Demand for talent that can function in a global business environment is highly competitive. This is especially true for leaders and potential leaders who can work effectively across cultures. Major surveys and studies by Development Dimensions International Inc., IBM Corp., Training magazine, Right Management, among others, conclude that cultural issues will dominate the new competencies required for global leaders over the next decade.
In order to meet this requirement, global companies and their talent leaders are either making significant investments in global development assignments or are planning to do so. These assignments are complicated and expensive, and if not managed well present risk for the company and for those who take on these assignments. Company risk includes disruptions for the home country in the gaps left while the employee is on international assignment and the potential to not leverage the global learning that person is likely to achieve. Risks for the receiving country include not successfully integrating the employee into its processes and not making use of new approaches presented by the assignee. Risk for international assignees includes not adapting to the culture of assignment, not fitting into the job role and ways of doing things in the new country, and the home country not valuing or maximizing the learning and growth achieved from the experience.
The names and titles of those quoted in this article moving forward cannot be revealed due to confidentiality agreements. Furthermore, the people quoted were drawn from several sources that have been aggregated and reported for this article. These sources include:
An ongoing study on behalf of all of Tucker International’s corporate clients, which include 217 employees living and working in 30 countries. All participants in the study are manager level and above and have completed an assessment titled “The Survey of Expatriate Training and Development,” where the participants also have an option to write in comments and observations.
The Dow Chemical Co. CEO International Exchange Program where 40 high-potential employees exchange positions with their international counterparts across 20 countries.
My own personal experience and individual interviews I’ve conducted as I’ve traveled to meet with clients and their expatriate/repatriate employees globally.
The purpose of development assignments is not just to fill an international job opening. Companies have generally improved over the past few years in “localizing” employees in their native countries to perform essential jobs and thereby reducing the cost and challenges of expatriate assignments. Still, localization doesn’t give potential global leadership talent the cross-cultural experiences they need to lead dispersed businesses in international markets. This is where global development assignments really come in.
For example, global development assignments actually help to develop and spread the all-important corporate culture around the globe on a face-to-face basis. A strong corporate culture and brand is often the difference in global business success and it is certainly a primary factor in attracting the best talent.
Global development assignments help leaders to achieve the following:
Dealing with Ambiguity. One of the hallmarks of the global business environment is that things are not as they appear on the surface. This is because people interpret their world and respond according to their own cultural lenses. Everyone carries these lenses around with them and expects others to respond as they do. The term “misattribution of motives” is used to describe how people misread the behavior of other cultures based on their own lens.
An international assignment allows participants to get out of their comfort zone and figure out how things are done in all of the unfamiliar, ambiguous “gray areas” in another country. For example, an American on assignment to Japan reported the following: “I could not understand at the outset why my Japanese manager did not give me clear and direct performance objectives. He expected me to figure these out in the context of my role in the company. That meant that I was to first listen and learn from him and from my Japanese colleagues in order to understand how I could fit into the working environment. Once I figured this out, I was successful in adapting to the high context business culture of Japan. Back home, I now have increased confidence and a higher level of competence in dealing with ambiguity in my international work.”
Global Perspective. Even the best employees working from their home countries do not naturally develop a broad perspective. They focus on what is going on in their world, which limits their performance in a global company. An international assignment directly challenges this rather parochial view and broadens it. As this employee said: “An assignment from the U.S. to Europe was really an eye-opener for me. At home in the U.S., I followed markets and news, but I was totally focused on the U.S. While in Europe, I had to keep up with my colleagues — they knew so much more about the U.S. than I did about Europe.”
Company Culture. A strong company culture applied worldwide is a marker of the most successful global companies. It is adapted to accommodate national cultures, but consistency is critical for service delivery and company relationships. “Since my company is based in the U.S., while on assignment there I learned much more about the company culture and what is expected of company employees,” an employee from Germany said. “I learned how to adjust my language and attitude while dealing with Americans.”
Focus on People. Most companies say their people are their most important asset. Some really do believe this and practice what they preach — but some don’t. The most talented people today are drawn to and likely to remain with companies that treat their people well. Seeing how this is done in other countries can be very valuable. “On assignment to Latin America, my company there is ranked highly in terms of great places to work. I noticed that a reason for this is how they view employees in a holistic way, showing they care both personally and professionally. I am trying to support this approach now in my home country.”
Meeting Management. Nobody likes endless meetings that aren’t productive, but they remain essential, especially since a great deal of work is done as part of a team. Seeing first-hand how meetings are managed in other countries can be instructive. “I was impressed by the way meetings are managed in the U.S. People arrived on time and prepared, and meetings were shorter and ended promptly. This was quite different in my home country, where meetings can be chaotic. I am now setting up a similar approach in my home country, but adapting it to our culture.”
Rapid Advancement. Advancing high-potential employees is a major goal of international development assignments. These stretch assignments are a great way to test potential. “I was being considered for a broader leadership role in my home country before my international assignment. I received this advanced position upon return, in no small part because I took on a much broader role in my assignment country. I managed my multifunction team there and continued to support my team back home, despite the time differences.”
Networking. In a 2014 study of global leaders my firm conducted with Ron Bonial, Adam Vanhove and Uma Kedharnath, we discovered that the demonstrated ability to develop and maintain a network of international relationships was one of the leadership success factors. This was a study of 1,880 global leaders of nine nationalities. A set of intercultural competencies was used to predict success over time. The study found that the demonstrated ability to develop and maintain a network of international relationships was one of the success factors. There is no better way to do this than on an international assignment, and in fact this people-to-people connection is often reported as the most satisfying aspect of the assignment. “I developed a good relationship with my swap partner. She helped me to connect with her network and adjust to my assignment country and me to hers. We have continued to stay in touch and I am using my new network in many ways in my job back home.”
Leadership Exposure. According to Albert Bandura of Stanford University in his 1997 work on social learning theory, individuals develop by learning from their surroundings, either from interacting with people or observing other peoples’ behaviors. An international assignment can result in such deep learning and expose future leaders to how leadership is exercised in different parts of the world. “My supervisor, a wonderful high-level female leader, became a mentor and coach for me. I was able to observe her style and she introduced me to other great leaders,” said one of the people included in my studies.
These valuable learning experiences and outcomes do not come easily, however. Everyone who engages in these assignments faces job-role and intercultural challenges. Some don’t succeed. Some of these challenges include:
Integration and Culture Differences. An American employee on assignment to China said: “I never really felt integrated into the group. I was not given a lot of responsibility or work. I wanted to do more and often felt I wasn’t making much use of my skill set. It took time to get used to the Chinese culture. There is huge respect for elders in the workplace.”
Isolation. “Being abroad can be very isolating. I felt I was being ignored by my home office. My messages were being answered very late or not at all, which caused unnecessary stress. The big time difference between Thailand and my home office in the U.S. just made it worse.”
Social Adaptation. “At first my American colleagues seemed very friendly, but to me they turned out to be quite superficial. People seem to have just a few close friends and relatives, and it is difficult to be accepted,” said an employee from Brazil.
Decision-Making. “It was difficult to adjust to the fast decision-making process in the U.S. and I still don’t think it is the best way to get things done. In Germany, we think things out much more. We consult and consider what problems there might be before moving forward. My American colleagues thought my suggestions were a waste of time.”
Communication. “English is the global language of our company, but daily work and personal life is tough if you don’t speak the local language. Even the same words or phrases in English can mean different things,” observed an employee from Australia.
Leveraging Experiences and Learning Achieved. “When I returned to my home site in Shanghai, no one seemed very interested in my international experiences. They were in fact a little upset that some of the work that I was responsible for was either not done or had to be assumed by them.”
Value Model, Management Plans
The following model is presented to manage success with global development assignments. Each step in the model is then explained.
It is essential that global leadership assignments have senior leader sponsorship. This will ensure maximum exposure, attract the most promising high-potential talent, provide reliable funding and help to get home and host country management onboard. The talent management function will of course manage the program, but the company’s senior leadership team must also openly and directly support the program.
This seems rather obvious, but too many participants are selected for these programs only because of their technical ability. In addition to being very good at their jobs, they should also have demonstrated leadership behaviors beyond job tasks and responsibility. They should at least be at passage one as described in the “Leadership Pipeline,” written by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel. This is the passage from individual contributor (managing self) to managing others. Their pipeline includes six passages, from Managing Self all the way to Enterprise Manager. Passage one is the first stage in management development, where leadership is taken on for the first time and a good stage for early incorporation of international capability. Those at higher stages can also be good candidates for a global development assignment, especially if their jobs are transitioning from a domestic focus to an international one.
In my aforementioned 2014 leadership research, Tucker International identified a set of competencies that predict adjustment and performance on an international assignment. Some of these that are especially important for global development assignments are listed below. These can be measured and included in development plans.
Internal Locus of Control. The belief that one’s own actions and abilities play a direct role in the process and outcome of the events in life instead of relying on fate, luck or circumstance. It means to take responsibility for one’s actions.
Open-Mindedness. Being receptive to and nonjudgmental of the ideas and ways of other countries, cultures and ethnic groups and demonstrating respect for diverse spiritual and political beliefs.
Lifetime Learning. Engaging in a pattern of learning over time, which includes reading news, periodicals and blogs; tuning into national and international news broadcasts; and attending formal learning sessions.
Social Adaptability. Being comfortable in new and unfamiliar social settings, seeking out and enjoying diverse groups of people, and showing genuine interest in others.
Ambiguity Tolerance. The ability to see through vagueness and uncertainty, not become overly frustrated and eventually figure out how things are done. It means to take the initiative and lead through difficult situations.
Patience. The ability to be patient in the face of unanticipated delays or frustrating situations, with people who don’t meet expectations on time.
Home Country Management
Guidelines. Provide clear guidelines about what will be expected while on assignment for the employee and their supervisors and colleagues. This should include job tasks as well as developmental learning experiences.
Performance Evaluations. Ensure that any performance evaluations following the assignment include what was accomplished during the assignment.
Communication and Support. Have consistent home office communication and support throughout the assignment. This includes timely responses to email messages despite time differences, communicating important information about goings on in the company and providing requested resources.
Share Experiences. Ensure that participants deliver presentations and other communication back home to share experiences and what was learned to enable them to positively contribute to a global learning company culture.
Host Country Management
In development programs that include “swap partners,” the host country would also be selecting and managing participants from their country, so they would be responsible for the management plan described above. Their hosting plan includes the following:
Mentor. Assign a mentor to work with the assignee. This mentor should be responsible to implement the job and developmental learning guidelines for the assignment as stated above.
Entry Onboarding Process. Smooth the onboarding process by making sure that colleagues are aware of and support the program.
Social Integration. Help with the potential isolation problem by ensuring that the assignee is included in company social events. A mentor can be helpful here to include the assignee with networking at professional events, club and community activities, etc.
Learning. Contribute to the learning culture by having the assignee make a presentation near the end of assignment, communicating observations and what was learned.
Build Intercultural Competency
Some of the risks involved with implementing global development assignments were discussed in the introduction. An additional — and significant — risk faced by global companies is not to engage in these assignments at all. This will leave a leadership gap in place, with no bench strength of emerging leaders with international experience. It is hard to imagine a global company led by individuals without this experience.
When a global development assignment program is implemented, leaders can mitigate the investment risks by following the value model described earlier. To do so requires planning, preparation, coordination and follow through. This work is necessary in order to overcome the false assumption that the assignment itself can result in higher levels of understanding and skills needed to lead global business.
This story originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Talent Economy. Click here to view the issue’s digital edition
This From the Vault article was originally published on CLOmedia.com in July 2006.
For many training managers and directors, the position of chief learning officer represents a career path. Many who currently hold this executive position are between the ages of 45 and 55—thus, attrition will soon impact the top end of this group. With the continuing need of organizations to think more strategically about how they use and deploy their human capital assets, executive-level learning appointments will continue to grow. The confluence of these factors forms a set of individual needs and organizational forces that will spawn the next generation of learning executives.
What work experiences and associated broad competencies will this next generation need? That very question was asked in a recent survey by Chief Learning Officer magazine of executives who are members of its Business Intelligence Board. Representing a mixed group, with backgrounds ranging from traditional training and development to general management, all were fairly uniform in their answers. They agreed that the future CLO should have experience in: strategic management, general management, knowledge management, leadership skills, and learning methods and concepts.
The polled learning executives saw two dimensions in this area: the actual implementation of specific general management activities and their strategic application — the latter being the most critical.
For example, it was considered very important for future CLOs to have been involved in enterprise-wide projects such as improving operational performance, changing a culture, managing a high-profile campaign, improving a business process or launching a product — the experience side of the equation.
Of equal importance was the strategic thought process that followed the implementation of these projects. Were these future CLOs able to see these projects in a larger context and over a longer term? While implementing these general management projects, were these future learning executives able to anticipate issues, determine the right data and associated metrics, predict outcomes, and recognize key trends and patterns? Finally, were they able to articulate “what” the strategy was and “why” it was important? In other words, were these future learning executives able to think strategically about the competency side of the equation?
Another area that was considered important for the future CLO was knowledge of and experience with day-to-day general management activities such as business-case development, operational planning, financial planning, budget management, personnel management and ROI calculation.
Along with their experience with these activities, future learning executives also must have acumen in sales and marketing. This includes both external (company products and services) and internal (projects, campaigns, programs) sales and marketing activities. They need to be utility players, as comfortable and able in supporting the sales side of the organization as they are in presenting the features and benefits of an internal training initiative to their peers. Thus, they need to have experience launching major internal or external sales campaigns and understand the critical relationship between a campaign’s success and an effective marketing program.
Although the competencies necessary to implement these general management activities were considered important, the key competency was again the ability of the future learning executive to see these activities in a strategic context — a recurring theme in the research findings. Although many general management activities are tactical in nature (short-term and limited scope), the ability to see these “tactics” as part of a larger business strategy was an indication of executive readiness.
This competency set is driven in part by the exit of baby boomer employees and the desire to capture their knowledge, and in part by the strategic need to forge better links between individual competencies and corporate business needs.
For our future CLOs, this means familiarity with tools for evaluating, capturing, organizing and disseminating critical organizational knowledge in order to manage individual and corporate intellectual assets more effectively. They must be familiar with gap-analysis systems, career and succession planning systems, skills management systems, skill banks, learner management systems, and the importance of integrating data from these oftentimes disparate systems.
Against this integrated data, the future learning executive must continually ask the critical strategic question: Does the organization have the workforce competencies it needs to achieve its business goals? The learning executive’s job is to champion programs that always answer this question with a strategic affirmative. Successful implementation of these programs requires knowledge about competency frameworks (commercial and internally developed), how they link to the organization’s business goals and ultimately their relationship to the competencies of the individual worker.
Future learning executives must develop a top-down strategic understanding of the relationship between organizational competency gaps (high-level competencies that the organization needs to achieve its business goals) and individual competency gaps (low-level competencies that the individual needs to effectively perform his or her job). Initiatives that eliminate these gaps will help ensure that the organization always has the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time. This focus on closing gaps is again rooted in the ability of the future CLO to think strategically.
Current learning executives indicated that future CLOs must have experience leading people. Whether as a high-performance team leader or the head of a department, the future CLO must have the qualities of a leader.
In competency terms, they should be able to develop and communicate a strategic vision, motivate their people to achieve results and align them around a clearly articulated strategy. In addition, they should be capable of implementing new business directions and developing related measures of success. To accomplish this, future learning executives must be skillful problem solvers and coaches, adept at developing high-performance collaborative teams, and able to impact decisions within and outside of their own organizations.
In strategic terms, the future CLO is responsible for making sure that everyone in his or her organization understands the link between what they do as individuals and the larger strategic vision. They also must clearly state achievable goals and metrics associated with the vision so that each of their managers can develop lower-level tactical measures with their direct reports.
Finally, they must be good delegators and know when to put others in leadership roles, thereby setting the stage for the development of new leaders—even their own successors.
Learning Methods and Concepts
Survey findings in this area were less about specific competencies and more about future CLOs having a general knowledge of specific learning methods and concepts in order to better manage their organization. It is a matter of credibility. If future learning executives are going to lead the learning function of their organizations, they will need to speak the language of training and be familiar with its major concepts.
In order to effectively manage their staff of learning professionals, future CLOs need to be familiar with key concepts of instructional design. These concepts include: needs analysis, characteristics of the adult learner, and the design and development process for learning programs. They should possess a familiarity with the methods, tools and techniques for evaluating the effectiveness of learning on both the individual and the organization. These include a general knowledge about levels of evaluation, ROI, scorecards and dashboards. Regarding learning delivery technologies, future learning executives should have a general understanding of the qualities of multimedia, simulations, role play, case studies, virtual classrooms, traditional classrooms and blended instruction, as well as understanding what each one does best. This all should be coupled with an understanding of learner, content and management competency systems.
From an economic perspective, future learning executives need to be familiar with cost structures related to in-house development of training programs versus contracting with an outside developer, the differences in cost between generic (less expensive) off-the-shelf training and custom (more expensive) training, and the content trade-offs of one-size-fits-all versus job- and company-specific programs. Similarly, they need to know the economic costs associated with different delivery media, such as classroom, blended, simulations and virtual classrooms.
If the future CLOs are similar in profile to the current incumbents, they will continue to come from two different backgrounds: those with training and development backgrounds or those with experience in general management. Those with antecedents in training and development will want to focus on the competencies associated with strategic management, general management and leadership skills as they will have had little experience with those competencies. Conversely, those with general management backgrounds might not be familiar with the competencies associated with knowledge management and learning methods and concepts.
Both worlds seek new vocabularies and an understanding about when to use them. Those coming from general management backgrounds seek the vocabulary necessary to effectively communicate and have credibility with the learning professionals that they manage. Needs analysis, instructional design, formative evaluation, etc. must become a part of their vocabulary. To communicate with their future senior management peers, they already have a business vocabulary and are comfortable speaking in terms of results.
Individuals from training and development already will possess the vocabulary necessary to communicate with their staff. What they will need is a business vocabulary for speaking to their future peers. Used to speaking in terms of instructional design, course completion and numbers of learners processed, they must learn to speak the vocabulary of business results. ROI, market share, shareholder equity, etc. must become a part of their lexicon.
The Sixth Competency: Strategic Thinking
Regardless of the reality of these different backgrounds, there is one commonality that transcends background, a competency mentioned earlier and woven throughout the survey’s findings — the ability to think strategically. Why did current learning executives see this competency as critical? Habit. As one moves through the management ranks of supervisor, manager, director and even vice president, he or she primarily deals with the day-to-day issues and problems that require short-term, if not immediate, tactical solutions. This bottom-up “habit” of tactical thinking is characterized by:
- Seeing the smaller picture.
- Thinking in the shorter term.
- Addressing specific issues.
- Focusing on defined data and metrics.
- Achieving outcomes.
- Monitoring trends and patterns against benchmarks.
- Articulating “what” the tactic is and “why” it is important.
- Understanding the relationship of tactics to strategy.
This is not a bad way of thinking, simply a fact of life to anyone who has been involved in middle management for 15 to 20 years, hence, the “habit” nature of this mindset.
According to current learning executives, to be successful as future CLOs, this bottom-up perspective has to be replaced by a top-down way of thinking, taking on a strategic point-of-view characterized by:
- Seeing the bigger picture.
- Thinking in the longer term.
- Anticipating issues.
- Determining the right data/metrics.
- Predicting outcomes.
- Recognizing key trends and patterns.
- Articulating “what” the strategy is and “why” it is important.
- Understanding the relationship of strategy to tactics.
This might be artificial at first and seem a bit forced to the tactically “habituated” candidate. But, as the future CLO moves through experiences with strategic management, general management, knowledge management, leadership and learning methods with this albeit-forced top-down perspective, something happens. Learning technologies seem less like solutions in search of problems. Timeframes are longer. Metrics to monitor business impact are put in place. Data is more thoroughly analyzed. Patterns emerge from the data; tactics are seen as components of the larger picture. And the achievement of business results drives all efforts. A shift has taken place — a shift in both thinking and perspective. The thinking that is being exhibited is strategic and the perspective is top-down. What was once a seemingly disconnected set of tactics is now seen by the future CLO as a set of meaningful efforts in the context of the larger organization.
This is the sixth competency, a metanoia, which is defined as “a change of mind.” It’s a critical shift to strategic thinking that will ultimately lead those who aspire to be a learning executive to a place at the table.
Dr. James L’Allier serves as Chief Learning Officer and Vice President, Research and Development of Thomson NETg, Inc. Comment below or email editors@CLOmedia.com.
- The time required to create competency models.
- Lack of internal bandwidth and/or knowledge.
- Rapid change/job evolution means competency models may quickly become out-of-date.
- Quick-pick methods, especially without professional facilitation, may not accurately identify critical competencies.
- Selection of easily visible skills while subtle but important qualities are missed.
- Learning and other processes that are not designed to use competencies.
- Increasingly popular strengths-based programs suggest that employees should use their own strength set to be successful.
There is a variety of competency modeling best practices in the learning industry. One of the most promising approaches, multilayer competency modeling, hasn’t received much visibility. In this approach:
- Competency models are assembled with components — different sets of core competencies that apply to multiple job roles/individuals.
- Much of each role-based competency model is preselected, which leads to saving time, greater quality and tighter career ladders.
- Competency models are more dynamic and easily updated because changing the cores updates multiple competency models.
- Managerial and technical paths are accommodated.
- Cross-functional and technical competencies are included.
- Common cores result in a smaller, cross-functional competency library, which increases focus on the remaining few, eases communication, and simplifies integration with learning and other talent management processes.
The Journey to a Competent Model
- Empower individuals to plan and advance their careers.
- Improve capabilities to develop internal talent.
- Identify best talent to fill critical positions or assignments.
- Attract and retain talented employees.
- Foster engagement and a more positive organizational culture.
- Catalyze higher performance.
CME’s competency modeling developed and evolved in three phases. Phase One began in 2012 with a plan to quickly create impact and value by focusing on leadership-level core competencies. Taking into account business drivers and associated leadership tasks, CME identified four to seven critical competencies for each of five leadership levels within the organization — consistent expectations for leaders across all functions and development targets for leaders at each level.
- Organizationwide competencies: For the recruiter, the individual contributor core competencies apply.
- Functional core competencies: For the recruiter, HR functional competencies apply.
- Family competencies: The recruiting family competencies from junior recruiter to recruiting manager apply.
CME also identifies proficiency — the level of competency expertise required for success in a position — using a five-point scale ranging from awareness to expert. Job incumbents and their supervisors establish the proficiencies with guidance from a knowledgeable facilitator.
- Four sets of core competencies are selectively applied to all jobs. This replaces a much larger number of cores used in Phase Two.
- The cores result in eight to 12 predetermined competencies per job role.
- Only four additional competencies are selected for each job. Subject-matter experts select these functional or technical competencies guided by previously selected functional competencies.
- Competency model is reduced to 12 to 16 competencies from 18 to 20.
- Managerial and technical career paths are accommodated.
- Talent management processes will be simplified. For example, learning and development, resources can be reduced, and the best can be aligned to fewer competencies.
- Focus sufficiently on end processes. Detailing competency-based talent management processes from the start provides valuable insight into what competency model data will be most useful. Further, competency models should be tailored to the capabilities of the talent management technology being used. Finally, tangible benefits help engage supervisors and individual contributors.
- Use facilitators as competency experts. Trained facilitators yield superior results compared with having supervisors and job incumbents pick competencies unassisted. Over time, CME doubled down on facilitators, transitioning from meeting leader and data collector to competency expert. Experienced facilitators learn the competency library and gain valuable cross-functional knowledge. This enables them to preselect lists of competencies. Subject-matter experts validate the list and suggest what is missing.
- Shorten the competency library. Having a good competency library with cross-functional and technical competencies, behavioral indicators and behavioral interview questions was a boon. CME was able to simplify by removing competencies that no longer fit and reduce the number of variations for a single competency. For example, while there may be different critical behaviors for “making presentations” and “verbal communications,” one competency can cover both.
- Craft a story. Rather than having subject-matter experts pick competencies, have them describe upcoming goals they need to accomplish, such as operational efficiency or opening new markets. Include questions about how their work affects the organization and industry, followed by what skills managers and teams need to deliver the desired impact. Then validate the preselected competencies against that story.
- The competency modeling meetings are helpful when setting expectations.
- Managers are happy they now have a means to articulate career paths.
- Hiring managers no longer have to create interview guides. It’s also easier to compare candidates.
- Everyone sees the new role profiles, and managers and individuals can agree on up to three critical competencies to focus on for the year as part of CME’s performance management process. This helps to make feedback richer.
From Left: Janine Pesci, Flemming Karstens Søeborg, Monika Vikander-Hegarty, Trish McCarty