The Gatehouse Blog

How Booz Allen Hamilton prepared their teams to enter the Middle East market

As more companies are going global, how do you make employees aware of cultural sensitivities? Monica Lewis shares some tips.

After spinning off its commercial business in 2008, Booz Allen Hamilton was legally obligated to cease operations in both commercial and international markets for three years. The newly created company Booz & Company would not compete in the government market, while Booz Allen Hamilton agreed not to compete in the commercial and international market during that period of time.

When this agreement came to a close, Booz Allen Hamilton prepared itself to go back into the international space – starting with the Middle East and North Africa area (MENA) where we had strong market projections for growth and development due to our ability to bridge strategy, design, implementation, and operations in the region.

All of the commercial and international teams had gone to Booz & Company, so we had to start from the beginning redefining our brand in the region. Although only forty people are assigned to the MENA region specifically, there are thousands of other employees in the United States who help them deliver the contracts they win.

It was not only crucial for us to make our MENA team aware of what we were doing. We also had to set guidelines for the entire company because at any given time, anyone can be asked to help contribute to a contract that’s being done on behalf of a MENA client. And this person needs to be just as knowledgeable about our brand presence there as our people in Abu Dhabi.

We wanted to make sure that we had an identity and look and feel of our own. This area is one of the most complex cultures to grasp hold of, and my team did as much research as we could. We wanted to be extremely careful about every decision that we made. We spent a lot of time interviewing our own employees who had moved or worked there, whether it was for us or for other companies, and we tested everything against them.

We developed a style guide which included various templates, some guidance around the visual identity and an editorial guide on how to write for global audiences. We also provided an image library because there are some important cultural considerations to keep in mind when using pictures. For example, there are a lot of gorgeous mosaic images which we would have liked to use; however, we were advised otherwise as people in the region would know exactly what country the patterns came from and because the pictures were too closely tied to religion. So we created a set of images that people could use safely, sometimes indicating what country each of them could be used for. We made all of these resources available on a dedicated community on our intranet.

We set up a quarterly newsletter called the MENA e-update which brings together a combination of things: marketing updates, but also information from finance, taxation, security and other functions that fall within our Global Operations team. The purpose of this communication is to update people on the materials and the new processes, to make sure everyone uses the latest tools.

Before we officially re-entered the international market, our senior vice-president asked me to help him create a blog where he could share the leadership’s views on international business. That‘s how we created ‘MENA First Stop’. Every single article is written by him and it is very authentic. He updates people on new offices and provides background information on different business decisions. The blog has been tremendously popular among employees from across the world. From the very beginning, he encouraged them to ask questions and to comment on it. At some point, he even wrote: “If I don’t hear back from you, I’m going to assume that you don’t want to read this blog.” Many people sent great feedback, and to date it remains one of the highest read blogs in the firm.

When we opened our first Abu Dhabi office, we launched a photo contest. Anybody could participate and send photos that had a ‘Middle Eastern’ feel or related to the Middle East in some way. The winning photos would be framed and hung in the Abu Dhabi office. That was a very popular initiative, and I think it created a sense that even if most people would never go to the Abu Dhabi office, the region wasn’t an enigma to them.

I think all of this has really helped our entire employee base to feel connected to what’s going on at the global level.

Monica Lewis is a senior leader in the corporate communications department of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a Fortune 500 global consulting firm headquartered in McLean, Virginia. She leads integrated marketing for emerging business at Booz Allen Hamilton which includes international business, commercial business and strategic innovation business. She has spent her entire career in marketing and public relations, allowing her the opportunity to advance in leadership within the private, public, and governmental sectors. This project has been awarded a Gold Quill Award for International Communications.