Leading across borders

Tuesday, 8 February 2011 00:45 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

* New report reveals action steps for business leaders managing an increasingly global and interconnected workforce

* Report includes survey of global business leaders – 3 out of 10 reveal they don’t have any executives from outside their home country on their management team or board

Ernst & Young last week released a report outlining practical techniques that business leaders can implement to capitalise on the valuable perspectives and diverse skills of their global workforce.

At a time when the rise of emerging markets is creating a business environment where growth and innovation can come from anywhere, the report outlines a new C-suite leadership agenda with three actions that leaders can take to position their organisations for the future: collaborate in the face of uncertainty; seek out new cultures and experiences; and sponsor rising stars who look, think, and act differently.

The report, Leading across borders: inclusive thinking in an interconnected world, also reveals the findings of a new Ernst & Young/Economist Intelligence Unit survey of 1,050 global business executives. The survey found that the majority, or 53%, of respondents believe diversity of teams and experience improves both the financial performance and reputation of their organisations.

However, companies struggle with putting their beliefs into action. In fact, the Ernst & Young survey found that 3 out of 10 respondents say they have no representatives on their management team or board from outside their home country.

In a more encouraging finding, management diversity tends to increase in line with overseas sales growth. Among those companies that derive more than 10% of their revenues from other countries, just 22% say they have only home-country representatives on their management team.

The findings suggest that companies recognise the importance of diversity of experience and are taking some steps to improve it, but tackling this challenge is a long-term issue that will take years to address. For full survey results, visit www.ey.com/globalisation.

“Today’s leaders must be able to quickly adapt to an increasingly chaotic – yet opportunity filled – global business environment,” noted James S. Turley, Chairman and CEO, Ernst & Young. “Navigating this environment requires a more networked approach and an ability to maximise the richness of your diverse talent pool around the world. This isn’t easy and it doesn’t just happen overnight, but companies that take a proactive and inclusive approach to managing and developing people across borders will be better positioned to lead us into the future.”

The Ernst & Young report includes insights and interviews from global business and academic thought leaders such as Muhtar Kent, CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Mansour Javidan, Director of the Global Mindset Leadership Institute at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Japanese Parliamentarian Mieko Nakabayashi, and Chinese entrepreneur, Poon Wai, Chair of Ajisen (China) Holdings.

The report moves global leadership out of the abstract and into the concrete by identifying three techniques for executives to develop into inclusive leaders.

Think differently – collaborate in the face of uncertainty. This requires that leaders manage diverse teams – not for convergence, but for divergence. They must bring together people with different backgrounds or capabilities, and let healthy conflict happen. The results are fresh ideas, and potentially new products and services.

Learn differently – seek out new cultures and experiences. This means developing the ability to engage with individuals from all over the world, grasp the nuances of different cultures, and understand the actions that work best in various contexts and local markets. A creative, globally savvy management team and workforce encourages mobility, and pushes its people to experience a variety of roles, develop new skills through exposure to different cultures, industries, individuals and ways of thinking.

Act differently – sponsor and appoint rising stars who look, think, and act differently. This requires leaders to embrace an active role as sponsor to young professionals. Different than mentoring, sponsorship is taking a more serious role as advocate, supporter and defender of a rising star within the organisation. Leaders should make a conscious effort to recognise and counter unintended biases. Focusing only on people with similar styles and attributes to the leaders themselves severely restricts the available talent pool.