Localization Business School: Coaching past the fear of failure

Why is it that when a life sciences company introduces a new product into the world, translators don’t have questions for them? This is a phenomenon that has intrigued me for years. I have been a localization consultant to life sciences companies for more than a decade and over and over again I find myself asking my clients: “Why are you not getting flooded with terminology and subject matter queries?”

Life sciences companies are at the cutting edge of innovation, yet even their internal sales and engineering teams need time and training to understand new products, procedures and protocols. Why would a localization company assume that they can do without these queries?

Do they not care? Are they ignorant? I asked them these questions.

As it turns out, I was approaching it wrongly. I should have asked “What holds them back?”

Localization service providers and translators do care, but many simply do not ask their clients for help. That is especially true for vendors outside the Western hemisphere, albeit not exclusively. Why?

The number one reason is fear. A Chinese and a German vendor both said this to me: “We fear that if we ask, our client may think that we are not qualified and then fire us.” These are the three anxieties I hear from vendors again and again:

1. We may not be good enough

2. Therefore, we might fail

3. And then get fired

Coincidentally, these fears are also the main reason that project managers don’t suggest innovative ways of doing things or break bad news about quality issues after the fact. What makes matters worse, many of their leaders are not any different.

Ask any CEO. Most find themselves inadequately prepared for their job and 54% say that being a CEO requires intense personal reflection, according to Egon Zehnder’s “The CEO: A Personal Reflection.” One difference between CEOs and their localization project managers can be summarized in a word: coaching.

Bill Gates needed Warren Buffet. Richard Branson couldn’t have gotten Virgin Atlantic off the ground without British airline entrepreneur Freddie Laker. Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs to coach him to build a performing team. Oprah Winfrey attributes part of her success to her life coach, Martha Beck. Bill Clinton hired Tony Robbins.

They all make it clear that coaching is not a luxury, it’s a necessity for success. We know, for example, that mindset in project management has more impact on translation quality than the qualifications of the translator on the job. If you do not believe it, just cross reference your quality score cards with your list of project managers.

You may think it’s easy for CEOs, business owners and executives to get coached, but that it’s not so easy further down the chain of command where budgets are tight. Stories of star coaches, like Tony Robbins who charges $1 million a year for coaching, help to create this myth. But you can get the most effective forms of coaching for free by doing the following:

1. Find a mentor. A mentor is someone who has achieved far more than you want in your next career move. It may be a star project manager, your boss’s boss or a role model. A mentor is a person who believes in you and genuinely wants you to thrive. They make proactive introductions to connections or present opportunities to you. Their only reward is your success.

Most mentors don’t have a certification for coaching. But being certified merely means that a coach has mastered some techniques and tools of coaching. It doesn’t necessarily imply that he or she is skilled at using those tools.

Moreover, competency in coaching doesn’t reflect a coach’s experience in life or business. Real life experience and compassion for people in your situation are a must, not a should. For example, a top tier salesperson schooled in coaching techniques is likely going to be a more valuable mentor to a project manager than a certified coach lacking localization experience.

2. Build a peer group. We become the people we surround ourselves with. If your peer group is full of overworked and burned out project managers, guess what you become? Overworked and burned out. So, choose your peer group wisely and be strategic about who you spend your time with.

The peer group environment and habits you build are more potent than your knowledge. The old saying that knowledge is power is a lie. Knowledge is just potential power. Only knowledge in action has impact. We all know, for example, that one translator who knows more about a particular subject matter than others but does not get the work done — or at least not on time. Surround yourself with such people and soon you will be overwhelmed by your backlog of work, too. Likewise, be part of a group of highly successful localization professionals and you will become energized by their success.

3. Model yourself. Observe how your role models work and do the same things. You will get the same results. Oftentimes we do not even need a personal hero. If you want to know how to do something, find people who are among the best and ask them what they do.

Building these coaching capabilities will enable you to work at a higher level than most people in localization.

By the way, who tells you that you may not be good enough, that you fail and are not loved? Most likely, it’s a little voice in your head. We are often our worst critic. It is also true that buyers of localization services, and especially life sciences companies, wonder more often than not why their vendors are not more inclusive in their communication.

How would their lives change if they went from wondering and complaining to coaching and mentoring?