What Can HR Do To Prepare Leaders For A Rapidly Globalizing World?

NYHRPS, the NY Chapter of HR| People & Strategy, hosted a membership group of some 15 executives on March 24 to discuss best practices and viewpoints around global leadership development. Citing recent articles in the Wall Street Journal, facilitator Patrick Wilkinson framed the conversation with references to the significant leadership changes taking place at organizations like Prudential, Credit Suisse  and other Fortune 500 firms. Participants commented on the importance of such pivotal management placements not only at the helm, but on the Board level and within the middle-management ranks. Other participants expressed concern with the development of global leaders when attitudes around diversity and inclusion at the local level remain a challenge for many.

What capabilities will our future leaders need to be successful in tomorrow’s global environment?

While many at the table have held global positions and lived abroad, there was concurrence  regarding  the difference between leading globally through an internalized  understanding of the local area cultures vs. leading a global organization though the lens of one’s own home country. Ex-pat assignments are often short-term and executives live in ex-pat compounds vs. living within the communities of their staff or customers. Not only do they miss the enculturation needed to broaden their perspectives, but they also fail to learn how to make decisions based on the political, economic, and social factors that affect business in these foreign markets.

This being the case, how does one identify and develop those who can truly lead in unfamiliar environments where subtleties in one’s backgrounds are not always obvious –and can bring enormous implications to management style and perspective?

agility

Does living abroad make one a global leader? Can global leadership be learned?

Here our participants had mixed opinions:

  • There are many ways to promote a global mindset, even while in the U.S. (For example: Be part of a cross functional or global virtual team, read world news, read world history to understand the culture, visit ethnic communities.).
  • Short term assignments, affectionately coined “professional management tourism” do not guarantee agile global leadership ability.
  • Some around the table felt that “global mobility” was a mandatory requirement for senior leadership opportunities.

In the development of agile, global leaders, what role can Human Capital Leadership play in ensuring that those who “get it” or have the ability to develop “a global mindset” are identified, coached and placed in situations where they can indeed thrive?

A pre-read article from Accenture Strategy titled “Leadership Imperatives for an Agile Business” outlined the three dominant themes that define effective leaders who are creating and enabling agile business environments. These themes were:

  • Vision and strategy: Defining short-term needs and long-term perspectives in a manner that accommodates being reactive to immediate events while being thoughtful to emerging trends. This is best accomplished by inviting those “outside of the mainstream “to the management meetings.
  • The relationship between leaders and followers: To manage through uncertainty, leadership traits must be developed across all levels of the organization – not just within the senior most management ranks.
  • Driving results: A flexible operating model requires ongoing clarification and reinforcement of expectations, roles and responsibilities.

What is the appropriate definition of “Fit”?

This research study, like the other articles that we read in preparation for the Forum defines logical, measurable actions that are being used to build the nimbleness demonstrated in today’s most agile organizations. However, it is here, that our group paused to acknowledge a viable reason why these programs are finding inconsistent success. Specifically, the reason is Human Behavior.

  • As the pace of change continues to accelerate, the requirements needed in the talent pool change — often being defined in real-time.
  • The infamous theory that you hire talent based on “fit” needs to be critically re-assessed. “Fit is the enemy of innovation”; Fit implies status quo by today’s definition. Transformation comes from radical thinkers who thrive on “smart” change. Innovation and fit should be viewed as one’s ability to change the thinking of others through smart, data-grounded ideas for improvements.
  • Hiring managers need to look at how best to bring talent into the organization that will bring provocative thinking to the table and be rewarded for doing so. In some circles, “failing fast” is the norm and sequential learning takes place exponentially as leaders build upon test and lean scenarios.
  • Herein lays the core of the conundrum: People often hire people who remind them of themselves (consciously or unconsciously). Companies frequently exit-out employees (purposely or subtly) who do not fit the culture.

As a result of this, companies ensure that the drive for fit–the survival of the out of the box thinkers — does not take place. One could say that some companies are weeding out their very best talent; the very opposite of the original intention.

To change this, we need to develop a tolerance and objectivity in seeing the value that non-conformists bring to the corporate future.

  • Organizations like Google, Apple and Amazon seem to know how to do this. While these companies were developed in a ‘new age based on new rules”…….is that really an excuse for the older, established enterprises that are struggling to transform their agility. Really now: Is legacy an excuse for stagnancy? Blockbuster Video. Eastman Kodak. General Motors. See a trend?
  • One participant asked: Do some companies have cultures that are so insular and idiosyncratic that they won’t develop a global mindset? Another person asked if a political change is required first?

Is agility a learned process or a culture? ballerina

Agile leadership is a priority for companies of all sizes and industries. Our Forum included commentary on mid-sized markets, as well as the non-profit sector.

As I wrote this post-event article for NYHRPS, I found this article from Marketing Profs, a leading resource for marketing executives. Four Steps to Creating an Agile Marketing Culture, does not address global issues however it certainly resonates with the conversation around our table.

……” companies often put in place a process, or a set of processes, to address agility instead of taking the time to work on building the culture required to achieve agility and sustain it—What does an agile culture look like?

  • People work across functions and silos to collaborate in self-organizing teams.
  • Decision-making is empowered, and it happens as close to the work as possible.
  • Teams are trusted to experiment, to take initiative, and to even fail as long as they learn.
  • Work is done in short, active cycles of prioritize-test-learn, prioritize-test-learn, and so on.
  • The customer is at the center of decision-making.” Within this context, we refer to the customer of the corporation (Pepsi drinkers, car buyers, and consumer checking account-holders) vs. the (internal) customer to the HR functions (the Business team or the C-suite).

Agile leadership. Global leadership development. None of it matters if it is not directly linked to the business strategy of the organization. And, if the business strategy of the organization includes a global presence, then agility, nimbleness and “the embracement of different becomes expected”.

Are you giving fair consideration to individuals who do not present a traditional fit? Are you creating a tolerant environment for those who represent a diverse profile to the situation? The global organizations that succeed will; and, they are getting ahead of the game by doing these things right now.

Congratulations and appreciation to all who participated in this Forum.

This article was shared on the NYHRPS website on April 10, 2015

Article Written By Sharon Lewis.

The NYHRPS Global Leadership Development Forum Team includes: Sharon Lewis, Laura Mindek, Laura Petersen, Bruce Segall and Patrick Wilkinson.

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