This article was originally published on Forbes.
For many social entrepreneurs, scaling their work to an international stage would fulfill a lifelong goal. Yet, in the process of scaling and operating a global social enterprise, it can be easy to lose sight of operations on the ground, with potentially disastrous consequences.
As a co-founder of FINCA International, I have found that a key priority throughout this process must be frequent, open and accountable communication. Creating a culture of transparent and honest communication will pay dividends down the road, helping your enterprise be as effective as possible and ultimately benefitting your customers.
Keeping the following four priorities in mind can help establish you as an effective leader, ingrain open communication as an institutional priority and scale your enterprise to new markets successfully.
Prioritize taking the time to speak with employees at every level of operations — you may be surprised by what you hear. I have made a habit of checking in with those leading our international outposts and asking frank questions about their experiences working with every level of leadership.
When given the opportunity to air their concerns to a willing listener, particularly a senior leader in the company, people will often be more candid than you’d expect. And while not everyone will be willing to share difficult news with an executive, these conversations can generate useful information while demonstrating investment in your employee relationships. Even if you can’t promise concrete results, your willingness to listen will build trust in your ability to provide responsive leadership.
Make your commitment to understanding every aspect of operations clear with both your words and actions. When scaling and operating a multinational organization, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of every detail. Site visits can provide strategic opportunities to check in with every branch, speak directly with customers and evaluate for yourself how on-the-ground operations compare to reported results.
While it may be tempting to take everyone at their word, it’s important to keep tabs on even the furthest points of operation and the lowest employee on the ladder. Demonstrating your interest in understanding the finer points of the work will make sure you get the information you need while holding everyone accountable and creating pockets of excellence across your company’s growing footprint.
Unfortunately, when operating a social enterprise, it can be surprisingly easy to lose sight of your most important audience: your customers. Building strong relationships with your customers requires regular, consistent contact. Whether that be through interaction with employees or conducting direct outreach on your visits, in-person interaction is a good first step. But while individual customer interactions can help in gathering valuable business insight, you should also keep the big picture in mind: building trust and long-term loyalty with customers. As you embark upon scaling your company, consider the impact on your customer journeys.
Ask yourself: How will I maintain relentless focus on customer needs, wants and beliefs in my existing markets, and what are the implications for unserved customers in the new markets we are entering? Establishing long-term conversations and avenues for providing feedback will ensure you are building trust while reaching customers in conscientious and effective ways.
When leading operations across several countries, you won’t always have the time to be as thorough as you might like. Being able to trust in your leadership to carry this work forward is essential for your enterprise’s well-being. You may even consider putting someone in a role directly focused on growth and expansion. Too often, responsibility for scaling falls to the CEO or is assumed to be diffusely shared by a large swath of your team. Be clear about who is tasked with what, and be sure to support and encourage those who share your commitment to open, honest communication.
While there are numerous benefits to building an international network, successfully scaling a social enterprise comes with challenges. However, many of these challenges can be prevented or, at the very least, mediated by a strong culture of communication at every level of operations. Taking these active steps early on in scaling will create an environment in which such a culture can flourish, no matter how far afield your operations may grow.