Purpose – Multinationals have always needed an operating model that works – an effective plan for executing their most important activities at the right levels of their organization, whether globally, regionally or locally. The choices involved in these decisions have never been obvious, since international firms have consistently faced trade-offs between tailoring approaches for diverse local markets and leveraging their global scale. This paper seeks a more in-depth understanding of how successful firms manage the global-local trade-off in a multipolar world.
Design methodology/approach – This paper utilizes a case study approach based on in-depth senior executive interviews at several telecommunications companies including Tata Communications. The interviews probed the operating models of the companies we studied, focusing on their approaches to organization structure, management processes, management technologies (including information technology (IT)) and people/talent.
Findings – Successful companies balance global-local trade-offs by taking a flexible and tailored approach toward their operating-model decisions. The paper finds that successful companies, including Tata Communications, which is profiled in-depth, are breaking up the global-local conundrum into a set of more manageable strategic problems – what the authors call “pressure points” – which they identify by assessing their most important activities and capabilities and determining the global and local challenges associated with them. They then design a different operating model solution for each pressure point, and repeat this process as new strategic developments emerge. By doing so they not only enhance their agility, but they also continually calibrate that crucial balance between global efficiency and local responsiveness.
Originality/value – This paper takes a unique approach to operating model design, finding that an operating model is better viewed as several distinct solutions to specific “pressure points” rather than a single and inflexible model that addresses all challenges equally. Now more than ever, developing the right operating model is at the top of multinational executives' priorities, and an area of increasing concern; the international business arena has changed drastically, requiring thoughtfulness and flexibility instead of standard formulas for operating internationally. Old adages like “think global and act local” no longer provide the universal guidance they once seemed to.