In this day and age of globalization, the number of companies that are based in more than 1 country is mind blowing. There were more than 80,000 MNCs in 2008, each with at least 10 foreign affiliates – up from just 4 two decades ago. In fact, 34.5 million people are hired worldwide by just US MNCs alone (source: US department of commerce and Accenture).
To find out how CEOs of these large global companies lead their people to compete across markets with vastly different rules and styles, Robert Thomas of Accenture led an interview with over 40 CEOs. Three key attributes of top global teams were discovered: Focus, Flexibility, Future.
- Focus –Global top teams must be extremely clear about why they exist. Beyond doubt. They need to have a clear sense of their unique responsibilities, so that any duplication of efforts is minimized. This will also help to minimize frustration that often builds up across a team scattered around the world, when communication efficiency is already compromised to a certain extent from time and language differences. This is not a one-off task to focus team members, but an ongoing and regular effort to re-focus and re-flect. In fact, Tata Chemicals puts this to action by periodically holding off-site meetings intended to stimulate thinking about management’s purposes. Another way to create clarity of focus, especially all the way to the ground level, is to develop a leadership charter and a set of operating principles. These can be distributed and/or verbally communicated to all layers of the organization as well as to new members every now and then.
- Flexibility – Integration of leaders to bridge the gaps created by differences in culture, function, style, markets across nations should not come at the expense of flexibility. And the key to that agility is having the right people in the room at the right time. True agility at the top means instead of having a typical hierarchy, having a repertoire of leaders that can be organized or reconfigured to meet particular challenges as and when they arise. Hemant Nerurkar, managing director of Tata Steel, describes how he deals with such agility, having to be clear whether he is “in this room because of my role as head of Asia, or as head of outsourcing, or as a functional leader of finance. Am I anchored in one role, or am I sharing the burdens, the responsibilities, the perspectives of the top leader and looking at the whole of the organization?” This agility allows top leaders to change their decision-making styles to accommodate a wide array of variable factors, such as competition, cultural differences, time constraints, market changes. Hervé Borensztejn, executive vice president at Converteam, a French company specializing in power conversion that was recently acquired by General Electric Co. echoes this: “We [sometimes] change our decision-making structure when we have to make decisions immediately in order to keep up with the speed and pace of our competitors . . . even though not all of us are available at the same time.”
- Future – Given the need to strategize future directions, global leaders need to always have one foot in the future. To do that, they must surround themselves to constant confrontation of challenging ideas and people. Former UPS CEO Mike Eskew actively exposed his team to new technologies and their inventors, new demographic groups and new cultures. Another vice president of a Chinese global telecom company communicates constantly with “professors, institute heads and top-level people from companies and institutions worldwide”. Other leaders simulate scenarios and teach new techniques to try to predict the future. As Xiaomi’s founder and CEO, Lei Jun, says “even a pig can fly if it sits in the right spot during a whirlwind”. And it makes it much easier to find that right spot if you knew where it was, before it happens.
One thing to note though, a global mindset doesn’t necessarily require constant globetrotting. It is a mindset. Today’s world will be a far cry from tomorrow’s global world. The next generation of global leaders will face an even more complex and diverse team than before. Are you prepared for it?
For more details of the study, visit the Accenture study website.