Going, Global, Gone

“Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody.” The Beatles’ plea a generation ago was about love. Today this same plea comes from corporate executives about global leadership.

The scenarios are endless. A Swiss pharmaceutical multinational must develop its emerging market leaders. An Italian food company urgently needs corporate leadership to comprehend that what worked for more than a century in northern Italy may well arrest the company’s global expansion plans. A U.S. packaged goods corporation does well developing local talent, but it determines if U.S.-groomed leaders are ready for global assignments by whether they crash and burn on location.

Brazilian, Chinese, Indian, South Korean and other emerging market companies are saying, “Me too!” In a March Korn Ferry survey titled “New Dimensions in Global Leadership,” 61 percent of more than 100 executives from 49 countries said they don’t have the right global talent to succeed. Ouch.

Globalization has created unprecedented market growth opportunities for companies, but they don’t have leaders with the breadth and depth to lead through the challenges of growing in new markets.

No matter where these company leaders turn, they run into diversity issues. Successful leaders from traditional U.S. and European economic centers often don’t understand a global workforce. They may learn to bow, kiss or shake hands the right way, but they are often stymied managing deeper issues related to negotiating, building trust and managing conflict.

Executives from developed markets who have done well in company headquarters are often confused when what has worked so well before goes poof when they take the operation global. According to another Korn Ferry analysis, compared to locally focused leaders, global leaders work with 17 percent more people they do not directly manage, are 32 percent less likely to have accurate market information, have a 74 percent broader span of responsibilities and work with 160 percent more stakeholders. No wonder.

To succeed at leading globally and developing diverse talent in emerging markets, executive and leadership teams need two competencies: learning agility and cultural dexterity.

At PepsiCo, Pamela Culpepper, global vice president of diversity and inclusion, dealt with these urgent needs in response to Saudi Arabian government mandates to increase jobs for citizens returning from education abroad and include more women in hiring.

One way was to source female talent who went to the U.S. and Europe to study and who could be enticed to come home to develop their careers. But that had to be done respectfully, as local religions put restrictions on mixing men and women who are not related to one another. In many ways this was countercultural for PepsiCo — the need to establish all-male and all-female work floors.

It’s a fascinating position for a global company to be in: acknowledging religious diversity while maintaining primarily Western values along with a contemporary millennial Saudi female worldview. It meant inclusive processes had to exist. If accommodated, leaders felt they could lose out on the power of gender diversity if women and men could not find a way to interact in the workplace. PepsiCo developed a protocol — the details are still being vetted — to enable collaboration between men and women during project-specific meetings.

“Finding the right balance was challenging,” Culpepper said. “And it required the right kind of global and inclusive leadership both in and outside Saudi Arabia to figure it out."

Andrés T. Tapia is a senior partner in the workforce performance, diversity and inclusion practice at Korn Ferry and author of "The Inclusion Paradox." He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.