All organizations, regardless of the country where they are headquartered, are struggling with the development and movement of talent to deal with the globally dispersed and culturally diverse workplace and marketplace. To a large degree, the success or failure of global business lies in the hands of the training department.
Based on over 34 years of working with over 300 Fortune Global 500 companies, only a handful have a coordinated and strategic training approach to going global. This has resulted in billions of dollars in lost revenue due to culture clashes, inappropriate product development, inefficient global teams and humiliating public relations. With headlines such as: “Home Depot Pulls Out of China”; “Wal-Mart Leaves Korea”; “Lockheed Martin Loses Out on Contract in India”; ‘Puma Sneakers Offensive in Multiple Markets,” one would think that organizations would grasp the necessity of understanding the buying habits, cultural customs and negotiation styles necessary for success in the global marketplace. Yet, these headlines will continue until organizations take seriously the need for global mindset and cultural intelligence (CQ) training across their organizations.
Harvard Business Review reports that CQ is the most important competence for successful global business. HBR reports that CQ takes over where emotional intelligence (EQ) leaves off. The Economist reports that 70 percent of international JV’s and acquisitions fail due to cross-cultural differences. There are many ways to create a global mindset. While there are integrated approaches, here are a few successful strategies used by Fortune Global 500 corporations.
1.Global Mindset Training 101
Everyone in today’s organizations needs a core understanding of how to work effectively with associates, clients and suppliers from various cultural backgrounds. A core course to meet this requirement should cover cultural awareness of self and others, ethnocentrism, the consequences of cultural assumptions, ways to promote effective working relations, reward and recognition, vacation policies, styles of doing business globally, cultural differences in communication styles, the impact of virtual communications on intercultural understanding, an overview for each major region, and a review of available resources for more in-depth information. Such a course is part of the leadership curriculum of many organizations and the core competencies for promotion are directly linked to the program’s learning objectives. Participants can become global mindset leaders who take the initiative to bridge cross-cultural misunderstandings. By the very nature of the topic, these programs should be in-person and highly interactive for maximum benefit. When AT&T learned that it was going to go global, it put over 125,000 employees through a program called Working Globally.
2. Global Team Training
Global teams need to go through a cross-cultural, team-building program in the formative stages of the team’s development to avoid misunderstandings and establish trust. It is critical that team members explore the cultural nuances that often undermine global team effectiveness. This includes team members’ mutual perceptions, setting global standards for roles, responsibility and accountability, leadership and management styles, discussion of virtual and face-to-face communication styles, and the development of a communication plan. Other relevant topics to be covered should include the cultural tendencies of all relevant countries and how these impact trust and teamwork. In one recent training program, a team member from China became very emotional as they explained why they felt their American team members did not trust their Chinese associates. Additionally, since many global teams communicate virtually, a separate program on virtual communications and leadership skill is used in many organizations to promote teamwork.
3. Country or Region Specific Training
Employees working with specific countries need in-depth, cross-cultural training on the nuances of these cultures, including communication styles; approaches to risk-taking; negotiation style; ways to promote effective working relations with representatives of the country; contrasting styles of doing business between each relevant country; an in-depth regional and historical overview of the country and its relationship to its neighbors; and an as-needed review of available resources and other functional topics such as labor unions, quality/standards, work habits, intellectual property, holidays, etc. Far too many companies repeatedly make the same mistake of not bringing together people working with a specific country into the same training program, where they can learn together and share their common challenges, cases and best practices. In one program with China, several business units were able to create a cohesive approach to their sales and marketing strategy based on their new understanding of Chinese values, customer habits and use of media.
4. Implementing a Global Leadership Curriculum
All training and development departments, by now, should have a global leadership curriculum. In addition to other skills, global leaders need to be able to create personal and organizational action plans for effective intercultural leadership in the multicultural/global/virtual workplace. This includes not only an understanding of globalization, diversity and cross-cultural differences, but also an intuitive grasp of the areas in which misunderstandings are likely to occur, so they can proactively forecast and develop appropriate strategies in advance. Many organizations make the mistake of sending their current or future leaders to a university-based program, which prevents the opportunity for leaders to address specific issues facing their organization. Many organizations we work with have created their own curriculum – J&J created its own global leadership development program, which proved very successful.
5. High-Potential Development Programs
Once a global cohort of future leaders is identified, they meet over a period of 1-2 years, receiving customized training and working on global project teams. Oftentimes, these projects are sponsored by senior leadership. To be effective, we have found that these programs need to begin with an in-person retreat with a strong cross-cultural training component. PwC is among the leaders in this area with their Genesis program, and BD has an Early Career Experience, which has improved its pipeline of global leaders.
6. Short- and Long-Term International Assignments
All employees selected for an international assignment will need in-depth, cross-cultural training on working and living in their respective host countries. Family members or partners who are joining the assignee also need cultural training since they often have the hardest adjustment. The assignee needs to learn the cultural nuances of their host country, ways to promote effective relations, an in-depth understanding of the country and region, an understanding of how to balance local vs. headquarters’ requirements, strategies for dealing with culture shock, and other functional topics as needed. It is strongly recommended that an executive coach with expertise in global/cross-cultural business support the assignee to make the most of the experience. BMS, a biopharmaceutical company, created a unique program to develop leaders from emerging markets through an international assignment program. These programs are led strategically by L&D, HR and talent.
7. Creation of Global Knowledge Management Training Database
To protect and leverage the investment of learning, training departments should capture and retain, in a central database, all the information obtained through every training program that has a global and cross-cultural component. The deployment of this information across all groups within the corporation is essential and will demonstrate the value that the training department brings to global operations.