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Why localisation goes wrong (Part 3)

Would you decide that your company needs to do something, hire someone to do it, and expect them to tell you why you need what they do and how you will know they are doing a good job?

It would be absurd, but apparently this is normal when it comes to localisation.

What can you tell about a company where the person in charge of localisation is hiring another localisation manager to "identify and develop key metrics and KPIs to measure the impact of localisation"?

It's easy to think that they hired an incompetent person to lead localisation in the first place, but the reality is more complicated.

I would have thought that this company has three problems.

  1. Whoever initiated localisation failed to define what localisation was supposed to mean and do for the business.

  2. Whoever hired the first localisation manager had a very vague idea of what needed to happen so that localisation efforts could translate into expected results.

  3. They put in leadership positions people who can't define what success looks like for their team.

This article explores the third problem. (See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for more details on the first two.)

Localisation problem #3: People hired to manage localisation struggle to translate what they do into business outcomes

I have seen countless job ads for localisation management roles (at companies that have been doing localisation for some time) that expect successful candidates to "evangelise localisation" and "define localisation metrics and KPIs". If this is not an indicator of the hiring company and managers being clueless about how localisation contributes to the business, I don't know what is.

Why does it happen and why is it so common?

The first reason is that localisation managers position themselves as language and translation specialists.

If the key responsibility of your role or team is to handle translation tasks for people who can't be bothered with doing it themselves, it's hard to prove that you are making a valuable contribution to the business, and to find meaningful metrics and KPIs to measure your success.

(I am saying "can't be bothered" because you don't really need an intermediary to get something translated.)

Another reason is that the value of localisation for the business isn't constant. A company that already has its offering localised for several markets (even if to the lowest extent) doesn't see localisation the way it did when nobody knew where to start.

The value of localisation seems obvious at the beginning because, on a high level, international expansion and localisation can deliver the same benefits.

When there is pressure to ensure your company's survival or to increase its attractiveness to investors, you don't need a fool-proof business case to justify how international expansion will help with that. It's clear how you will measure success here without metrics and KPIs.

And if you need localisation because you have to expand internationally, you don't need a lot of convincing to invest in it.

But once you start localising your offering and your company's ability to enter new international markets is no longer a question mark, both the role and the value of localisation change.

If localisation stops being seen as a strategic necessity and becomes a support function, the value it delivers needs to be explained and measured.

If the role of localisation shifts from enabling growth to delivering translation, proving that it drives meaningful business results becomes difficult (if not impossible).

I am saying "if" its role shifts because it doesn't have to and shouldn't.

Businesses don't need localisation to deliver translations to their customers. They need it so they can sell more, get better prices, control production costs, and/or benefit from lower input costs.

Language specialists don't always see or appreciate the business aspect of localisation. When they are put in charge of it, it's not surprising that they focus on what they know best and what their colleagues don't. And it's not surprising that they eventually find themselves in a situation where they feel that they need to "evangelise" what they do and prove their worth.

If you and your leadership team are happy with measuring localisation success using language quality metrics, I wonder what you are doing on my website.

If you want localisation that drives sales, user retention, customer lifetime value, and other business outcomes, let's connect.

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