include a variety of locations in the global south as well as in North America, Europe, and Asia, and critical tasks such as running a global team or post-Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) integration.
Provide flexible client support during times of crisis. We take pride in being able to adapt and to continue supporting clients during times of turmoil such as the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the tragedy of 9/11, the recession in 2008-9, and now the pandemic of 2020. We’ve seen a number of crises over the years; our resilience, flexibility, and agility have been critical in supporting global organizations through these crises.
Never give up. There have been many difficult times when we could have found reasons to quit. We’ve seen competitors come and go, generational transformations in technology, the need for major new investments, and even very large clients that have stumbled (remember Kodak or Digital Equipment?). But we have stuck together, supported each other, and worked our way through each challenge.
It’s incredible to see how much the world has changed. When Aperian Global started the company in 1990, the internet barely existed. There still seemed to be plenty of unknowns hidden beyond borders and across oceans. Technology and the web bulldozed many of those borders – but there’s still so much complexity and opportunity for those willing to embrace new experiences.
Countries really are different. What is top of mind for organizations based in North America is not necessarily the same for those in Europe, Africa, Latin America, or Asia. One country may be focused on race and ethnicity, while another is preoccupied with tension over immigration and the integration of refugees, and a third is dealing with creating greater workforce opportunities and pay equity for women.
D&I efforts can be a powerful tool for recruitment. We’ve seen a talented younger generation come into the workforce armed with a mindset towards social justice, diversity, and equity, and the ability to pick and choose their employer. Highlighting your organization’s inclusive culture can be a game-changer for the talent of tomorrow.
Many fundamental client challenges are still the same. Even though the world has gotten smaller, some of the same fundamental problems are still there. There are still misunderstandings based upon different assumptions, expectations, and life experiences, and there’s still a real need for bridge-building in order to overcome these differences.
Trust and loyalty are fundamental values. Although these may be expressed in various ways, we have always tried to be open about our company’s direction, our financial situation, and the importance of clients’ input. Along the way, we have had to make tough decisions about where to invest and where changes are necessary, people we want to keep and some whom we must let go. And there are many life events that have happened, too, as the number of employees increased: personal challenges, illnesses, new children. We have always tried to be as loyal as possible to our people around the world, and they have usually rewarded us with tremendous loyalty in return.
Inclusion efforts will be a foundational element for many global organizations. The push for diverse voices within global companies — including within the C-Suite — will become a fundamental part of organizational growth strategies. Companies that don’t push for this type of diverse growth run the risk of being left behind in many different ways.
Technology evolves quickly. Thanks to requests from our clients to put our content on the web, we were pioneers in creating the online GlobeSmart platform — Version 1.0 was introduced in 2000, and we have gone through a number of major platform upgrades since then, with the most recent one just completed. We’ve also had to adjust in bringing more training practices and other services online and quickly moved our programs towards an all-virtual environment during the COVID pandemic. The reason we were able to pull this off so quickly? Our experience. We delivered our first “Virtual Teaming” program all the way back in 2005 and have been expanding this virtual work ever since. In these times of rapid changes, looking ahead (and adjusting) to industry trends is critical.
Aperian Global wouldn’t be what it is without the people that make up our team. We now deliver client services in more than 60 countries around the world and 14 languages. We couldn’t do what we do without the best group of people in the industry behind us. Our hats are off to you for these 30 great years.
The integration of “inclusion” and “culture” is growing. It’s clear that forward-thinking organizations can’t be inclusive on a global scale without understanding cultural similarities and differences — and that the intercultural world needs to take into account issues such as race and ethnicity. Companies need to have strategies and tools in place to bridge those differences.
A focus on virtual collaboration is here to stay. In the post-COVID world, we’ll see some movement back to traditional, in-person business practices for key events — but it won’t ever be the same. The pandemic of 2020 just accelerated what was already a rapid move towards virtual working relationships, meetings, collaboration, training, and much more. Companies need to stay on that cutting edge, or they’ll permanently fall behind.
“Bite-sized” learning will continue to grow in popularity. Shorter attention spans + a growing preference for and familiarity with online teaching makes short, “bite-sized” learning modules a preferred solution for growth and development within a global organization. Global organizations should look for tools and support that can provide these customizable, easily-understood “bite-sized” learning efforts.
Greater bandwidth is a boon for learning and virtual communication. As internet speeds get faster and faster — and expands further and further on the map — learning opportunities and virtual communication will match its pace. The greater the bandwidth, the better the connection (literally and figuratively).
Having a worthwhile mission will continue to be important. Aperian Global started as a joint venture between two interculturalists; thirty years later, we’ve grown to over 100 people across seven global offices, continuing on our mission to help global organizations succeed across boundaries.
We embark on our next thirty years with a straightforward mission statement: To bridge boundaries through a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. While our mission language may change, the core concepts at the heart of what we do — rooted in the best interests of all humanity — will always stay the same. We’re proud of what we’ve done over the past thirty years, and we look forward to what the next decades will bring.