Schneider Electric is a global leader in electrical distribution, secured power and automation management. Business growth has created an operations shift from cost control to talent management, and this new focus has made it essential for the company to foster a diverse, global mindset in talent at all levels of management in the organization.
“It really boils down to return on investment,” said Peggy Gann, senior vice president of human resources and administration, Schneider Electric North American operating division. “We’re not focused as much as we have been in the past on pure cost, but more around what is the return on an investment that is creating value for the company. We’ve been able to make the case that investing in managing our talent is going to drive a higher-performing organization, which ultimately improves the performance of the business.”
In order to develop cultural awareness and a global perspective, Schneider Electric has enlisted commitment and participation from senior executives to teach different management-level programs. “We have Professional Manager Programs I and II, which are two to three weeks in length, not consecutively, where we bring managers from all parts of the world together to experience teachings from institutions from around the world,” Gann said. “We bring people together and they actually go to countries like India or Mexico for a week. They go to Paris perhaps, so they’re not only out of their own element and with people of diverse cultures in a learning situation, they also adopt projects or initiatives that they will continue to work on throughout a business cycle. They propose solutions and in some cases get approval for funding for changes in business processes from a senior management team.”
Schneider Electric also has more traditional expatriate assignments, in which people go for six to 18 months to participate in a team from another country to uncover best practices or to solve a business problem. “We also have the Marco Polo program,” Gann said. “We recruit fresh out of college for those who have an interest in an international career. We actually hire them for a position that will ultimately be in the U.S., but they spend their first two years outside the U.S. in a similar position in another division or another area of the world, and then they return. We started that probably about four years ago, and we’re beginning to have returning people who have gone through that program. We’re really excited about their new view, and we’ll be looking to see how we can retain their interest.”
Gann said that program attendees returning from Marco Polo assignments and other initiatives geared toward development of a global perspective enjoy broad peer networks and develop relationships that promote communication and open doors for understanding why Schneider Electric performs a certain way or needs to bring certain information forward. Global assignments also develop specific competencies that the company finds useful.
“We’re embarking on a big ERP (enterprise resource planning) program, and we have people who are assigned to a global initiative, from a process standpoint, who will create common measurements and common languages around business principles,” Gann said. “A common business language supports speed in decision-making and the competencies that they learn, or the things that they’re able to bring back to this country, such as best practices from China and France. We’ve been able to take some of the best of those to support this bigger initiative.”
Enhanced communication and a common business language also are valuable because they help align individual organization activities to a global objective. “If our objective at Schneider Electric is to be the best player in distributing and controlling electricity for our customers, we have to have everybody working toward that and creating solutions, because we have global customers who are building manufacturing plants and building energy efficiency programs,” Gann said. “We have to be able to pull together all of our products, tools and services to serve that global customer. If we can align this overall objective through our communication and have a common business language to support that, we will be able to serve the customer faster in a broader venue around the world.”
–Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org