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National chief operating officer at RSM Canada; office managing partner, Toronto

We are increasingly seeing success stories involving Canadian firms "going global” or joining a network with international reach. Becoming part of a global firm offers many benefits: access to different talent pools, more opportunities for new business, extra resources and capabilities and, of course, international breadth to clients.

But going global also requires firms to work harder to keep their Canadian identity. Like any new relationship, both sides must understand their roles. Are they the right fit for one another? Do they want the same things without sacrificing who they are? The objectives of both organizations must be in sync.

Just over a year ago, the Toronto office where I’m office managing partner became part of RSM, a global network of independent audit, tax and consulting firms. RSM wanted to be in Canada because it recognized an opportunity to serve Canada’s middle market. And we wanted to enhance our resources on an international scale – something essential to serve our clients whose needs were also growing. Our goals were aligned.

To set us up for success, we had to capitalize on our new-found advantages without losing the key differentiators that made our businesses so successful.

Educate employees about “why”

The first few weeks of being part of a global firm is a learning experience. Many firms in this situation will find that they’re working in the same office, among the same colleagues, serving the same clients. Yet everything behind the scenes is different. One of the key benefits of joining a global firm is having the ability to access and share resources between offices, so we looked for ways to integrate our people, finances, and communication systems. Everything about how we operated and managed the business changed.

To help with the transition, companies must invest time and resources in training and education. Bringing in experts from the global offices is key. Employees need to be part of the process and understand why change is happening. This means being ultra-transparent about business objectives. Keeping employees engaged and motivated means everyone in the organization must understand their role and feel part of the team.

Maintain what makes you special

As many newly global firms quickly learn, what works in one market might not in another. When we opened three offices in Alberta, we knew we couldn’t do everything the same way. While processes and systems need to be standardized for efficiency, businesses can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to culture. Each link in a global chain must play to its own unique strengths.

Before becoming RSM Canada, we competed with much bigger legacy firms by being nimble and responsive. Like steering an oil tanker, it can often be harder for those bigger players to move and react quickly. Newly global firms need to figure out how to maintain their agility and know their market advantages. While growing in size, scale and expertise, firms need to make conscious decisions to retain the independent, entrepreneurial and flexible spirit that smaller firms are typically known for.

The same can be said when it comes to culture. Considering that “culture” is essentially how people interact with each other and clients, it’s only natural for it to change and evolve over time.

Seek out relationships across the business

Businesses shouldn’t expect to plug into a global platform and then realize immediate benefits. They also shouldn’t wait for others to make the first move. It’s up to leadership to integrate new offices into the organization and actively cultivate new relationships across the company. Leaders need to get to know leaders in other offices. While our Canadian team anticipated that joining RSM would positively influence our culture, what we didn’t anticipate was that we would, in turn, positively influence RSM’s.

Growing a business often comes down to leveraging the right relationships. The key is open, regular communication. Because a lot of our business travels north-south, we implemented a buddy system. With an advocate on the other side of the border, everyone on our leadership team now has an easy, direct way to ask questions, share points of view and learn about opportunities.

Having just celebrated our one-year anniversary as RSM Canada, the quality and value of our integration exceeded our expectations. Through our concerted effort, we have maintained our unique culture while enhancing the expertise and resources to better serve our clients.

It’s a relationship built to last.

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