Successful Internationalisation of your organisation

Correctly managing the Europeanisation or internationalisation of an organisation is a complex task. This process can open up a wide range of benefits, but also involves many challenges (5 benefits and 5 challenges are summarised here). Do not hesitate to learn from the experiences of others: be inspired by their success stories and do not reproduce their mistakes. Identify organisations which you know that have been successful in this field, since some of them might be able to give you concrete tips to accompany the ones on this page.

Most of the 10 tips outlined below arise from a combination of the experience and expertise of the partner organisations of the “Europeanisation” project and a survey on the internationalisation of educational organisations. This survey, conducted between May and July 2015, involved 520 people from more than 30 countries, including all of the EU Member States. The condensed statistical report from this online survey can be found here.

Top 10 Tips

1. Find reliable international partners from within your nearest circle of contacts

It is always difficult to approach unknown organisations ex nihilo and solicit them for future teamwork.

Begin by looking within your immediate circle of cooperation: identify which members of your staff have personal contacts abroad and ask them who they would recommend as future partners.
Then ask your current national or local partners whether they work with international partners that they could recommend. Re-establish contact with the members of former partnerships if applicable. In general, this method has led to particular success when it comes to finding reliable partners.

If you need to search beyond your first or second circle of contacts, professional social networks such as LinkedIn have proven their effectiveness. We recommend browsing the existing topic groups that are created and managed by users. The group “EU Projects Partner Search” alone, for example, contains more than 32,000 members. The group for our “Europeanisation” project gained 800 members within one week of being set up.

Alternatively, the European Union offers a wide range of databases where potential partners can be seen and contacted. Because of the vast size of these databases, we recommend that you work with a strategic and methodical approach.

The first database is the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), a network of 600 chambers of commerce and industry, technology centres, universities and development agencies whose goal is to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) “make the most of business opportunities in the EU and beyond”. Since this network covers all EU countries and almost 40 non-EU countries, your first step is to identify your local point of contact. Having done this, contact their advisors and briefly describe your Europeanisation or internationalisation project to them so that they can give you further recommendations.
The opposite approach works well if you are looking for partners based in a specific target country. If you are a German SME specialised in adult education, for example, you could ask the Hungarian EEN members (such as the CSMKIK in Szeged) to recommend Hungarian companies with similar profiles to your own.

Alternatively, go to the SME internationalisation portal.
Members of the adult education sector can also browse the “partner search” engine of the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe. Those active in research and development fields can use the Community Research and Development Information Service website’s search engine. Those working in the youth sector can search the Otlas database.

The above is a non-exhaustive list of official tools offered by the European Commission. All of them are based on the voluntary registration of their users.

Another method for finding reliable partners could be to use the EU’s two transparency tools which are obligatory for their members. The first tool is the database of EU funds beneficiaries (for grants and contracts), and the second is the register of organisations representing interests on the European scene. This second tool is mandatory for lobbying organisations but is also open to a variety of profit-making, non-profit and public organisations which are active in any EU field of interest and based in any country. Some members are umbrella organisations, such as the European Association for the Education of Adults which represents national associations for adult education in almost 50 countries. It is possible that one of these could be your next partner. Even if not, you can use these associations as intermediaries to reach further organisations.

2. Rely on your English-speaking staff

Apart from very specific forms of cooperation such as regional cross-border project work, the most common working language in international and European partnerships is English. Alongside French and German, English is also the usual working language of EU institutions, despite their concern for multilingualism.

Organisations which have an internationalisation strategy must therefore train their key staff to speak English or promote their English-speaking staff to central positions. If both of these options take too long or are too expensive or risky for you, then you could recruit new staff who already have these skills.
Partnering with neighbouring countries that share your language is also an option if working in English would be problematic. To help you assess the level of your staff’s language skills you could use European applicable standards such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or the Language Passport, both of which are compatible with the Europass CV. Alongside this, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) are the most renowned English language tests.

3. Seize the opportunity of EU funding

Seize the opportunity of EU funding for your Europeanisation or internationalisation strategy.

The European Commission has an approximate budget of 960 billion euros for the period 2014-2020, almost 15 billion euros of which are for the programme Erasmus+. This programme supports projects in the field of primary, secondary, vocational, higher and adult education and youth and sees project proposals submitted every year from thousands of organisations across all of the member states. The most convincing proposals receive grants ranging from under 5,000 euros to over 1 million euros. Be one of them! For the 2014-2020 period alone, the EU has the ambition of supporting 125,000 institutions through “Strategic Partnerships”, in order to ensure the mobility of 2 million students in higher education and enable 650,000 vocational students and 800,000 lecturers, teachers, trainers, education workers and youth workers to learn, teach and train abroad.

Get some external advice if you want to make your EU grant application process more efficient. The EU-Fundraising Association, an umbrella association for European professionals and organisations specialised in this discipline, can recommend consultants and training providers.

4. Establish relationships with donors

The European Union is the most obvious financial supporter of its members’ Europeanisation. Organisations of any kind, not only those pursuing goals of general European interest, can receive funding if their projects tackle central EU issues or address pertinent target groups.

Further institutional donors such as national, regional or municipal authorities, international organisations, foundations, investment banks and private sponsors can also deliver grants, loans and in-kind contributions to support your internationalisation or Europeanisation strategies. Identify these groups, read their mission statements and funding guidelines and attend their conferences and information sessions. Monitor their calls for proposals and any other announcements on their websites. The goal is to find common ground where both of your interests converge.

5. Prepare your organisation for international accounting

If your financial department has not yet worked with international suppliers, clients or donors then you should introduce measures to develop your abilities and overcome this lack of experience. International relations involve a heavy additional burden for the financial unit, including foreign legislation, tax, currencies and languages, not to mention the specific financial rules imposed by the international donors mentioned above. Do not underestimate the time and expertise needed for your accounting (and bookkeeping) in an international context.

Your usual chartered accountant and auditor, or certified public accountant if you are a public entity, might, of course, provide some help in this process of Europeanisation or internationalisation. Ensure that they are also acquainted with international accounting practices. Consult additional specialised advisors if necessary.

6. Improve your organisational project management skills

The results of the survey indicated that one of the biggest challenges for internationalising organisations is a lack of appropriate project management practices. We therefore suggest that organisations improve their abilities in this area as a precondition for successful Europeanisation or internationalisation.

The first step towards this end should be the development and circulation of common project management tools within your organisation. The goal is to encourage your staff members to use common work standards and thereby to initiate a culture of project management within your organisation.
The next step is to adopt international methods and standards for project management such as ISO 10006 or ISO 21500.

You will also inevitably require some training measures for your staff. Becoming a certified project manager might be the next stage for some of your key staff. The Cyprus Project Management Society is the national association in Cyprus of the International Project Management Association, the most renowned project management association around the world, and can help you choose the most suitable methodology or certification.

7. Gain the acceptance of those involved in your organisation

A strategy of Europeanisation or internationalisation is formally decided by the board but must be implemented by the staff.

Merely changing the view of the top management will not be sufficient if your staff do not support the changes. This is the classic problem with organisational change and does not only concern Europeanisation strategies. Think about the resistance that may arise when the company decides to upgrade all the computers to the next version of an operating system. This same phenomenon can – and inevitably will – be observed, if you do not take the time to explain the fundamental reasons of your Europeanisation or internationalisation strategy to your members.

Be extremely clear and transparent when the decision is made. Explain the consequences of a no-change scenario and compare them with the expected benefits of your strategy. Once the strategy is developed, enforce it promptly and methodically. Identify change agents: intermediaries in your organisation who are genuinely convinced by your approach and who have the trust of other employees. If necessary, seek the help of external organisational development consultants.

8. Give your human resources strategy an international dimension

Our survey results show that human resources may be one of the biggest obstacles to successful Europeanisation or internationalisation, but if viewed positively, this area can become a key enabler for your organisation. Human resources are probably the first area to put on your Europeanisation or internationalisation roadmap, since change in this area is a precondition for the rest of your strategy.

The first key people concerned are your HR managers and external recruiters. They must be informed of your new direction from the outset so that they can hire the right people. All of the skills mentioned above should be considered in the new HR strategy: English skills, experience with donors (particularly within the EU), project management skills, experience of accounting in international contexts, organisational change management skills, etc.

Alongside this, existing staff should be given personal development plans. These plans should provide training measures which will cover all of the skills not yet present in the company but which are necessary for your Europeanisation or internationalisation strategy. Those members of staff who are affected by a new strategy are often resistant to change simply because they lack the skills necessary to perform their new assignments. You can mitigate this risk with strong personal development plans.

9. Establish appropriate international communication channels

Communication is always inherent to organisations at any level. Although communication can often be unreliable in the first few years of an organisation, it will become more structured as the organisation grows. The descending and ascending exchange of information will become more ordered and communication channels will be accepted and used increasingly by staff until you reach an efficient point.

Internationalising or Europeanising your company is very likely to upset this equilibrium and will require that you adapt your system. Begin by examining the profiles and needs of your new stakeholders e.g. recently recruited staff members, international partners, clients, suppliers, sponsors. Then consider your existing communication systems: what is suitable for them and what must be adapted?

Your biggest challenge will be to maintain a spontaneous communication between your agents despite the distance and likely language barriers. This can be managed with some well-chosen digital communication tools such as online workspaces, shared servers, remote desktops, conference calls, etc. Furthermore, these tools can favour family-friendly jobs within your organisation (and thus increase the motivation of affected employees).

While developing these new communication strategies do not forget to address also further important information and communication aspects including IT infrastructure, documentation and archiving, information security, knowledge management, etc.

10. Encourage innovation in your organisation

All of the challenges involved in a strategy of Europeanisation or internationalisation (as summarised here) can be overcome more easily if your team is innovative.

Establish, therefore, a culture of learning and development within your organisation. Foster creativity. Create trust and establish an internal process to channel innovation which you can then actively manage. Support values of continuous improvement and lessons learnt.

Assess your innovation strategy after one year: how well has this method worked? What concrete results do you have to show for it? Is there still some unexploited potential for innovation? Are all employees involved in this process? Are they satisfied with your approach? Has your organisation improved its performance over time?

These ten tips have been written based on the expertise of the organisations within the “Europeanisation” project consortium. Please contact them here for further advice.