By Margery Weinstein
Your future leaders’ creativity and problem-solving skills have been honed in leadership courses, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to use those skills to further your company’s place in the world. With emerging markets in Asia, South America, and other areas of the world, your workforce needs to have an understanding of and interest in cultures beyond the city or town they are based in.
To facilitate that, some companies are taking a proactive approach with curricula that challenge employees to think globally. In addition to classroom materials and e-learning, overseas job rotations and mentorships are giving more U.S.-based employees a chance to sample life abroad. Companies are hoping the money spent on training and relocating these employees will pay off in international growth and a leadership pipeline primed with globally focused talent.
Diversity of People and Perspectives
To sell products or services globally, employees must understand the people who will be the consumers or end-users of those products and services. As a technology-driven, global payments company, operating with a global mindset is critical to MasterCard’s success, points out Chief Learning Officer Ann Schulte. MasterCard has nearly 6,000 employees providing services and support in more than 210 countries. “Every day in markets around the world, we provide the link between consumers, financial institutions, and millions of businesses and merchants, enabling secure transactions in 150 different currencies,” says Schulte.
MasterCard’s business model hinges on the ability to operate and grow a global network that matches the needs of the local market, Schulte explains. “As we’ve built this global payments network, one of our greatest strengths has been developing a workforce that reflects the incredible diversity of the people and perspectives of the world. It’s allowed us to understand and cater to the consumer experience in a way that has both a global consistency and local relevance.”
MasterCard fosters the global mindset in several different ways. The company uses formal training programs, short-term project teams, new technologies, and on-the-job business experiences to ensure that all employees—including up-and-coming leaders—are thinking globally. That means giving employees access to on-demand learning resources, such as The Culture Wizard, Harvard ManageMentor, and getAbstract. “These assets provide information and assistance that can be immediately applied to a global business situation or project,” says Schulte. “We also offer our employees online language study (e.g., Rosetta Stone) and provide programs in remote management and cross-cultural communications to increase effectiveness in working with others.”
MasterCard’s management and leadership development programs also often include cross-functional action learning projects. In the past, global teams of experienced MasterCard managers have focused for six months on issues such as scenario planning, regional market models, information strategy, technology estimation, and sponsorships. These projects culminate with the opportunity to present recommendations to an executive team. “Our Executive Leadership Program also looks at global business issues from a general manager point of view,” says Schulte. “It features sessions with leading academics and some of the most successful business leaders in the world.”
Thinking globally has become reflexive at MasterCard. “The global mindset is built into MasterCard’s leadership development framework,” Schulte emphasizes. In addition to the company’s globally minded training programs, employees are given job rotations and international assignments to develop a global perspective. “Cultural immersion is the fastest way to open an employee’s eyes and build capabilities in the certainty of something such as managing the tension between a corporate direction and a local custom,” says Schulte. “In general, we focus on short-term assignments that allow employees to work in other regions of the world. These assignments are less than a year and ensure we are building both a global mindset and enterprise thinking.”
Most importantly, says Schulte, the global mindset is built into the way MasterCard runs its business on a daily basis. “You would be hard-pressed to find an employee who does not participate on at least one global team,” she says. “Whether it’s a formal training program, short-term project, or ongoing work group, the consistent and meaningful interaction between employees around the world is helping instill a global mindset at all levels.”
Global Competency Development
For Cartus, which provides relocation services for companies around the world, thinking globally means helping the employees of clients create an international point of view. “Our clients’ need for a global mindset within the employee base drives our business, both cross-cultural training and language training,” says Director of Global Training Consultant Network and Curriculum Design Carolyn Ryffel. “Even international assignments for tech transfer provide the opportunity for increasing global competency development, and ultimate success requires it.” As evidence of the importance of the global mindset, Ryffel points to Cartus’ 2010 survey of companies relocating employees to China, which indicated that 83 percent of multinational companies offer language training, and 81 percent offer intercultural training.
Some companies are even looking beyond the employee who is relocating to educating and providing services for the employee’s whole family. For employees on long-term assignments, Cartus provides and recommends a cross-cultural training program for the family, which focuses on “increasing self-awareness of values-driven behavior, specific information about the host country as applied to the assignment’s personal and professional goals, skill-building practice, and an action plan that includes next steps after the assignment,” says Ryffel.
For employees working across cultures, Cartus provides group programs that often include a personal cultural profile and cultural dimensions that explain differences in business practices in general or targeting specific countries. “This is applied specifically to the business initiative of the group and builds on what they already know,” says Ryffel. “Some corporations ask for one of our Intercultural Management Training programs (Global Awareness or Country-Specific Business Briefing) to work better with international colleagues and to better understand different business practices and not judge them as deficient.”
Cartus has learned the importance of literally and figuratively ensuring that all lessons are translatable to other cultures—a task many of its clients find daunting. “Ensuring that lessons learned are translatable to, and are incorporated into, life on the job is the responsibility of the company and the employee, and it can be difficult; it’s part of the always important ROI that is a constant challenge for companies,” she says. “Our training is focused on practical aspects of behavior and performance,” Ryffel explains. “We finish with an action plan and coach the employee and spouse to identify their highest priorities and discuss being realistic. All of the training is linked to assignment goals—personal and professional.”
Global Leadership Academy
Cerner Corporation, which provides services for hospitals and health-care systems internationally, has a leadership academy devoted to developing the global mindset. “Our Global Leadership Academy brings together up-and-coming leaders from several countries and provides them with experiential learning opportunities over a six-month period,” says Senior Director of Catalyst Business Relationships Mike Allison. “These leaders grow through academy participation as they learn from proven global leaders, share their experiences, and develop skills to effect positive change across both their client organizations and internal teams.”
Cerner is careful to tie the lessons learned in the academy to on-the-job application. “We utilize a work practicum philosophy in the leadership academy and ensure there are success measures tied to the competencies we are trying to influence,” says Allison. “We also build manager and mentor accountability components into the program.” The ability to think globally figures heavily into entrance to the company’s high-potentials program. “Those associates who possess both leadership potential and a strong global awareness have an advantage when being considered for international assignments and high-potential programs,” Allison points out. “We utilize our high-potential pipeline to staff strategic positions around the globe.”
Adaptability to Changing Environment
The InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) knows the importance of having global leaders who can easily adapt to fit any culture. IHG is the largest hotel company in the world based on number of rooms and operates in more than 100 countries, which means a need for big-picture thinking. “We want our leaders to know they are part of something bigger than just their one hotel or their single department,” says Vice President of Global Talent Renee Stevens. “In these economic times, it’s critical to have leaders from diverse cultures and experiences—leaders who bring their own unique talents and ideas that are innovative and forward thinking. In today’s world, if you’re looking to join a global company, you must have strong cultural awareness and be able to adjust to your changing environment.”
Many IHG hotels have staff members from more than 20 different ethnic backgrounds, says Stevens. As a leader in one of these hotels, success depends on the ability to interact with staff, “empathize with them, and to be curious and learn about their backgrounds and experiences,” she says. For that reason, high-potential employees are those who have mastered global thinking. “When we identify our people as high potential,” Stevens explains, “there is visibility of that person across other regions and functions to ensure that we are giving them opportunities to move and to grow and to experience new challenges—whether in another country or on a global project, which includes a team of peers from around the world.” International assignments figure significantly into the global training process. “We have a number of people across the business who are on international assignments,” says Stevens. “Not only do these assignments build critical knowledge and skills, they also build understanding of other cultures, leadership skills, and the skills to operate in other parts of the world.”
The global curriculum at IHG goes beyond limited assignments abroad and includes formalized curriculum through its IHG Academy. “Graduates rotate through various departments to build out their knowledge and skills of working in a hotel. The last piece of the program is placement in a hotel role. Typically, this role is in another country,” says Stevens. The company gives high potentials the opportunity to work on cross-functional, cross-regional business issues or projects. The teams come together to work on the issues or to deliver on a key project.
Stevens stresses the importance of thinking long term when creating a global learning program. She recommends “giving people exposure early in their careers and over time.” Short-term global thinking isn’t going to cut it, Stevens notes. “That’s to say that one week in another country is not enough to build a global leader,” she says. “Ensure there are multiple development opportunities, give them feedback, and offer resources and support. Building a global mindset doesn’t happen overnight. It is learned behavior over time.”
- Use formal training programs, short-term project teams, new technologies, and on-the-job business experiences to ensure that all employees—including up-and-coming leaders—are thinking globally. That means giving employees access to on-demand learning resources to provide tools for any global business situation or project.
- Include cross-functional action learning projects. For example, have managers focus internationally for six months on issues such as scenario planning, regional market models, information strategy, technology estimation, and global sponsorships. These projects could culminate with the opportunity to present recommendations to an executive team.
- Global programs should include training to increase self-awareness of culturally driven behavior, specific information about the host country as applied to the assignment’s personal and professional goals, skill-building practice, and an action plan that includes next steps after the assignment.
- Offer global mindset learners an action plan and coach the employee and spouse to identify their highest priorities and discuss being realistic. All of the training should be linked to assignment goals—personal and professional.
- Utilize a work practicum philosophy in your global leadership coursework and ensure there are success measures tied to the competencies you are trying to influence. Include manager and mentor accountability components in the program.
- When you identify employees as high potential, make sure there is visibility of that person across other regions and functions to ensure you are giving the employee opportunities to experience new international challenges—whether in another country or on a global project that includes a team of peers from around the world.