Phil Stockbridge blogs in response to a question posed to us by a business partner this week:
The transition in an organization from multi-local or international to “Global” is often accompanied by the development of a truly international management cadre.
In our books and previous blog posts, we have often referred to the “Global Group”. This is the small – normally fewer than 5% – who sit at the top of an organization. (Once they have reached the size where they are global, they are almost always matrixed in some way.) They are relatively immune from the effects of the structure below them, being global functional heads in many cases.
In global businesses, this cadre should have an international mindset and skillset consistent with the cultural diversity of the markets they operate in. They should be prepared to live and work outside their home country and rotate relatively frequently in order to avoid becoming too locally focused. (We often use the expression “going native” in our training.)
In corporate life, I witnessed first hand the failed efforts to internationalize a business by hiring “token” foreigners. A key learning from that experience is that you need to understand not only what it is that you’re trying to achieve through the hiring process, but also the factors driving cultural conformity.
As in so many aspects of global working, the creation of a cadre of international managers, as diverse as the markets you operate in, is a long-term process. As a French HR director of a truly global oil exploration company once remarked, you only need about 50 years!