Evangelization Is Dead. Long Live Alignment!
Localization managers’ most persistent complaint and challenge hasn’t changed in the last two decades. Earlier this year, yet another survey revealed that Localization Managers see ‘getting other parts of the business to understand and appreciate the value of localization’ as their main challenge.
“Evangelize, evangelize!” has been the mantra. Evangelize has even started to show up in localization job postings à la ‘must understand the importance of and be willing to evangelize localization throughout the company.’
Evangelization has failed. When something isn’t working, do something else.
Companies perceive localization as a purely operational function. Localization teams are judged on whether or not they deliver projects on-time and with sufficient quality.
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Because the company perceives localization as an operational function, the company simply expects localized content to be right. Localization teams are only in the spotlight when it’s wrong: when someone up the chain is yelling because a quality issue surfaced in a language they care about. Localization is either correct (with no managerial comment or thought), or it’s incorrect (with loud managerial protest).
Is this “operational” reality acceptable to you? With zero judgement, your answer might be “yes.”
True for many Localization Managers, you might be a happy cog. You love and value the art of getting it right in every language. You’ve climbed the localization ranks to the point where the paycheck is “good enough.” With zero concern around you or your team rising in the corporate org chart or zeitgeist, the deed is its own reward. We’ve all been there. It’s truly a great place to be.
You might, however, be one of those people who keeps checking the “we’re undervalued as a function and I’m sick of it” box. This means that the operational reality of localization is not acceptable to you. If that’s how you feel, read on.
Evangelization – reminding the company how important the Localization function is for the business – always seemed to be the right approach. It made sense to remind people how much revenue comes from international markets. It made sense to point to non-English speaking markets as the best path to expand revenue growth and the importance of localization to that growth. It made sense to (place your own logical reason here). Evangelization has, however, failed for the following reasons:
- Your management chain doesn’t hear the evangelization message in a meaningful way. The relationship between localization and the percentage of a company’s revenue coming from non-English speaking markets isn’t part of their thinking. Exacerbating this reality, localization success does not help your own manager’s career growth. Your manager (who almost certainly knows very little about localization) is more concerned about other departments that can more easily and understandably demonstrate their success.
- Evangelization doesn’t demonstrate a localization manager’s overall business acumen. Your management chain might hold the incorrect and wildly exasperating belief that people who understand localization don’t have other applicable business skills. Regardless of capabilities and business background, it’s extremely rare for anyone who excels in the localization function to be promoted to a more senior level responsible for anything outside of localization.
- Evangelization has become tantamount to begging. Understandably frustrated, localization managers do everything they can to call attention to their team’s importance and value. “Don’t forget about localization”, “You didn’t mention localization in the presentation”, and “Can you please include me in that meeting?” are common refrains of a localization leader. No managerial guru lists “begging” as a meaningful business strategy or career-growth tonic.
Admitting we have a problem is the first step toward recovery. After twenty unproductive years, it’s time to admit that evangelization doesn’t work.
We call the framework to achieve your goal of promoting yourself, your teams, and the localization function “Business Alignment” or “Alignment.” It’s fascinating to point out how the current state of the world — with all its transition and uncertainty – provides the perfect environment to undertake Alignment.
The purpose of Alignment is to move localization into your management’s consciousness by demonstrating how it supports their and the greater company’s business goals. It includes the benefit of allowing localization leaders to show their business acumen in a new way. The Alignment exercise is surprisingly straightforward. Discussing Language Strategy is a great way to begin.
- Start the conversation: Remind your manager that you understand the need for the localization team to continually align its activities to the greater business goals. If recent events impacted your company, this message becomes even more compelling; it shows that you and your team are ready and able business partners. If it’s the first time you’re having this conversation, explain that too much time has passed since you’ve revisited Language Strategy with the departments who are impacted by your work.
- Make sure your Language Strategy is up to date: Language Strategy refers to the master list of what content gets translated into which languages. For more advanced practitioners, the language strategy might also include desired quality levels by content and language. For the Alignment exercise, make sure that your Language Strategy can be separated by content type/stakeholder.
- Understand if the company’s goals have recently changed: Discuss recent changes to the overall business strategy with your manager and anyone else who can provide insight. Reflect such changes in your Language Strategy notes.
- Communicate and/or meet: You’re now in the position to communicate with and ask questions to your stakeholders on topics in which they have a specific, vested interest. Explain your intention to your manager – you’ll likely communicate with your manager’s peers or superiors — and ask for their support. The stakeholder communication can happen in your company’s preferred medium (meetings, messaging channels, email, etc.). It’s fine if stakeholders appoint someone to work with you on this…at a minimum, stakeholders are now paying attention to localization in an interesting, meaningful way.
- Communication points:
- “This is the localization team’s current understanding of the language support you need” – Include the stakeholder’s individual Language Strategy in the discussion – Include the entire company’s Language Strategy document in the discussion. This allows the stakeholder to see how the rest of the company views language needs.
- “These are the new business goals that might impact your thinking around your own localization needs” – Offer to add languages that better align with the company’s goals – Offer to eliminate languages that no longer align with the company’s goals
- “Have you reached out to our international offices to confirm that your localized content is meeting their needs? Can I help you do that?” This comment alone spurs the stakeholder to think about localization in a more meaningful way
- “What changes, if any, should be made to your Language Strategy?” – Discuss the pros and cons of adding or eliminating languages – Get the stakeholder or their appointee to give you a firm answer: “No, no changes to our Language Strategy”, or “Yes, we’re changing the Language Strategy for this specific reason”
- “As your Language Strategy is an important part of our business, I’d like to do this exercise on a (quarterly, semiannual, as-needed) basis. In later meetings, we can also discuss your technology and how it impacts your localization goals. Feel free to ask questions about your current technology or to let me know if you’re considering a change to your own strategic language goals”
Alignment creates partnership between you and your stakeholders. Alignment allows you to interact with your manager and stakeholders in a meaningful, business-driven way. You no longer need to beg for a seat at the table; you take the seat that has been yours all along.
Long Live Alignment.
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