How can executives prioritize their time to ensure that they are focusing on the countries and subsidiaries that need the most attention?
Many companies today are truly global in reach. Shell Oil has operations in more than 140 countries, Coca-Cola sells its products in more than 200 countries, and Nestlé boasts that it has factories or operations in almost every country in the world. For the executives running these companies, the challenge of keeping abreast of events in markets around the world is mind boggling. Interestingly, the biggest problem is not a lack of information: Executives are deluged with monthly reports and market analyses for every country in which they operate. The problem is having the time and energy to process the information. Indeed, executive attention is a scarce resource, one that needs to be carefully managed.1 How should executives prioritize their time to ensure that it is focused on the countries and subsidiaries that need their attention? Which markets should they emphasize, and which can they allow to fall off their radar screen? We have researched executive attention in global companies for the past five years, interviewing 50 executives at 30 corporations. (See “About the Research.”) Despite the best of intentions and irrespective of the exhortation that companies should “think global, act local,” the evidence shows clearly that corporate executives end up prioritizing a handful of markets at the expense of the others. One reason for selective attention is ethnocentric thinking — the tendency to assume that the home market is most important. Of course, no executive would state this directly, but the evidence of a home-country bias is widespread and undisputed.2