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Developing International Management Skills

Aug 27, 2008
Some years ago I was working on a project for my company on how to develop international managers and I thought I would start by asking companies who had been doing it for years.

I went to Paris to meet with the French HR Director of a multinational oil exploration company and asked him what was the "secret" of building a truly international management group?

He told me "No secret, there are just 2 simple steps.

First - you recruit people around the world in proportion to your business, if 10% of your business is in Nigeria, 10% of your managers should be Nigerian .

Second - You mix them up. If they never leave their homes they never become international managers, send them on visits, expatriate assignments, put them in international teams and projects so they mix with their colleagues and learn."

"What next" I asked

"Nothing" he replied "If you do these 2 things, in no more than 50 years you will have an international management group."

It as still one of the best answers I ever got to my question - though my boss was not happy when I told him it could take 50 years!

His basic message was a good one - recruit for diversity to match your environment and build experience and common ways of working to get things done.

It takes time to develop a truly global mindset and management capability and, for companies relatively new to working internationally it can be a whole management generation before people with this capability work their way through to the top of the organization in sufficient numbers to really make a difference.

I think we can accelerate the process with the right international management training and exposure to international experiences - but a lot of management training continues to carry a very mono-cultural view of the world (usually Anglo-Saxon management theories.

What is different about international management - we talk about DCCT - distance, cultures, timezones and technology

National cultural differences are often the first thing that people notice but rarely the toughest one to solve, with the right mindset we can learn to enjoy and manage cultural differences quite quickly.

Distance is a bigger barrier - people are much more comfortable with face-to-face contact and the lack of this can have major consequences for trust and management styles

Timezones are a fact - there is no right time for a global conference call, we just have to be aware and adapt our practices to recognize this.

Technology is both an enabler and a barrier; it makes international management possible but can often get in the way of communication and effectiveness (think of all those unnecessary emails and conference calls).

An additional barrier is the sheer business complexity of large multi-site organizations - the subject of my book Speed Lead - faster, simper ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies

When we talk to managers about developing these skills they are often skeptical about the investment of time in training. When we ask them how they learned to work internationally they often tell long stories of the mistakes they made and the time it took to recover and put things right.

Our question is always - can you afford the time and cost of letting everyone in your organization learn by expensive trial and error?
About the Author
Kevan Hall is CEO of Global Integration - ideas, training & consulting on how to lead and succeed in complex companies. http://www.gobal-integration.com He runs companies in Europe and the USA, consults with major multinationals and is author of the book Speed Lead and blog http://lifeinamatrix.com
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