For Managers of Localization Managers: Minding the Gaps


You are the VP of Support, Product, Marketing, Content, Engineering, or any other potential team. For whatever reason – usually a simple matter of history – your company’s localization team reports into you.

You share something in common with 99% of people into whom localization reports: you have no background in and only a cursory understanding of localization. You’ve never managed any aspect of localization; you didn’t come up through the localization ranks. You merely hope that the localization team doesn’t embarrass you or the company with an iffy translation. You hope the team stays under budget and doesn’t ask for much additional headcount. You don’t anticipate that the localization team’s success or failure will impact your personal career aspirations or business goals. So long as the localization team delivers projects on-time and at an accepted level of quality, you are neutral about the localization team. The localization team is your administrative and operational responsibility…full stop.

This document is designed to help Managers of Localization Managers (MOLMs) better understand and manage a Localization Manager. We start with a description of a MOLM’s five primary knowledge gaps when managing Localization Managers. We then discuss how to address each gap.

The Gaps

  1. MOLMs have no knowledge around the efficiency of the localization team. The localization team could be saving the company millions a year. The localization team could be squandering valuable headcount and operational/capital funds. The vast majority of MOLMs aren’t sure which is true.
  1. Human Resources Inefficiency: There’s a general failure to promote the Localization Manager – potentially the best candidate — to roles of expanded responsibilities. This despite the fact that your Localization Manager has as much or more insight into the success or failure of content and technology than other teams and managers. This despite the fact that the Localization Manager necessarily interfaces with and is forced to understand the inner workings of most departments and systems within your company.
  1. The Localization Manager has connections across the company that provide global business opportunities and insights of which you might be unaware.
  1. A Localization Manager might be succeeding in spite of their MOLM.
  1. People only pay attention to localization when things go wrong. A phone call from a disgruntled peer piques the interest of a MOLM more than the localization team’s daily challenges. 

Minding the Gaps

The path to overcoming these business challenges – to overcoming and filling-in the gaps – means work for MOLMs they’ve never had to undertake. We propose first-steps for all MOLMs to eliminate each of the primary gaps.

  1. How efficient is your localization team? By efficiency, we mean how well your team balances the time-cost-quality challenge.
  • Get away from equating “nobody is complaining” and “the localization team is always under budget” with “all is well”. We encourage you to understand opportunities for improved management of localization processes, technology, and spend. Have specific conversations with your localization manager on each of these points. This might even lead to the conclusion that the localization team is killing it.
  • Benchmark! This is the single most challenging thing we propose. Talk to peers outside the company to see how others’ teams manage their localization processes and funding. In larger organizations, MOLMs are encouraged to chat with other intra-company MOLMs. “No one is like us!” is the battle cry of a localization novice. Rock solid localization teams get ideas and stay aware of trends from other companies and departments. The Localization industry facilitates these exchanges. Your own Localization Manager is a great resource to create contacts or meetings for you outside your company. 
  1. Human Resource Inefficiency: Localization Managers are often gifted businesspeople. They operate as a small business within the greater enterprise. Skilled Localization Managers have a firm grasp of vendor management, contracts, pricing, cross-cultural people management, technology, and cross-departmental quirks.

    The problem is that MOLMs are quick to stereotype Localization Managers as being incapable of taking on further responsibilities; to be pigeonholed as people who only understand this one niche part of the greater business. There’s a further problem we discuss in a previous blogpost: some Localization Managers are simply “happy cogs”   who do only care about localization. What’s a MOLM to do?
  • Understand that your Localization Manager might have wider insight into the company’s global content operations than you. They might also have a better understanding of other areas – testing, development, etc.
  • Determine whether or not the Localization Manager is a “happy cog” or someone who wants to actively grow outside of localization.
  • Solicit a Localization Manager’s input on your own challenges. This will provide insight into the Localization Manager’s own understanding of the greater organization…and the extent to which the Localization Manager can provide help.
  • Create opportunities outside of localization for Localization Managers. Break the “they can only understand localization” cycle.  Add a talented localization manager to your executive mentoring pool. Obviously encouraging to a Localization Manager, this also provides the company access to even more internal talent.
  • Encourage pursuit of other opportunities. It’s not on MOLMs to arrange the Localization Manager’s next career step. Give your Localization Manager the mental permission and positive reinforcement that they’re good and SHOULD be looking for bigger, even more interesting opportunities…and that their career management is ultimately up to them.
  1. Learn and take advantage of the Localization Manager’s cross-company contacts: If they’re good at their job, Localization Managers work directly with a variety of people with whom MOLMs have no relationship. Colleagues in other countries across a wide array of business functions are the best example of these contacts.

    MOLMs might be in meetings with the VP of Asia and Europe for the MOLM’s specific business unit. MOLMs don’t, however, know or work with the people who operationally get things done in these countries. Localization Managers do. Through their in-country contacts, Localization Managers also get to know players in outside business units who directly or tangentially rely on their team’s localization work.

    MOLMs should take advantage of the Localization Manager’s wide network and the insight it offers. Ask the Localization Manager how things are going on the ground in Japan…and with whom you might speak to better understand it. Inquire about the best person in Italy to meet with to understand how a new business initiative is working. Ask how outside business units are reacting to a new policy in Argentina. Leverage the Localization Manager’s entire network.
  1. Is the MOLM helping or hindering a company’s localization efforts and the Localization Manager’s career growth? An honest answer to this question can only be surmised after a MOLM gains an understanding and takes action on the first three sections of this document.

    A MOLM cares or doesn’t care about localization. We stand by the belief that almost all MOLMs only consider localization an administrative duty. This eventually brings great Localization Managers to painful questions: Does my MOLM actually care about localization and my career in a meaningful way? If they say they care, what actions is the MOLM taking to demonstrate it? If they don’t really care, what’s the best way for me to work around the MOLM to accomplish the job I truly care about and is critical to the company’s success…and should I stay in such an environment or pursue my passion elsewhere?

    If a MOLM doesn’t care and the Localization Manager is a “happy cog” or is making a ridiculous amount of money, the Localization Manager will work around the MOLM and stay. If the Localization Manager has greater aspirations or a YOLO belief, they will simply leave the company.

    We conclude this section with a final question that merits a far lengthier discussion. Does a MOLM understand the critical importance of the localization function to a company’s long-term growth and customer satisfaction goals? When a MOLM takes the time to comprehend the answer to this question (and if the MOLM cares about the company’s prospects), the energy required to successfully manage a Localization Manager becomes readily available.  
  1. Some MOLMs only feel inclined to get involved in localization when things go wrong. EVERY good Localization Manager has been in the position of holding ultimate responsibility for a horrible “I’m going to lose my job” type of localization mistake.

    When such situations arise, the spotlight is bright and agonizing for a Localization Manager. MOLMs who take the time to learn about the localization day-to-day understand how such errors are possible. These MOLMs can support the Localization Manager through these grueling times. Most importantly, this knowledge puts a MOLM in a better position to defend the Localization Manager against finger-pointing.

    In conclusion and to drive home the point, we leave all MOLMs with the following question: Do you wish to be judged on the 99.99% of your work that goes well or the 0.01% of your work that goes horribly wrong? The Localization Manager shares your answer. It’s on the MOLM to better understand the former to prevent the latter.