Harmonization vs. Standardization

This topic came to mind from a recent conversation I had with the branch manager of a global company. She was facing a challenge with her COO; he had requested that certain functions and roles needed to participate in her monthly branch meeting. Now for their other branches the number of people present in the meeting would be around 7 or so. In her case it was almost 30 people.

There are two things about this conversation that surprised me. The first was the manager and the COO were having an argument over the number of people that should be present in the meeting rather than discussing the purpose of the meeting. Once you’ve determined the purpose, from there you can figure out who needs to be there to achieve the purpose/desired outcomes. The second is why would a COO go to that level of detail in a globally based organization to dictate who needs to be present in which meeting, rather than giving direction on outcomes that need to be achieved and being open to mediating locally as circumstances require.

There is a subtle, but important difference between standardization and harmonization. Standardization is about conformity. For example, there is some beauty in the fact that McDonald’s uses Heinz as its ketchup supplier all around the world. (Well I think it’s nice that you’re guaranteed to get the same taste of ketchup no matter where you are, which is nice because you can get comfort from that familiarity). It’s also in McDonald’s interest to standardize their ketchup supplier because it reinforces their brand.

Harmonization is about consistency. To me, this subtle difference indicates that when you harmonize you focus more on common goals and outcomes. In this case an executive board member could provide the outcome and frameworks and allow these to be adapted to local needs and market opportunities.

If you’re a global company, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are the same everywhere. Now this isn’t to say that companies can choose an either/or approach. Both can exist and what matters is considering which approach is appropriate/necessary for the circumstances. For example, I’m not sure we’d be so happy if the International Aviation Association let countries select their own ways of directing planes; the risk is too high for something to go wrong.

I think all this again comes back to the fact that leaders simply need to think and be conscious of the ‘why’ behind their decisions/actions/approaches; essentially better considering the impact they will have. I think this is a post I’ll have to come back to later as I can already see it connected to several other questions/themes. One of these being how can we get leaders to start thinking so they can manage the complexity present in a global organization in a way that truly builds a world-class company?

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