New talented leaders are needed in emerging Asian markets, due to the retirement of many global business leaders from the Baby Boomer generation. One of the biggest challenges for these new leaders is the lack of leadership programs in Asian universities that teach skills such as vision, creativity, and risk-taking that are at the core of many organizations. To remedy this missing element, we’ve developed a case study featuring one process for training departments to build their global leadership pipeline.


To better understand the potential problems that need to be remedied, we present an actual story of a mid-career, high-potential Chinese marketing manager. He was selected to come to the Chicago headquarters of a corporation for a 6- to 12-month assignment, designed for high-potential Asian leaders. The goal of this program was to learn processes and procedures practiced at the headquarters to help these leaders to take on more responsibility after returning to Asia. Ideally, they might one day return to corporate HQ to become a member of a more global senior leadership team.


This particular manager had never traveled outside of China, and his English skills were not sufficient. The first communicative problems arose when someone from training and development, entrusted by the HR department to assist the Chinese manager, inquired about his needs. “How can I help you?” asked the American HR manager, but the Chinese manager responded while looking down, “I do not know how to ask.” Likewise, when he met his new manager, who asked what he’d like to accomplish during the six-month assignment, he replied, “Whatever you would like.” As expected from these glimpses into their interaction, the six months that followed were frustrating for everyone involved, particularly for the training department, which was seen as a liability rather than a helpful resource.


Flash forward to two years later at the same company. In response to the failure with the first assignee, one of the training directors helped develop a program to improve the success rate of the global leadership pipeline program. After analyzing the debacle, the director noticed the following problems: failed expectations, lack of preparation for all involved, and a lack of training and follow through. Consequently, the company hired a global cross-cultural training organization with trainers throughout Asia and the United States. A common effort between the mobility office, the consultant, and the training director made it possible to design an alignment program that has been recognized as one of the most effective global leadership development programs in multinational corporations. This program contains the following components.



To identify the perceived expectations of the sending manager and the metrics whereby success would be measured, the assignee and the sending manager need to be interviewed. These interviews serve to gain insights into what the assignees need to learn, what skills they must develop, and what would most improve the local organization upon the return of the assignee. A consultant or coach would then assist in drawing up a plan, including metrics, to which the assignee and their manager agreed. Additionally, this plan was shared with the consultant or coach in the host country (in this case, the United States).

Orientation for assignee.

An orientation program was set up, in coordination with the mobility team, that taught the assignee and their family important U.S. information: Social Security, driving, shopping, and the like. This program was extended by an in-depth cross-cultural immersion program about living and working in their new country.


Briefing for new manager.

To be prepared for potential challenges that the host country manager’s style might pose for the assignee, she received a cross-cultural briefing on the home culture of the assignee.


Alignment of assignee and manager.

The host country coach held an alignment meeting with the assignee and the host country manager to discuss goals, timelines, and measures of success. The plans that were agreed to in the home country were reviewed at this meeting. Any necessary changes had to be communicated immediately to the home country manager via a conference call and written follow-up. This alignment meeting provided a clear understanding of the goals and metrics for success of the assignment.


Alignment of assignee and team.

The coach next arranged an alignment meeting between the new assignee and the host country team members. This meeting served to discuss any cross-cultural differences that may have an impact on the team, and how the team would collaborate to facilitate the assignee' achieving her goals and help the team.



Ongoing coaching.

The assignee and coach held several coaching sessions during the assignment. These sessions included a final session focusing on repatriation and on leveraging  the experience when the assignee returned home.


The key to this successful training program was the close cooperation between the training director, the corporate mobility group, and the cross-cultural consulting organization. There are now much clearer goals and expectations. Assignees understand what they need to do, who they need to meet, what skills they need to develop, and what contact they should make at headquarters to be considered for future promotions.


After just one year and 20 assignees, the program has significantly improved assignees’ ability to implement their project upon returning home. Five of the candidates are being considered for promotions and assignments in other locations, including headquarters. One of the 20 assignees did not fulfill his original plans, and instead decided to remain working at headquarters.


Additionally, the host managers and team members now have a much greater appreciation of how things are done in different countries and are able to call on their colleagues in Asia for advice. Next year they will be expanding the program to 35 participants.


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