Global Leadership Blog

3 Steps to Globalizing Leadership Development Programs

Globalization may be dramatically transforming our businesses into international powerhouses, but there are a few aspects that are stubbornly staying the same, including leadership development programs. All too often, these programs seem stuck in yesterday’s world, even as business marches past today and into tomorrow. Globalizing your leadership development program becomes more and more critical with every passing day.

If you’re doing business in a global environment, you know what is needed: Leaders with a global mindset who can lead international teams, conduct business across time zones and borders, think creatively, communicate cross-culturally, and leverage new technology. Those aren’t skills many of us learn naturally cutting our teeth in an American workplace. More often, we develop them through trial and error, expatriate assignments, or customized training curricula.

Surveys by DDI and McKinsey have found that many programs aren’t preparing emerging leaders with the skills they need to excel in global environments. While basics like change management and critical thinking are still addressed, abilities related to cultural understanding, customer relationships in new markets and language skills just aren’t being cultivated.

Research shows that many programs aren’t preparing leaders with the skills they need to excel in a global environment, which is a puzzle, considering that increasing productivity and entering new markets top most companies’ wish lists. Possibly, the creators of leadership development curricula, or their stakeholders, just don’t understand the relevance of a global mindset, diverse business skills and cross-cultural communication in today’s world. That means that many of us have work to do in bringing our current learning programs up to speed.

These three steps can help you as you are globalizing your leadership development program.

1. Make Globalizing Leadership Development a Priority

Make sure your C-suite executives (or whoever’s in charge) grasp the business rewards of cultural fluency in new markets. For example, Reed Hoffman, LinkedIn’s co-founder, knew what he wanted to do in China and why it would be good for the company. He also talked about the importance of expansion and got many on board with the idea of LinkedIn’s growth in China.

Infusing a global mindset throughout the general workforce is essential. Once you recognize the need for global effectiveness, be sure your leadership understands that typical development programs may not be sufficient. Creativity and innovation play significant roles in market performance and global leadership impact. Fostering a culture of ingenuity and breakthrough ideas across borders requires both effort and knowledge, so make sure your organization understands the need for investing in an overhaul of your learning and development programs. Basic workshops on group learning, cultural awareness, and communication skills may not be enough.

2. Collaborate: Merge Cross-Functionally with Workforce Planning Teams

No doubt your talent management people are already involved in identifying skills gaps and grooming a succession pipeline of future leaders. By joining forces, you can determine the missing elements in your global leadership development program. One helpful hint: Instead of beginning with needed skills, start with the outcomes you want to achieve and work backward. Figure out the skills and behaviors required to produce those results and the programs needed to build those competencies. For example, the finance board area at SAP decided it wanted to increase women in leadership worldwide and then designed the right strategy, tactics, and program.

Finally, remember to make your new methodologies measurable, so you’re not shooting in the dark. For example, SAP increased women in management over four years by 15 percent.

3. Develop Hard and Soft Skills

When considering program enhancements, be sure to include both hard and soft skills. Do your leaders know how to manage remote teams and network across cultural lines? Are they able to creatively develop solutions and innovate when it comes to processes and internal structures as well as new products? Technology is essential as well; too many senior leaders are disconnected from the global effects of social media, which essentially divides them from part of their multi-generational workforce. Be sure that everyone knows how to use virtual tools like Skype and videoconferencing to drive closer connections in remote teams.

All too often, businesses assume that their best and brightest will naturally expand their innate leadership abilities to lead global organizations successfully. But managing, communicating and connecting across cultures and hemispheres requires effort. Companies that don’t implement this kind of training into their development programs are setting their leaders up for a painful struggle – while companies that do can look forward to a smoother and more rewarding expansion process.

Need more information? Contact me. Or download my free ebook#BridgingCultures: Global Knowledge for Successful Cross-Cultural Business Interaction.

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Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson