A Key to Success in Localization: Embracing the Big Picture

A Key to Success in Localization: Embracing the Big Picture

By Mimi HillsAugust 21, 2023Topics: Classes, Interviews, Localization

As I consider economic and work culture changes around the world, I’ve been updating the content for the Master Class on Localization Teams. There’s so much that can be said about leading teams, and in deciding what to prioritize, I thought I’d reach out to localization leaders whose views on leadership I admire, to share their thoughts.

I asked each of them what they thought was the most important skill for a localization manager. Their answers were diverse, but in every case, these leaders took a strategic, big-picture view to consider what is important for people leading localization teams. They took into account that localization is usually a role that works across the company, that the team is typically internationally diverse, and that leaders have to work across all levels and divisions of the company to ensure their team’s success.

Mark Lawyer, General Manager—Trados, RWS Group, put the uniqueness of the role of the localization manager at the forefront:

If we break it down a bit, I’d say localization managers are unique in their work with a diverse set of functions, technologies, and cultures across their organization and supply chain. In order to lead effectively, I’d put adaptability and communication skills at the top of the list. Being able to show you’re listening by effectively adapting and then communicating to your stakeholders how localization is making a business impact for the company illustrates the value that your team provides.

That point of view, of a cross-cultural team that works across company functional areas was echoed by Anita Daley, Globalization Director at SAS.

Two very important skills for the localization manager running an organization are international exposure through language and culture, so you gain some understanding of running a diverse team. And you need cross-functional excellence to work across the teams within a company. You really need to be a jack-of-all-trades; you need to know what’s going on with product teams, business strategy, and so many other elements.

Michael Monaghan, Senior Manager, Globalization Engineering at Guidewire Software, took the idea of cross-functional excellence a step further, looking for ways that globalization managers, because they see what happens across product teams, can add value and help those teams learn from each other.

With Globalization, I think the most important thing is your capacity to be the glue across an organization. A lot of people work in very small pockets of a single product or a single product line and they don’t see what happens across the company. Whereas working in Globalization, you end up working horizontally and you see everything across all sorts of different teams. When you see one team solve a problem that another team is struggling with —it might be related to localization or internationalization or it might not be—you just connect the dots. That’s something I see that I like in people that I work with, or team members, is their capacity to be that glue. Don’t just do your own job—that’s great and all–but join the dots and help other people solve problems.

Lorna Whelan, Localization Director at Klaviyo, also sees that localization managers work across a business, and she pinpoints the need for aligning with the teams you work with.

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I think the most important leadership skill for a localization manager is enabling alignment. What I mean by this is a couple of things:

First, localization is one of the few areas that typically spans most if not all of the business and so you need to be able to align what localization is aiming to achieve with all teams. This is no mean feat!

Second, in a business where international expansion is new, the expansion strategy also needs to make sense from a customer perspective, i.e. the way a business goes into a new market needs to follow an aligned strategy and not be randomly based on what individual teams want.

Several managers looked at the challenges of how localization teams are frequently not seen as part of development, but something separate, and therefore are often under-resourced. Paul Mangell, Director, Alpha CRC focused on the need for resource management.

I think the most important skill to develop is resource management. The problem a lot of localization managers face is delivering the expectations of their organization within the bounds of the restrictions on budget (resources). Because localization is seen as a function or service that sits in a different place than development, and most often works at a later stage, and add to that the fact that C-Level management does not yet fully embrace localization as central, it is not fully understood in terms of budget/resources. So localization managers have to learn how to use technology, limited resources, efficient processes, and share best practices to deliver well-localized products and content in a timely manner. Figuring out what is achievable with those restrictions, and skillfully managing the available resources, seems to me to be key.

Another look at the challenges of a localization team’s resources led Jose Palomares, Director of Localization at Coupa, to look at how a localization leader can help lift a team through difficult times—and in a very positive way.

We know that empathy is important—it’s part of leadership. I can’t pinpoint anything more important in our space these days than empathy and compassion for people. It’s becoming front and center of being a good manager.  But for localization, a contagious optimism really sets the right mindset. Localization is a function that works with less-than-ideal resources. We’re often underserved, underestimated, underappreciated, under-resourced. Optimism shows that what you are doing is still valuable, that it will yield results, that you are making a difference. That sets a whole tone for your team, even when the worst happens. This function needs to face some of the worst rejections, including being ignored. If you are optimistic, and your team perceives that, it becomes the attitude of everyone, that whatever you accomplish is going to feel great. I think about empathy, compassion, patience, perseverance—so that everybody rallies with you, and you can go over the uncertainty and obstacles and real issues together. All that gets packaged up under optimism.

A great summary to the challenges comes from Loy Searle, Senior Director, Globalization and Localization at a leading HCM and Financials Software company who emphasized the role of expressing the big picture to your team and to the rest of the company.

To lead the function, you need to set a vision and strategy, because without it you and your team will always be reactive. Your strategy should be an extension of your company’s strategy and it should encompass the full impact your organization can make on the company’s growth and customer satisfaction.   Your vision and strategy can be your team’s north star during challenging times. It’s also important your leadership, peers, and stakeholders understand it as well your team.

Jean-Francois Vanreusel, Director of Globalization at Adobe took that concept one step further, highlighting how the unique perspective of the localization leader leads to a unique position.

The most important leadership skill for a localization manager is, in my opinion, the ability to think strategically and broadly. The best localization managers think beyond their own area(s) of responsibilities. They consider how they can improve the international customer experience even when they don’t own localization for all the touch points. In companies, people tend to think in silos. Once localization leaders drive localization for software, marketing, support, training materials, and other areas, they gain a unique perspective on all the activities and products supported by the company. This is a privilege which is only shared by a few other people in the company like the CEO.

It’s clear that localization leaders must take a big-picture role. They need to align with the requirements and strategies of the teams they work with—and to help other teams see across the organization. They must manage across the company to help their teams be successful. They should have a strategy for the department to manage resources, and they should help their team cope with their less-than-ideal resources by communicating a team strategy, as well as leading with optimism. All of that takes adaptability, communication, compassion, and cultural understanding. It’s no small challenge, but when the leader is on the right path, the work is gratifying.

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Mimi Hills



Mimi Hills is a localization industry veteran. She’s the former Director, Global Information Experience at VMware, Inc. and has also led globalization teams at BlackBerry and Sun Microsystems. She comes from the software world with a background in project and engineering management. She’s passionate about people and finding ways to communicate. Early in her career she worked in college science textbook industry, as well as in technical publications at Apple Computer.

Mimi is active in the localization industry and in diversity and inclusion circles, and is a passionate advocate for the non-English speaking user. Mimi has been a mentor and Impact Coach for over ten years with the TechWomen program, and has traveled to Africa three times with delegation trips. In her spare time, she plays guitar and bass and runs a nonprofit music camp for adults.

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