7 Deadly Sins of Global Biz Leadership Development

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Originally published in collaboration with Yuko Shibata, executive at ALC’s Global Leadership and Talent Development Group, in a series of articles in KIGYOU TO JINZAI 企業と人材  Magazine.

Thomas Friedman said The World is Flat, and I certainly feel that the business world is getting smaller.  Many companies today are looking overseas for new markets and new customers in order to sustain the profitable growth of their businesses.  New behaviors, skills and thinking are required to succeed globally, and companies must act strategically in order to secure the talented people required to fulfill their increasingly global vision.  This has led many HR departments to pursue what they often call global leadership “training” programs, but you don’t “train” humans to be global leaders.  You train dolphins to do tricks in a swimming pool to earn fish treats. 

In the case of business professionals, you have to develop and grow them into global leaders via a comprehensive strategy, including perspective-broadening and mindset-shifting experiences.  Unfortunately “training” is much easier, so HR managers can fall into the trap of scheduling workshops without regard to the lasting business benefit being achieved.  Big mistake!  Costly mistake!  This blog is based on my experiences over the past 4 years working with Japanese companies determined to become truly global through developing their people into truly global leaders.  If you’d like to truly improve your ability to lead globally, and avoid wasting time and money on “training” programs, read on.

The War for Top Global Talent A 2001 study by McKinsey & Co. showed that companies considered as having top talent delivered 22% more ROI than those rated as having average employees.  In addition, another study indicates that 45% of organizational performance is due to leadership.  What’s more, a 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers report expects the world working-age population to shrink over the coming decades in Italy, Germany, France, China, and most dramatically in Russia and Japan.  Finally, a 2008 survey of global CEOs found that the #1 issue that these executives felt they would face in the coming 2 – 5 years was “staffing and skills”.

Clearly recruiting, retaining and developing talented people is one of the most important challenges facing global companies today.  And yet when the current economic crisis began in 2008, an event I fondly refer to as “the worldwide economic mood disorder”, or WWEMD for short, many large US companies immediately eliminated some or all of their leadership development programs.  Keep in mind that many such programs had already been eliminated during preceding decades of cost cutting.  That’s why I have been so impressed with Japanese global businesses, many of which have remained steadfastly focused on their long-term plans for increasing their global competitiveness, and stayed committed to developing global leaders suitable to the challenges ahead.  But now, more than ever, HR managers have a responsibility to assure that the precious money being invested in such employee development programs is well spent, and delivers an indisputable ROI.

The 7 Deadly Sins Unfortunately, predictable and avoidable pitfalls reduce the effectiveness of many global leadership development programs.  Chief among these are what I fondly refer to as “the 7 deadly sins” of global leadership development programs.  I have observed these problems at close range during many years of facilitating programs throughout the Silicon Valley and other parts of the US.  A good portion of this list applies to practically every US company that I’ve consulted with over the past 9 years, and these 7 items form a highly effective checklist for HR managers in Japan determined to extract the maximum benefit from their investment in global talent.

Here are the 7 deadly sins of global business leadership development programs, each of which will be discussed in more detail in the following section:

1.  Absence of visible senior executive support.
2.  No definition of what an effective “global business leader” is.
3.  Lack of clear goals, and no measurable success criteria.
4.  “Frankenstein” programs, instead of an integrated approach.
5.  Insufficient preparation prior to program participation.
6.  Participant distractions during the program, and no support for afterwards.
7.  No accountability for delivering results as a result of participation.

Let’s explore each of these, and some of the underlying root causes, in greater detail.

Senior Executive Support One of the most valuable aspects of a global leadership development program is the opportunity to meet with senior executives, and learn firsthand from their leadership philosophies and experiences.  I worked with a Fortune 500 US firm that claimed to support employee development programs, but month after month we failed to secure a senior executive to speak to the participants.  While budgetary support for the program is critical, personal involvement and active support sends a powerful message to participants about the importance of the program and the significance of their selection for participation.  In our programs we always strive to assure that senior executives agree to invest the time required to be visible through “senior leader dialogues”, where they share their experiences in presentations and Q&A, informal social occasions, and by being present as the audience for status reports on the real business projects that are a part of every effective global leadership development program.

What is an Effective “Global Business Leader”? There is no generally accepted definition of what constitutes the behavior, language and thinking of an effective global business leader.  Although some companies do have a clearly defined set of global leader core competencies, many have no idea what kind of global leader they are attempting to develop.  A lame definition like “someone who can lead globally” just won’t do.  If development programs are to deliver the intended business results, they must aim for specific changes in mindset, thinking, communication and behaviors that will be effective in the culture and environment in which the business operates.  Naturally, the absence of a clear definition of a global leader on the client’s part is no excuse for not having one ourselves.   In the absence of a definition, we provide our own based on aggregated research on the topic, in the form of a Global Leadership Competence Instrument (GLCI), consisting of 7 leadership characteristics in each of 5 key areas that can be used as a guide to the ideal global leader.  For maximum effect, each company should customize the definition of a global business leader to suit their particular business environments, and then programs must be designed to develop and strengthen these characteristics in participants.

Goals and Measurable Success Criteria The undisputed #1 cause of failure to achieve goals is the lack of clear and measurable goals.  Because human resource development has largely been considered a “soft” skill, hard metrics of progress are a foreign concept for many HR managers.  However, in today’s demanding business environment, “What gets measured is what gets done.”  Only programs that deliver measurable success will continue to enjoy the support of funding.  Although some people protest that global leadership development is too intangible to measure, we have found that there are several credible ways to track the value of such programs:

–       Self-assessment – self-assessment by the participants of their progress in closing the gap between where their current leadership competence and where they need to be in order to be an effective leader.

–       360 Assessment – 360 degree assessment by people who manager, report to, or surround the participants in the work environment.  In today’s boundaryless organization, assessors may include suppliers, customers, alliance partners and collaborators of various kinds.

–       Hard Measures of Business Results – tangible business results, such as increased revenue, reduced costs, increased quality, reduced turnover of employees, increased customer loyalty, reduced risk, increased profit, and ultimately share price.  Although it may be challenging to directly link these hard business metrics to global leadership development programs, it can be done, especially if the programs include opportunities to apply what is learned to real business projects.

Albert Einstein said “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”, but still, there is likely to be some bean counter in your organization who wants to know what they got for the money spent on global leadership development.  HR managers must find a way to quantify the value of these programs if they want to get future programs funded year after year.

Save Me From “Frankenstein” – an Integrated Approach Imagine that you have suddenly been directed to “increase the global leadership competency” of your company’s mid-level managers, and been given a budget to accomplish this miracle.  What is the optimal approach?  Unfortunately the one frequently chosen by novice HR people is to schedule a period of time in which high-potential leaders are sequestered in a “training” environment and subjected to a series of (boring) lecture-based workshops intended to build the skills they will need to succeed.  Wrong answer!  You might as well flush your money down the toilet.  According to the American Society of Training and Development, 50% of what is learned in “training” is immediately forgotten upon exiting the training room.  Fully 80% is forgotten within 2 months.  And a year later, well, you’d be hard pressed to get most participants to recall even a single “key insight” from their expensive experience.  Just stringing together a series of training workshops, like pearls on a necklace, won’t transform your people into effective global leaders.  You’ve got to take an integrated approach, where the goals and measurable results drive every decision in the program.  The only purpose for the programs that we deliver is to enhance business result,s through changes in behavior, communication and mindset.  Design your global leadership development programs with the goals clearly in mind, and assure that the whole program hangs together in a way in which every part supports every other part in perfect harmony.  Anything else is just a Frankenstein, stitched together – functioning, but awkward, ineffective and, in the end, repulsive.

Insufficient Preparation Your employees are busy.  When you select them for a prestigious global leadership development program they still have a full-time job to occupy their every waking moment until that program begins.  It’s absolutely imperative that they and their managers understand the importance of the program, and how critical it is for them to arrive prepared to make best use of this valuable experience.  Every truly effective global leadership development program does more than talk about global leadership, it requires participants to actively engage in a global team project that strengthens their ability to achieve real world results in the global business environment.   These projects must be aligned with the strategy and core competencies of the company, and this requires significant work prior to the program in order to assure that the projects will be relevant and valuable.  In addition, participants must take time to think about their own personal goals for participation, and enlist the support of their managers, other colleagues, and even their families, so that they can make best use of their opportunity for a breakthrough in their ability to lead globally.

Distractions and Post-program Support No matter how important the development of the top talent is in your organization, it will never be the most urgent task vying for the attention of the participants.  More pressing matters intrude on the most spectacular of professional development opportunities.  Participants frequently find themselves fully occupied by daily tasks while simultaneously expected to attend and engage in a transformative experience that will shape them into the kind of global leaders they admire.  You can imagine how ineffective this is!  The support of their direct manager is key, and delegation – a skill critical to the success of true leaders – is key to freeing up participant bandwidth and assuring that the program is not just something squeezed in between routine meetings, phone calls, email, and other day-to-day job responsibilities.  As short-sighted as this is, it’s not unusual to find that a participant has been told by their manager to prioritize urgent work tasks above program participation, and even to skip attending parts of the program in favor of fulfilling day-to-day job responsibilities.  And it’s far too easy to make the argument that a business crisis demands the attention of someone who is otherwise committed to a long-term global leadership development program.  Beware!  This is a slippery slope!  Before you know it 1/3 of the participants are arriving late, scooting out for lunch meetings, or leaving early to attend a “critical” meeting.  The negative impact to the group experience, their team project, and their own development as a global leader, is palpable!  A signed agreement between the participant, their manager, and the HR manager, stating upfront the time commitment and attendance requirements, and clarifying expectations on all sides, makes the message clear – “This program is strategically important, and there is no excuse for not attending and taking full advantage of this opportunity to learn to lead our company powerfully into the global future!”

Accountability for Results And it doesn’t get any easier when the program ends.  David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, in “The Neuroscience of Leadership”, report that a training (I hesitate to use this term for such a transformative experience!) program alone increased productivity by 28 percent, but the addition of follow-up coaching increased productivity by 88 percent.  And yet many programs end abruptly, without sufficient thought being given to the follow on support required for the participants and the company to derive the full benefit of the program.

In the end, the value of the program is not measured by the course evaluations, it is measured by the long term business results achieved by those who participated in the program.  It’s relatively easy to achieve a high rating on a course evaluation for a workshop or training program.  All that is required is to be entertaining and require little of the participants.  However the real business benefit cannot be measured solely by programs with high participant evaluation scores.  The value of a global leadership development program must be measured against the goals and metrics of success for the program.

If participants are not asked to deliver business benefits as a result of their participation, little will change.  But if managers support their participation during the program, ask them to report on their status and progress throughout the program, and hold them accountable for breakthrough business results after the program ends, participants are far more likely to contribute something tangible to the company as a result of the experience.

Some ways to enforce accountability include:

–       Ask participants to adopt new roles with greater responsibility after the program.

–       Require their participation in follow on executive development coaching to strengthen the gains that they have made in their global leadership.

–       Give them the responsibility to mentor and coach the next generation of participants, and involve them in strategic dialogues with senior executives going forward.

–       Hold them accountable for behaving like global leaders.

In short, don’t just let them return to their jobs after the program ends.  It is well known that people rise or sink to the level of expectations set for them.  Make sure that your expectations are challenging, yet achievable, and supported by managers, senior executives, alumni programs, and your HR team.

The Twisty Path to Greatness It’s a twisty and treacherous path that leads to greatness in the competitive global business environment, but your ability to survive and thrive as a global business depends upon your people having the ability to navigate that path with grace and agility.  As an HR manager, you have tremendous influence on how well positioned your company is to win the war for talent.  By avoiding these 7 deadly sins you can be sure that you will be among the victors at the finish line time and again.

For more information about how Kimberly can be your ally in creating world class global leadership development programs, contact her at 650 867 0847.  Wahoo! – Kimberly

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