Management development in an international context

Management development presents a major challenge to employers, in an international environment, with leaders and managers alike needing to embrace cultural diversity. Sue Shortland explains.

Management development presents a major challenge to employers, in an international environment, with leaders and managers alike needing to embrace cultural diversity. Sue Shortland explains.A synergistic view drawing upon human capital of various cultures and behaviours is now known to be more successful in leading people across the world. Recognising this, the CIPD guide to International Management Development (by Dr Hilary Harris and Dr Michael Dickmann, available from includes guidance on strategy, process and mobility in the current climate. It also draws attention to future challenges for this area of operation.The CIPD Guide suggests that the most effective leaders worldwide use charismatic, team-oriented and participative styles. But the deployment of such competencies requires an understanding of value systems in the various locations where an organisation does business. Gaining the knowledge of these, and the experience of acting within them, is usually thought to come through international mobility. However, the price of this is high both in financial and human terms. It is no longer appropriate simply to send off someone` who has performed well at home and assume that they can do business as effectively overseas. There is now recognition that the competencies required to lead and manage successfully require development.Organisations today are operating in an environment where international mobility is often viewed as a career gamble at a time when the economic contract no longer provides a rich package and the unwritten psychological contract no longer provides the perceived promise of a job for life. Lack of job security has focused the minds of trainees and executives alike, and career portability has become the norm.Strategy is crucialSays Dr Dickmann in the CIPD report, `Multinational organisations need to create a list of international leader competencies. These will help make sure employees understand the organisation`s international objectives, enable employers to achieve an integrative mentality and nurture diverse thinking and coordiantion.` Strategy is generally managed between line management and the HR function, with the degree of centralisation in how international management development is handled depending on global strategy. Account has to be taken of the balance between growing one`s own talent within an organisation and drawing talent in from outside. CIPD reports that there is no standard ratio but that organisations need to maintain corporate culture while gaining talent from other leading-edge organisations.Getting the process rightInitiatives for international management development begin with recruitment and selection. International competencies need to be identified in new recruits as well as existing staff, with key behaviours recognised as being the ones that will be most effective at senior levels. Defining these competencies is the first step in leadership and management development, and must be integrated into recruitment and selection processes. But getting the right people on board is only the start and the process must also include reward and recognition issues. After all, your talent remains with you for only as long as its physical and psychological needs are met through the economic and psychological contracts.Development plans emphasise the focus on people and satisfying their career aspirations, rather than on the position-filling approaches of the past. Including diversity within this planning helps to ensure that talent from outside the mainstream is not overlooked. There has been a notable shift in emphasis in recent years from training people to fostering a culture of learning and sharing knowledge within learning organisations. This is reflected in the emphasis now placed on leadership and management development programmes.Processes must be evaluated to remain effective Alternatively, changes should be implemented as needed to ensure that managerial cadres develop mindsets that continually embrace change and so increase competitive advantage within global spheres of business.International mobilityExpatriate assignments have been traditional routes for international management development. Although that is still the case today, a variety of assignment patterns are now offered including rotation, short-term, commuter and frequent flyer-style assignments, as well as international virtual working. All open up possibilities for gaining different international competencies, although a period of exposure to a foreign culture through immersion does provide a more in-depth understanding of what makes a culture tick`.The process of international mobility begins with selection where cultural competencies need to be identified formally if diversity is to be fully embraced. Although the purpose of the assignment is development, this does not mean that pre-assignment training should be ignored. Individuals and their families need to be prepared for the assignment, the cultural differences they will encounter and how to handle them. The assignment cycle encompasses issues of reward and recognition, and so the assignment package needs to be determined and agreed. Formal appraisal while on assignment is required both to set objectives and recognise past successes and also to identify training and development opportunities. The appraisal process is particularly complex in the international environment, with cultural constraints needing to be recognised when it comes to how business is conducted, as well as the impact of culture shock on the employee.Support is required while in post, and here mentoring and sponsoring arrangements form a particularly valuable part of the International management development process. Such mentoring and support systems also form a valuable part of the repatriation process. Career management and development must not forget the coming home` part of the international assignment cycle to do so will have a negative impact on the employee`s perceptions of his or her employer, resulting in loss of productivity and even intention to quit.The futureThe challenges of the future can`t be under-estimated. The psychological contract of today means that employees perceive that development is theirs by right if employers are no longer able to offer long-term guaranteed employment. Such talent-building helps them to gain some degree of certainty in an uncertain and fast-changing global environment. The competencies that they can gain to manage and lead now provide a key to their future. For employers, the trick is to develop these and turn them to their own advantage. To do so, CIPD concludes that key talent must be nurtured, with diversity truly embraced for the cultural capital it can bring. But shifting people around the world unnecessarily can prove to be a source of unrest, so the use of IT and virtual solutions where feasible should be considered as an option. As CIPD concludes, organisations need continually to be creative in their learning and development strategies and how they manage their international management development initiatives. © 2007. Article taken from pages 12-13 of the spring 2006 edition of Re:locate magazine, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. 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