The Global Leadership Competencies We Aren’t Teaching

By Donna Parrey

The globally connected business environment demands leaders lead across time zones and borders, think creatively, communicate effectively and embrace technology. It is vital that learning organizations offer the right curriculum to address these essential competencies. Yet the content of many global leadership development programs fails to reflect changes in the way business gets done and the competencies required to lead effectively.

The Institute for Corporate Productivity’s 2013 Global Leadership Development Survey, conducted in collaboration with the American Management Association and Training magazine, examined 26 leadership competencies and their inclusion or exclusion in global leadership development programs for 1,200 global participants. (Editor’s Note: the author works for i4cp).

The survey found that many programs are not keeping pace with what’s most critical. In effect, these programs are not fully preparing participants to excel as leaders in the global environment.

The Missing Links

The survey found that most global leadership development programs address managing change and critical thinking/problem-solving — competences that have topped the list for three consecutive years. But competencies related to technology and creativity/innovation aren’t making the cut, despite the fact that organizations acknowledge their importance. These competencies are:

Comfort and competence with the latest advances in virtual technology: It is necessary for leaders to be fluent in the use of virtual technologies in their daily work lives. Yet, while 54 percent of those surveyed admitted this competency is important, it is absent from their global leadership development programs.

Comfort and competence with social network technology: This appeared on the list of missing competencies for the first time in 2012, and 46 percent of respondents overall included it again in 2013. There was a time when a social media presence was a new concept for an organization, but even if leaders aren’t tweeting, their organizations likely are.

The unprecedented growth of social networking applications, platforms and tools underscores the importance of this competency. Absent a formal learning program, organizations may consider tapping into their multigenerational workforce and reverse mentoring to develop social media fluency in their global leaders.

Measurement company Agilent Technologies Inc. recognizes the importance of technological know-how — 40 percent of its U.S.-based employees work remotely. “We’re always seeking to enhance our digital competency,” said Mike Girone, senior director of global learning and leadership development. “We have global teams, with team members in Europe, the Americas and Asia, and we get much of our work done through virtual connections.”

Three years ago, Agilent sought to increase competency and comfort with new technologies among participants via its emerging leaders program. Girone said everyone received an iPad to integrate use of the tool with the curriculum. All of the program’s workbooks were created on iBooks so participants could become comfortable with referencing, highlighting and taking notes using these tools.

When it comes to staying connected, Brian Miller, senior director of learning and development at Gilead Sciences Inc., agreed that it is important to get virtual teaming right. He said focused learning sessions on virtual teaming might include committing to a communications charter, leveraging members in rotating roles and agreeing on informal chat time such as online water cooler conversations.

Miller is not alone in his belief. Michael Killingsworth, vice president of learning and organizational effectiveness at the Upstream Americas division of Royal Dutch Shell, said he has discovered that virtual connections can be as powerful for communication as physical connections, and virtual can act as an open opportunity for rich intercultural learning and exchange.

“Advanced competencies like expert thinking, group learning and complex communication are becoming the new survival tools, all of which build the credibility of today’s leaders,” he said.

Global confectioner Mars Inc. relies on technology to facilitate close connections between its 75,000 globally dispersed associates and their line managers. With a highly decentralized structure but a high-touch, high-relationship culture, the firm is “corporate light” with fewer than 150 people in the corporate office, said Andre Martin, the company’s chief learning officer.

Global communication tools used range from SharePoint to Skype to videoconferencing. For instance, Mars’ senior HR team gathers from four locations around the world for an annual weeklong meeting via telepresence. “We want to be as present in China as we are in the U.K.,” Martin said. He said organizations should first prototype collaborative technology in small teams to find out what sticks in their specific culture. “It’s a vital first step.”

Creativity and innovation were once largely associated with product development, but their application to internal processes, communications, organizational structures and many other aspects of business make them a key competency. Leaders must be innovative in their thinking, both in their own performance as well as in their ability to drive innovation in their teams.

Creativity: More than half of the survey respondents agreed creativity is an ability that isn’t being addressed in their global learning and development programs, yet they consider it to be important. Study analyses found creativity to be significantly correlated to both market performance and global leadership development effectiveness.

Creating/supporting a culture of innovation: Overall, 46 percent of survey participants said their global leadership development programs were not addressing this competency. Yet these same leaders acknowledge that it gets even more complicated to stoke creativity on a global basis and to know how to create and maintain a culture of innovation across borders. Doing so was found to be highly correlated to global leadership development effectiveness.

Agilent Technologies recognized a global leadership void in 2008 when the firm reviewed its development programs against its leadership framework. The company found it was doing well in all areas but one — fostering innovation. So, leaders across the company worked to identify what could be done to enhance and support innovation.

One solution was to modify the company’s Agilent Innovates program to recognize and highlight new innovations. Previously, the program focused primarily on product innovation, but has since been broadened to include new process innovations.

“Others couldn’t play in the product innovation sandbox,” Girone said. “Now, we think about innovation more broadly, such as how we impact the customer experience. We tell stories about product and process innovation and understand the behaviors that contribute to innovation.”

Spending in the Right Places

Surveyed organizations reported less mastery of nearly every competency in 2013 than the previous year. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that people are less effective at their jobs, but it does suggest an increased emphasis on documented performance results. As the demand for accountability and demonstrated competency increases, so does the awareness of deficiencies.

At Agilent, the measure of success is less about the learning activities and more about business outcomes. Girone said the conversation about mastery for business leaders focuses on the right side of the business dashboard, where they live. The organization uses the Robert Brinkerhoff high-impact learning model with business outcomes on the right, then reads the model from right to left.

“It’s like peeling an onion,” he said. “Start with the business outcomes, then determine what needs to happen to reach them, what needs to be in place, what behaviors will support them and what learning outcomes will be evidence of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to succeed.”

That kind of due diligence is par for the course — or it should be — in savvy global learning functions. Shell’s Killingsworth said it is his responsibility as a learning leader to align all learning and development initiatives with the business and deliver measurable impact to business results.

“Through these measures we can quickly identify where our capability gaps are, define methodologies to close those gaps and then report on those gap closures through a competence management solution — one that measures and reports on competence compliance and competence deficiencies.”

In i4cp’s annual Critical Issues 2014 study, the importance of leadership development shot from 10th place in 2013 to No. 1 in 2014 among organizations with more than 1,000 employees. Some 51 percent of those surveyed reported that their organizations plan to increase spending on leadership development in 2014. But will they spend it developing the right competencies, and in turn, leaders with true global outlooks?

A glimpse at organizations’ top enterprise priorities may hint at where that spending should occur. Workforce productivity improvements and growth through entering new markets are uppermost on company agendas. The question learning leaders must ask themselves is whether their global leadership development curriculum has evolved along with the environment in which they operate.

I4cp offers the following four suggestions to learning organizations:

  • Make global cultural fluency an enterprise-wide priority. Deepen leaders’ knowledge and understanding of the culture and market implications in regions in which the organization operates or serves, and broaden the global mindset of all employees who may interact with co-workers, customers and vendors.
  • Mine the best minds. Involve senior managers in helping to drive global leadership development structure and content. Invite them to share their knowledge and stories in videos that can be posted to an internal social networking platform. Seek external thought leaders’ expertise, too.
  • Build a diverse offering of hard and soft skills. Continue the focus on critical competencies such as managing change and problem-solving, but improve mastery of competencies related to managing remote teams and social network skills. Develop more agile to boost creativity and their ability to build a culture of innovation.
  • Leverage strategic workforce planning. Use workforce planning to identify potential skills gaps that can be addressed via global leadership development. Ensure global leadership development is available to a diverse set of candidates for the succession pipeline.

About the Author:

Donna Parrey is a senior research analyst with the Institute for Corporate Productivity, a human capital research firm. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

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