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The Crisis in the Global Leadership Pipeline


Wed Nov 18 2015

The Crisis in the Global Leadership Pipeline

As Baby Boomers with global business expertise retire, many organizations hope to replace them with talented leaders who will help the organization succeed in emerging markets. Yet few training departments incorporate cross-cultural training into their global leadership programs. As a result, the programs are a waste of time and money, leaving both HQ and the new leader frustrated.

However, there is a way for training departments to build their global leadership pipeline. Take this story of one global organization’s program as an example. You’ll learn both from the organization’s earlier mistakes and its later successes.


A Disastrous First Attempt

A mid-career, high-potential Chinese marketing manager was selected to come to the Chicago headquarters of a corporation for six months to “learn the ropes.” He was then supposed to bring the processes and procedures practiced at HQ to China, where he would take on more leadership responsibilities. The ultimate goal was for him to one day return to corporate HQ to be a member of a more global senior leadership team.

This person had never been outside China, and his English was very poor. So, the HR department asked someone in training and development to help the person out. But when asked what he needed, the Chinese manager simply looked down.

“How can I help you?” asked the training and development rep. “I do not know how to ask,” he replied. 

When he went to meet his new manager, the manager asked him what he had hoped to accomplish during the six-month assignment. He replied, “Whatever you would like.” 

Overall, the six months was frustrating for everyone involved. Senior leadership saw the training department as a liability to developing global leadership, instead of a helpful


Two Years Later

One of the training directors was asked to help improve the success of the global leadership pipeline program. She realized that the problem was a result of failed expectations, preparation of all participants, training, and follow-up. The company partnered with a global cross-cultural training organization that had trainers throughout Asia and the United States. Together they created an alignment program that has been recognized as one of the most effective global leadership development programs for multinational corporations. Working together with the organization’s mobility office, the consultant and the training director created a program with the following components:

  1. Interview the assignee and her manager before the assignee arrives in the United States. The interview will help identify the perceived expectations of the sending manager and the metrics used to measure success. For example, what does the assignee need to learn, what skills need to be developed, and what are the most valuable areas that would improve the local organization? A coach in the local organization should draw up a plan that includes the metrics to which the assignee and manager agreed. The coach should then share it with the coach in the host country.

  2. Provide an in-depth cross-cultural immersion program for the assignee and his family about living and working in their new country. This should be preceded by an orientation program, set up in coordination with the mobility team, that focuses on topics such as Social Security, driving, and shopping.

  3. Give the host country manager a cross-cultural briefing on the assignee’s culture to better understand possible unseen barriers that may affect management of the assignee.

  4. Hold an alignment meeting with the assignee and her host country manager to discuss goals, timelines, and metrics of success. At the meeting, the plans the assignee and her sending manager agreed to should be reviewed; any changes should be communicated immediately to the sending manager through a conference call and written follow-up. The alignment meeting promotes a clear understanding of the goals and metrics for a successful assignment.

  5. Arrange an alignment meeting between the new assignee and his host country team members. The goal for this meeting is to cover any cross-cultural differences that may affect the team and to discuss how the team will work together so that the assignee meets his objectives and helps the team.

  6. Throughout the assignment, have several coaching sessions with the assignee, including a final session focusing on repatriation and how the full experience will be leveraged when she returns home.

A Success Story

This new plan contained much clearer goals and expectations. Assignees better understood what they needed to do, whom they needed to meet, and what skills they needed to develop in order to be considered for future promotions at HQ.

After just one year and 20 assignees, the program has greatly improved assignees’ ability to implement their new skills and knowledge back at home. Five of the candidates are being considered for promotions and assignments in other locations, including HQ. Moreover, the program has produced an unexpected benefit: 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.

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