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How can you effectively delegate work in Brazil?
Have you ever experienced a situation when you delegated work to your team in Brazil, only to find out weeks later that nothing had been done? If you are experiencing problems delegating in Brazil, keep reading this article.
Delegating in Brazil
Here is a typical situation. You travel to Brazil, walk into a room to meet your local team, describe your strategy and work out all the details. At the end of the day, you ask your team if the scope is clear and if anyone has any further questions. Everyone nods their head positively. You take your plane back to home and feel that great sense of accomplishment. “We had a very productive time in Brazil.” You tell your CEO.
Four weeks later, you arrive back in Brazil for your monthly visit and realize nothing has been done.
Nothing… Nada… Zip… Zilch… Zero… Zed!
What was lost in translation? You are shocked and have no idea how to get things back together.
How to Get Things Done in Brazil
Every time you tell people in Brazil what to do, you always get that strange sense that not much will actually be accomplished. You know this from experience, right?
Brazilians have a terrible time saying “no!”, which makes delegating a very tricky situation. There is always that question in the back of your mind, “Are these folks in the meeting room nodding because they know what they are supposed to do or are they just pretending?” You’re always hesitant when committing to any project timelines.
So, here is a delegation technique you can use in your projects. I learned this unique tool in a management training program by Mauricio de Souza Lima, an expert in management issues. This has literally resolved most of the delegation issues I had in Brazil. I have slightly changed his approach, based on my own experience, and here is the sequence of steps I currently use.
#1 Know what you need from your team
First and foremost, you need to know what needs to done before delegating it. You need to have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish, before communicating it to your team.
Have clear objectives.
Formulate your objectives and identify what you know and what you don’t. This way, you will know what’s required and be able to discover the best way to assign it to your team. Being results driven will save an enormous amount of effort and promote a better alignment between you and your team.
#2 Ask every person on your team, “Do you think this is really necessary?”
Explain the work that needs to be done to your team. Carefully look at each person’s face and ask if the task you are requesting is really necessary.
Ask: “Do you think this is really necessary?”
Do they think this is essential for their work? Is it something really required, that they really need?
Listen carefully, because if you don’t get a unqualified “yes!” it means you are getting a “no”. In other words, if they giving a hesitant “sort of…”, “ummm…yeah, I guess…” it means they don’t think what you are proposing is necessary.
Note that, in terms of commitment, there is no way something can be half required, half necessary. It’s like being pregnant. It’s impossible to be half pregnant. If you are getting half-yeses, you’ll need to investigate. People are only half committed, and that’s not good.
The rule is: one will do something only when they are convinced that what they are doing is essentially necessary.
If your staff tells you that a given task may not really be required, listen carefully to what they are saying. What you are proposing may be one of those redundant tasks that no one knows why is being done.
Don’t try forcing work that is considered unnecessary down their throats. They simply won’t do it. They’ll tell you they will, but won’t.
Listen first to what they have to say before coming to any conclusions. There might be a good reason why something is actually not required. They can save you tons of money by letting you know that some reports or tasks are useless. Your work is to validate their rationale and change your strategy accordingly.
#3 Ask every person on your team, “Do you know how to do it?”
You might assume that everyone is fully trained in their responsibilities in the organization. Don’t take their knowledge for granted. When delegating in Brazil, you should always ask your employees if they have the skills and resources to do what you are asking them to do.
Ask: “Do you presently have the skills necessary to do the task?”
I had some very interesting surprises when asking this simple question. In one of my projects, I assumed that everyone on the team had similar skills. When I asked that question, one of my employees raised her hand and said she didn’t know how to structure one of the research papers I had assigned her. This was very timely because I had the chance to pair her up with someone else on the team who did this type of work very efficiently. Subsequently, she learned a new skill and in the next round of work, she was already trained in that area.
Your team will also no longer fear saying they don’t know something. People need to feel empowered to learn and not to feel ashamed of not having a certain skill. It will help your team to grow.
#4 Ask each one on your team, “Are you the right person for this assignment?”
When someone doesn’t think they are responsible for the task, they will be in conflict with other people on their team. Or, they may feel they are not getting their fair share of the work.
Ask: “Should you be the person responsible for doing this task?”
If the person is OK with the task, it has been delegated. You are done!
However if the person, scrunches up their nose, watch out…carefully. At this point, you should consider opening up on task ownership and let the person know what other people are doing. For instance:
“Ok, we are working as a team. You know that Joe is doing “this” and Mary is doing “that”. Why do you think you should be doing nothing?”
You will be surprised with the responses you get, “Oh! I didn’t know they were doing “this” and “that”!”
#5 Check your managerial attitude
This delegation strategy won’t work if you don’t believe the responsibility for doing the work belongs to the people you just delegated it to.
If anyone doesn’t do their work, what will be the repercussions? Some employees are very smart and know if they don’t do the work they are assigned, nothing bad happens. In that case, not delivering doesn’t bear any negative consequences – which is very bad from a managerial perspective.
Everyone on your team should be accountable for what they own… even if they are in a land far, far away, like Brazil.
Next time you delegate in Brazil, follow these five simple steps:
- Have your objectives clear in your mind.
- “Do you think this is really necessary?”
- “Do you know how to do the task?”
- “Should you be the person responsible for doing this task?”
- Keep an eye on your managerial attitude.
Know clearly what you want to get done and make sure everyone is accountable for their piece of the pie.
Let’s have a conversation. Leave a comment with your experience delegating to a team that is far away from you. Join me now in this discussion!
Photo credits: Renato Targa
I remember having my first contact with Stephen R. Covey’s ideas when I was an early university student. I can tell you, reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was one of those books that had a substantial impact on the way I did things in Brazil.
Recently I had the chance to re-read the 7 Habits. As everything you revisit in life, you can imagine how much more content I was able absorb, based on the experience and maturity I gained since the last time I read it. So, I decided to share a summary with you of some important tips on how to apply the 7 habits in the context of doing business in Brazil.
Habit #1: Be Proactive
In the Brazilian workplace, this is where things get absolutely complicated. The tendency to let things go until later is a known.
I bet you have already seen many fires to put out coming from your Brazilian subsidiary. It is almost like having to kill a lion every day. If you don’t kill today’s lion, tomorrow there will be two of them waiting for you during your first hour of work in São Paulo.
There are things you can control. But there are also those crazy last minute changes, like Real currency fluctuations or new changes to IOF taxation. A prime example of Brazilian-style “planning” was the recent attempts to change the Daylight Saving Time period in the midst of the Brazilian Water Crisis. In short, the government considering extending Daylight Savings a couple weeks before its pre-stablished end. I’m sure if this had been implemented would have provoked panic for all project managers involved in just-in-time operations across the country.
There will be a bunch of things you’ll have no control over in Brazil. However, there are also a fair amount of actions you can control in your organization. And that has everything to do with your ability to plan and make conscious choices.
Instead of letting that customary reactive attitude take over the working environment, foster a culture where people should consciously make decisions and be responsible for them. Tell your Brazilian employees that they can and should do both, agree and disagree with you. Let them know that they shouldn’t wait for your blessing for every small decision in the organization.
Let your employees in Brazil know they need to be proactive in their decisions and act on things they can control in the organization.
Make clear choices when working with your staff in Brazil, so the organization is in line with your global strategy. Your employees should also own their fair share of responsibility over the results they are getting. Mind you that you may think this may be obvious to everyone, but it isn’t in Brazil!
Habit #2: Begin with an End in Mind
Before entering the Brazilian market, I’m sure you had a very good business case. It takes time and effort to invest in a foreign country. Results are not expected, they are a necessity since no one would invest in something that would yield dismal returns.
But, when was the last time you reviewed your strategic goals for Brazil?
How long has that costly strategic analysis that you did a few months ago – the one with the amazing goals and graphics – been collecting dust inside your drawer? Strategies should change and be fine-tuned on an ongoing basis. This is the essence to constantly evolve your international organization.
Do you feel your goals aren’t that clear anymore? That’s probably because you haven’t been reviewing them often enough. How can you steer your projects below the equator in the right direction when you don’t know where you want to be?
You should allocate time to check how you are doing towards reaching your goals. The more you do it, the sharper they become. That image built in your mind with the end in mind gets closer and closer to reality. That’s how your goals trickle down to all levels of your organization, in everyone’s mind, especially to employees who are thousands of miles always. By having your goals clear in your mind, you can clearly communicate them.
Know where you want to get with your initiatives in Brazil and let your employees in Brazil know it. Establish clear priorities so that all people clearly know them.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
You may not be able to accomplish everything you need to. Ok, this is not news to you, so I’ll get straight to my point.
To get things done you need to optimise your execution so the important things get done and your goals are accomplished, right?
Interestingly enough, you’ll see a fair amount of executives and employees in Brazil working an unusual number of hours, continuously burning the midnight oil – an endless pattern of late night office workers and weekenders.
“Well, that happens everywhere,” you may argue, “it’s the unfortunate nature of business.”
However, continuous overtime is one of the top items in the list of employee claims when they go to court – in fact, Labor & Employment Liability is one of the major operational risks you will face in Brazil.
If overtime is done for legitimate reasons in your organization, fine! But if not, this is a recipe for an expensive legal bill that can potentially land on your desk.
Chronic overtime in your office in Brazil is an indication that your staff’s priorities are not clear. It is a sign that people may not be working on things that are important.
To correct the situation, talk to your local managers and stablish an approval process for controlling overtime. You will also need to meet more often with them and establish a clearer set of priorities. They should be focused on working on what’s really important.
Habit #4: Think Win-Win
Establishing win-win relationships in Brazil is one of the most challenging things, in my opinion. That’s not easy, not to mention, something far from trivial to be implemented.
In Brazilian business life, you will encounter a lot of mistrust and suspicion. People will smile, feverously shake your hand and hug you, but when it comes to doing business… no one trusts anyone… not even their own mothers.
This is because culturally Brazilians have problems saying “no” and they often tend to exaggerate in their promises. Knowing if someone is committed to doing things is also a difficulty. You never know if a deal went through until it was completely implemented and the greenbacks were deposited in your bank account.
Just for comparison, when working in Canada and the US, I was able to work on projects with the minimum amount of paperwork. It’s as simple as sending a proposal with the scope of work, verbally agreeing, the customer saying “Let’s start.” and off we are to the races, doing the work.
In Brazil… most times, you spend more time discussing the contract and having it notarized, stamped and gosh knows what else, then actually doing the work.
In that type of environment, it’s hard to know if you are building a win-win relationship. It takes a long time to develop relationships and get to know people well enough before you reach a real atmosphere of mutual trust.
You will find, more often than not, business operating in a very competitive mode, rather than being collaborative in the search for win-win solutions. You’ll clearly experience that, when closing contracts, your negotiation counterpart will endlessly insist on bargaining positions instead of trying to reach a mutually beneficial solution.
The only way out is to build long lasting relationships and find the right type of local partners who can think of long term solutions. When you find them, you’ve struck gold for sure!
Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Communication is the most vital skill you will need in order to operate in Brazil. This goes beyond learning the local language, trying to speak Spanglish or learn Portuguese. It relates to understanding the intricacies of the Brazilian context and being able to communicate your points clearly.
Those of us in managerial positions, and I purposely include myself here, want to get things done. We are keeners. We want to see results, because this is the essence of what set us apart from other professionals and that opens new doors to greater opportunities.
However, there is a problem with that approach. We tend to see things from our own point of view and forget to take the time to understand the roots of the issues we are dealing with.
To get better results, you need to very cognisant of your own experiences and make sure you are not seeing things solely from your own point of view. In Brazil, especially, you will pay special attention to details: digging to find the true underlying issues.
When issues arise in your Brazilian project, take the time to understand the parties involved and don’t rely blindly on your experience. Don’t judge before you take a closer look and listen to people.
If something important happened on the ground, go there and talk to people. Don’t blindly rely on messengers and intermediaries. Even if you know something may be true, if it’s important enough, reach out to your network and ask for help. Understand first, before communicating.
Habit #6: Synergize
Synergizing is to think “Two heads thing better than one.” This is to work as a team and together find solutions for the problems you encounter.
The formula I found that works the best to build synergy with people in Brazil is – strangely enough – small talk. Ask everyone you meet: “Hey, how’s it going?” Ask about their goals, their children, their struggles and their soccer team. Do that before saying anything about your own work and interests. Ask about how their business is doing or is not doing.
You will be surprised how much information you can get. It is as if you have opened the book of their lives.
Note that this is not an attempt to waste time or invade their privacy. It is the fastest route to getting to know the person better and finding ways you can collaborate. It works like magic, unlocking a great deal of information about the person and their business. This is an extremely powerful tool to get things done in Brazil.
The key point here is that, knowing that you are interested in their objectives, they will be much more interested on your objectives. And that is the fastest path to synergizing…
Habit #7: Sharpen the Saw
Well, now that you have heard a few things you can change in your organization in Brazil, it’s time for the last and most important habit: In Brazil, never take growth for granted.
A great Canadian friend of mine used to say that if your business is not expanding, if it looks quite stable, it means it is actually going down. This is very wise counsel and I always keep it at the forefront of my mind when working in Brazil.
Brazil reinvents itself every 10 years or so. Alternating between critical and booming periods, Brazil rewards those who stay long term in the country. Check out the history of Volkswagen and Honda and you’ll see exactly that.
There is still lots to be done there and to be improved in Brazil.
If you want to make a difference in Brazil, bring a constant renewal mindset to your Brazilian team and ask them to join you getting better and better on everything they do. I’m sure this will be time well invested, and a very rewarding experience.
That’s it. Stephen R. Covey did an amazing job writing a timeless classis on working effectively. More and more I find that the issues we face in our modern world are not nation specific. Most of the advice I give could be well utilized in other Latin American countries, perhaps even in other countries around the world. We live in a constant changing world that requires business leaders with a high level of integrity to make a difference in the lives of the many people who work with them and for them.
Join the conversation, leave a comment and let me know what else you think would be important to help an overseas investor work more efficiently in Brazil.
Photo credits: Stephan Mosel
With the Petrobras and related issues, will there be a mass exodus of foreign investment in the country? That’s a question many overseas investors in Brazil are asking themselves.
Immediate Impact: Investment Slowdown
When we talk about what’s going on in Brazil right now, we should take into consideration that we don’t have an issue exclusively with Petrobras. Other areas have also been contaminated by the company’s crisis.
The scandal, which started with an investigation of the suspicious sale of the Pasadena, Texas refinery in the US, snowballed into one of the greatest corruption schemes in Brazilian history. Now Petrobras’ problems are just the tip of the iceberg of a growing crisis that is spreading in Brazil.
In reality, the Petrobras crisis earthquake had a considerable impact in Brazil, but its aftershocks are proving to be even worse, affecting many other important areas:
- Economic Impact: Petrobras has a large ecosystem of suppliers and providers. Oil and gas projects suspended by Petrobras are impacting companies that depend directly from this oil giant to exist. This has been an extra push downhill to the finances of companies that were already in peril in the last few months.
- Political Impact: A large number of politicians were allegedly involved in the bribery scheme, causing a huge impact on how politics is done in the country. The Brazilian legislature is now moving towards in an imminent confidence crisis.
- Infrastructure Investments Impact: The largest construction companies in Brazil were involved in the Petrobras scandal. This means that if they are found guilty, they will no longer be able to provide any more services to the government. If these large companies are at risk, who, in this case, will be implementing the much needed infrastructure renewal programs in Brazil?
- Public Perception: Calls for an impeachment of Pres. Dilma Roussef are growing louder. A number of demonstrations are being organized through the social media. An increased number of demonstrations, road blockades and the disruption of transportation systems are expected in the next few months.
Fearing a deepening in the economic crisis in Brazil, foreign investors are already considering divesting their current investment positions in Brazil and withholding new initiatives. This will be the immediate trend until things become clearer from a political and economic point of view.
Midterm Impact: Long-term Projects Suspended
Personally I don’t think there won’t be a mass exodus of foreign investment from Brazil. If there were any kind of exodus, it may already have happen last year when companies realized that 2015 would be, simply put, a terrible year.
Noticeably, many companies decided to trim down their presence in Brazil, especially with the number of reports with the prognostics of the Brazilian Economy in 2015. Knowing that the year ahead would be a difficult one, many overseas companies decided to trim down their businesses, laying off unnecessary project related staff and maintaining only essential employees.
Most of these companies worked out very detailed contingency plans, and adjusted their pace according to their industry prognostics. Thus, they put multi-year initiatives on hold.
Long-Term Impact: Higher Country Risk
All that is happening in Brazil right now brings uncertainty to what will come next to the country. The effort to put the Brazilian locomotive back on track will be considerable. That’s a fact. As a result, the situation will also bring an increase in the country risk to any long-term investments.
The next chapter of this saga will be defining how long Brazil will stand until it loses it investment grade. This would be the greatest negative impact Petrobras could bring to the country.
Overseas companies will look closely at any investments in the Brazilian market before committing funds to future projects. All this uncertainty will bring more volatility and more risk to long-term investments in Brazil.
Currency Slide: Increased M&A Opportunities
Regardless of the immediate slowdown and the long-term risks in Brazil, I believe there will be a segment that will greatly profit from the current situation in Brazil: the Merger & Acquisitions sector.
Companies looking into entering the Brazilian market, such as in the agriculture, logistics and real estate business, will have a chance to inject dollars into the Brazilian economy and have a decent bang for their buck. They have a strong appetite for venture opportunities and enjoy a fair bit of risk taking.
These are companies that have been putting capital aside for potential acquisitions and are looking for the right time to enter the market. They are primarily focusing on very long-term gains. What’s going on now is a great window of opportunity to acquire new assets in Brazil.
I believe there will be a considerable increase in M&A transactions this year in Brazil. First, because the Real has been considerably depreciated, dollars are worth gold here. Second, interest rates in Brazil are very high and local companies are struggling to finance their operations, an additional cash injection will be a breath of fresh air for them. And third, the real profitable opportunities will surface because any company with average performance will struggle in this current market.
Note that this is not investment advice, but just my observations of how the crisis in one of the main Brazilian companies is impacting the overall economy and politics.
Anyway, I guess Brazilians will need to brace for impact in 2015 and wait for the remaining parts of the Petrobras scandal to unfold. The good news is that sooner or later things will get back to normal.
I hope we have better news in the future. Oh, I did I tell you we’ll have the Olympics in Rio next year? Just a reminder that there is a lot more to come in this true Brazilian soap opera.
Leave your comment. What is your take on the current situation in Brazil? Let’s start a conversation.
Photo credits: Richard Collinson