Developing Globally Minded Leaders

Published on 2012-05-01

Developing Globally Minded LeadersIN 2001, CHINA JOINED THE WTO, and multinationals clamored to enter or invest more in the increasingly important market.
In late 2010, China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy.   However, along the way, working at a foreign enterprise lost its allure.  In a 2010 Survey conducted by HayGroup, only 18% of new graduates preferred to work for a multinational, down from 55% in 2007.
On the other hand, we have organizations, both foreign and domestic, placing more demands on individuals to be equipped with the ability to navigate cross-cultural environments.  One example of that is Towers Watson’s work with Thunderbird School of Global Management on defining what is necessary for a “Global Mindset”.
The paradox, it seems, would be this:  a talent pool that desires to learn more about global approaches to business, and increase their intellectual understandings of cross-cultural commerce, flocking to domestic companies to learn their lessons.
“The work force at many international companies are running into glass ceilings,” says Steven Willikens of HayGroup.  “Many local employees desire to be heard and they aren’t experiencing the level of input into strategy that they desire at foreign organizations.”
The good news is, that regardless of if you are working for a foreign or domestic company, there are some commonalities in how to develop your globally minded leaders.
Not everyone is fit to embrace a cross-cultural mindset or be put in a situation or position that requires cultural agility and not every position in your organization needs to be globally minded 8 hours a day.  A factory worker at Foxconn need not be in tune with current events, compared with a financial manager who might be dealing with the exchange rates of multiple currencies on any given day.Decide Who is Right
The What
Therefore, take steps to identify which positions are “Global Turnstyles”.  Which positions demand and receive a large amount of communication from Global colleagues?  A simple place to start is the Job Description.  What are the reporting lines?  How much travel is required?  Who are the position’s closet collaborators? And what would be a logical promotion opportunity for someone in this position?
The Who
Whether we like it or not, there are limitations to people’s abilities and knowing where those strengths lie can save your organization millions of RMB.  Failing to identify them can result in losses of not only capital but also time, and long-term market.
Henkel China assesses the international readiness of a candidate and determines their potential of success long before they ever get on a plane.
Just because an employee is willing, does not mean they are capable.
The How
Angela He of Henkel said “Exposure is the key,” and their organization strives to provide opportunities for regional meetings and interactions.  Ma and Willikens both firmly agree that exposure is what will allow potential to develop. Ma asked me to recall my first days in Hefei, and asked me to think about how much time I would have spent reading books about Hefei, before I understood what it was really like to live there.
Other items mentioned by the trio included communication skills, language, and job rotation.
Willikens eloquently sums up the demands of a Cross-Cultural Leader as being the convergence of knowledge, acceptance and empathy.
Towers Watson takes a more scientific approach with its three core defining elements as being Social Capital, Intellectual Capital and Psychological Capital.
Pave the Way
An understanding of the positions and the people is the first step to selling it to the business.
“Many times HR is not aligned with the strategy of the business” says Smilla, “Understanding the key business drivers is critical to creating buy in.”
Of course, creating and aligning a plan is the first hurdle. Implementing the plan is going to produce unique challenges as well.
“Start at the foundation,” suggests Ma. “Clearer criteria and stronger systems will help ensure that you are able to develop the right people.”
Is China’s Success a Potential Threat?
My Grandfather left the United States only once in his lifetime against his will, as my grandmother insisted they go see the Panama Canal.  Prior to his passing, I was asking him why he was so resistant to travelling.  He told me “Jeff, I love travelling and when I see all that the U.S. has to offer, I will think about trips abroad.”
In many ways, my grandfather’s approach to travel mirrors the business and cultural landscape of China.  China is massive, and potential still monstrous.  In order to continue to be successful in China, you need to attract the best and the brightest and place them in challenging work environments with new responsibility.  China’s demand for talent is huge, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  How do you create opportunities for increased exposure for a workforce, when the biggest market and frontline of growth is still China?
Recently, I was watching a news channel in my hotel room, and an analyst for the technology sector was discussing his take on the global PC market.  Lenovo has cemented its place as the clear leader in the China market, but still lagged behind American PC makers globally.  The question the analyst raised was, “How can you talk about global business without talking about China?”
For HR professionals, the more appropriate internal questions might be: ‘What kind of global company are we?’ ‘How much does Chinese business influence that?’ and ‘What role will China play in our business in the future?’