Training Chinese Leaders to Go Global

An eight-step process for identifying and training Chinese employees to succeed globally.

As a growing number of China-based organizations seek to establish a global footprint, there is an increased need for a cohort of leaders who have the global mindset and cultural intelligence to lead non-Chinese teams. Unfortunately, these organizations and their leaders commonly “do not know what they do not know.” However, with a little wisdom and a solid process, these organizations can learn how to avoid common missteps.

One success story is a major Chinese chemical company that initially had a rough start, sending high-potential employees on expat assignments, only to result in unhappy local employees and demoralized expats who returned home frustrated by their failure to meet their objectives. More recently, the company changed its approach and is now highly successful in its global operations. What was the secret to success?

The CEO of the company selected an HR leader with learning and development experience to come up with a plan to better prepare employees for future international assignments and for working with people from other cultures. One of the major concerns was that, for the most part, the employees were happy with their conditions in China and had little interest or motivation to develop a global mindset or to take an assignment overseas. The HR director for the project partnered with a leading provider of global mindset and cultural competence training to design an eight-step process for the identification of qualified employees, coaching and training for their international assignments and global work, and to conduct an assessment of the global mindset of the CEO and his direct reports to create a learning and development roadmap for the future. Eight happens to be a lucky number in China. The steps taken, which can be replicated by any organization that wants to succeed globally, are as follows:

  1. Candidate Evaluation and Selection: A pool of 70 high-potential candidates who had passed an English proficiency exam were identified as those most likely to be selected for international assignments. Each of the candidates completed an assessment tool to determine his or her readiness and adaptability needed for an international assignment or to become a global leader. The assessment tool was evaluated with each candidate by a cross-cultural adaptability expert, who reviewed the results of the assessment and discussed other factors such as motivation and family issues that might affect the success of an international assignment.

  2. Global Mindset Training: Those candidates who were identified through the selection process attended a two-day program on Developing a Global Mindset. This program focused on building global competence, crosscultural understanding, reviewing global issues, examining expatriate issues, and other key topics. The course was also made available to all employees who worked across cultures. The instructor of the course evaluated those deemed most proficient and competent for global work based on their performance in class.

  3. Expatriate Cross-Cultural Training: Each of the candidates selected for an international assignment and his or her family were provided with a customized cross-cultural training program focused on how to ease the transition for the employee to live and work in the host country. The assignee’s training examined cultural norms and values such as management style, relationship and trust building, decision-making, conflict resolution, negotiations, and communication style in the host country. Each candidate also completed a Cultural Tendencies Diagnostic Assessment Tool, which allowed him or her to compare his or her unique cultural profile with that of the new host culture and develop a personalized plan to bridge any gaps between his or her profile and that of the host country. The employee and spouse/partner received training on cultural adjustment and processes for a smooth integration into the new communities.

  4. Training Host Country Nationals: Cultural training on Chinese business and culture was provided to all non-Chinese staff in the new host country. They also completed a cross-cultural diagnostic tool to identify their cultural profiles and to create action items to bridge any cultural differences.

  5. Alignment Teambuilding Program: The assignees and their host country manager and team met to discuss the cross-cultural differences in leadership, management, and communication styles and to evaluate the gaps in cultural differences based on each person’s cultural profile to create bridging strategies and to explore mutual expectations between the assignee and his or her manager and team.

  6. In-Country Coaching: Each expat and a minimum of one direct report received coaching to examine any new needs and areas for improvement once each month or sooner as needed for six months.

  7. Web-Based Cultural Learning Tool: Each assignee and host received 24/7/365 access to Culture Wise, a Web-based multimedia cultural learning tool that has both country-specific information on China and the host country and specific recommendations regarding leadership, virtual communication and teams, family adjustment, and many other related topics deemed important by the Chinese organization.

  8. Executive-Level Assessment and Recommended Roadmap: The CEO and his direct reports were interviewed separately to identify where the organization was on it globalization journey compared to where they wanted to be in three years. A roadmap for the development of talent to achieve these objectives was presented to the CEO and his team. The executive team is working on aligning their approach to globalization, their positioning in overseas markets, and determining what kind of specific talent is needed to support the global business and what kind of culture or image they should have in different countries.

The involvement of the CEO and HR leadership has created an environment in which international experiences are appreciated, promoted, and rewarded. A commitment to training and development that promotes globalization and cultural competence has created a cohort of leaders for the future.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883.For more information, visit www.global-dynamics.com. Please share your experiences with training Chinese employees and others for global success via e-mail: ngoodman@global-dynamics.com.

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