Blueprint for Global Development

In a globalized business world, working across borders and cultures is common. However, when it comes to leadership development, differences within organizations still exist, and lacking a standardized development plan can threaten an organization’s success. Despite universal advancements in succession management practices, many organizations have leadership gaps that result in missed goals and unrealized opportunities.

Increasing leadership development consistency across a global, distributed workforce can help to build a strong bench of talent to fill key leadership roles today and tomorrow, and keep an organization on a strategic path.

Organizations that cannot execute business strategies fail, and a 2012 Bersin & Associates study found only 49 percent of mid-level leaders are perceived as able to drive and operate a company successfully. Preventing managerial incompetence becomes even trickier as organizations become more global.

Standards Transcend Borders
A successful development process offers a holistic and clear picture, regardless of location or culture. An optimal approach blends a variety of elements — from simulation-based assessments to live and online elements — and measures to round out the experience.

Assessment and development measures should deliver actionable, accurate insight into participants’ experiences, competencies, personality traits, motivators and possible derailing attributes and behaviors so organizations can address leadership gaps across the network, and determine readiness for current and potential leaders. These measures must provide a window into how a mid-level leader is performing, and how he or she will perform under various circumstances. This enables talent leaders to make accurate, informed decisions about how to develop and promote talent, and to create a strong talent pool of mid-level leaders.

While roles and responsibilities will vary by region and across geographies, all mid-level leaders need to perform optimally. A few basic standards exist, regardless of location, creating a blueprint from which talent leaders can work to develop global workforces.

Identify and acknowledge similarities and differences. When dealing with a global, distributed workforce, organizations looking to establish a standard leadership development program must first consider the different environments — and associated cultural nuances — where employees reside. From there, talent leaders can identify skills and knowledge gaps among leaders in specific roles.

Talent leaders must understand the workforce planning factors that shape each region, including supply and demand for talent. Pivotal roles in a global manufacturing organization, for example, will determine the capacity and agility of the organization in areas where the greatest demand for the product exists.

Get to know pivotal roles. Identifying leaders for pivotal roles — with a special focus on pinpointing those who display the flexibility and capacity to step into roles that vary by region — can be overwhelming without standardized tools and assessment processes. A mix of measures that blend simulation-based assessments, as well as live and online elements, can have a significant impact, as demonstrated by Esterline Corp., a specialized manufacturing company with employees in the U.S., Asia, Europe and Africa. The company wanted to establish a development program to ensure it had the right talent in place to lead the organization in the present and future.

A key turning point for Esterline arose when several promotions among the company’s senior leadership left the company without adequate knowledge of the remaining bench strength in its mid-level leader tier. The company was using traditional selection and development methods at this level, including performance reviews and 360 evaluations, but lacked a formal assessment process.

“We wanted to kick start a more formalized program that would give us confidence in who we viewed as the organization’s future leaders,” said Sara Dnell, HR program manager at Esterline.

The company looked for a valid, global and consistent way to assess and develop talent so it could more accurately calibrate its talent strategy. To start, it identified high-potential leaders globally. The group participated in 360 reviews, development exercises and learning modules, and in some cases, more sophisticated assessment and development tools, including live, simulation-based exercises via webcam with an expert coach. In the simulation, participants had to convince a peer to move in a direction they felt strongly about, though they didn’t have any direct authority over that person.

Develop a globally conscious development strategy. At Esterline, assessing and developing talent was key to accurately calibrate the organization’s talent strategy. From that point, organizations can put a development strategy in place to help build their bench strength to fill those key roles.

“We believe the outcome of these exercises will be a solid succession management path that we couldn’t get with our previous approach,” Dnell said. “Our next step will be to look at participant results and create a development approach to help them realize their full potential.”

Establishing a development strategy is especially necessary in quickly emerging regions, where leadership need can be significant and require fast action. Accelerating pivotal leaders’ acquisition of the right experiences, knowledge and skills necessary to become leaders adds more tools to the organization’s toolbox.

For global companies, determining a development plan within an international context can prove challenging. In an emerging and fast-growing region, for example, an organization may place people in roles early in their career and with less practical experience than those in similar roles in another part of the world. Understanding leadership and development needs across geographies is key to fill corresponding talent gaps based on region-specific needs. This focus is important because development does more than prepare leaders; it carries the culture of an organization forward, shaping how leaders lead.

Accelerate and transition. Once talent leaders determine where pivotal roles are and have a firm grasp of their bench of talent for those roles, they can take the next steps to select talent and accelerate readiness. Accelerating readiness begins with the development process. In addition to selection, organizations should provide targeted development to enhance leaders’ readiness for specific roles and transition coaching for up to 90 days post-selection.

Development for specific job readiness differs markedly from general development. Readiness development facilitates acquisition of skills, knowledge and experiences for a specific role. Targeted mentoring is a popular approach. At its core, the most effective mentoring involves leaders teaching leaders. Practical managers will expose employees to specific challenges encountered in pivotal roles.

Many organizations engage in assessment and development, and then fall short after the leader has been selected and on-boarded to his or her new role. This sink-or-swim mentality persists in spite of significant failure rates for internally selected candidates. Organizations should take steps to ensure high-potential leaders are positioned for success by providing needed support in the first six months following a transition.

To ensure this success, organizations should establish a global standard for transition support, so all parts of the organization support new leaders the same way. This should include establishing key performance indicators to benchmark leader growth and ensure they’re meeting the rigor of the roles as expected.

Organizations also can take steps to help leaders establish personal, leadership, business and relationship agendas, all of which are important to develop well-rounded leaders. Personal agendas should serve as a guide to balance work with life, while leadership agendas help leaders work toward established goals for the type of leader they want to be. Business agendas help tie goals to key business indicators, and relationship agendas outline who leaders should know to be successful and meet the demands of their jobs.

Cover the leadership bases. While pivotal roles are a necessary part of an organization’s makeup, organizations can take steps to manage risks associated with possible gaps in the leadership bench. Specifically, they can employ strategies that distribute knowledge and skills associated with pivotal roles among a number of leaders. Ideally, organizations should have at least two people on deck to fill each pivotal role. This provides an immediate option if needed as well as one to fill the role down the line.

Deliver consistent, persistent values regardless of geography. Global organizations should ensure some things in the leadership development process are consistent and persistent, including key values universally agreed upon within the organization that span geographies — such as safety, excellent customer experiences and quality — as well as basic and universal leadership principles. These global values can serve as guiding principles as employees develop in their careers.

While values should be universal, the vehicles to deliver the messages behind these values must vary according to culture and geographic preferences to have the biggest impact. Delivery vehicles should be dictated by the learning styles in a specific population within the organization, which can be dictated by cultural factors. For example, in China, in-person learning and development are a preferred delivery method. Online classes have proven more effective and worthwhile in the United States.

Global organizations also should take steps to allow flexibility regarding locally dependent factors such as the delivery method, as well as group facilitation techniques, among other elements. Essentially, it should be clear what will be universal in terms of practice, approach and expectations, and what will be flexible based on regional differences.

Secure Leadership Success
To ensure it was adequately preparing its next generation of leaders, Union Bank’s senior leadership team undertook a new talent management strategy. Executive Vice President Pinkie Laye and Jessica Dang, senior vice president of talent management, established a high potential leadership development initiative known as the Leadership Enterprise-wide Accelerated Development (LEAD) program to consistently develop and connect leaders across different business units and locations.

LEAD includes one to two cohorts annually of approximately 24 participants from Union Bank and its parent company, Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi Americas. These leaders are more likely to work globally during their careers or may exhibit the traits and competencies to warrant a high potential designation. The program has an in-person kickoff facilitated by executives and a coach, followed by leadership assessments, coaching and a business simulation with global elements that encourages participants to think broadly and work across silos. After six months, participants make an in-person presentation to executives from both organizations.

“We worked to build a solid framework that we could leverage against ever-changing global priorities while providing a consistent approach and development experience for our participants,” Dang said. “One of the most valuable things the participants take away from the experience is the networking and the hands-on, real-world learning through action learning projects.”

The organization is considering expanding the LEAD program beyond the U.S.

For today’s global organizations, strategy is key to secure the future, and global leadership development is a critical part of that strategy. When organizations put standardized development practices in place with uniform talent assessment and development, they secure their leadership future and increase the likelihood of business success.

Cori Hill is director for high potential leadership development at leadership consultancy PDI Ninth House. She can be reached at