Monday, January 13, 2014

Educating The Global Professional

One of the programmes I have written recently is about preparing Global Professionals. 

The rationale for writing such a programme was that with globalisation, all professions need global savvy. It is no longer the preserve of those working on International Trade and Development opportunities, but now it is required for most businesses. And, being global is no longer a preserve or a requirement solely in the Global 'North'. As South-to-South trade increases, and ambitious break-out firms appear in India, China, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey and everywhere else, global thinking becomes an imperative for a much wider spectrum of managers than before. The programme we wrote, titled Global Business Professional, is intended to be a preparation for professionals facing the hyper-global future.

As with other things we do at U-Aspire, this programme is not a certification assessed by tests, but a practical, competency-based programme where demonstration of learned concepts are critical for success. We identified two key abilities, Strategic Thinking at a Global level and Cross-cultural Competence, that these Global Professionals must have, and constructed two units of the programme focusing on each one of these attributes in turn. 

The aspiring Global Business Professional engages with cases and examples of global strategic thinking, clearly delineating the special challenges that come with global business (distinct as it is from strategic issues in the business' home market): The key idea to go beyond the simplistic idea of 'world is one' (or Globalisation Apocalypse, as Dr Pankaj Ghemawat calls it) and to highlight strategic thinking that must accompany international engagement. In this, we ask the 'Why' question, usually something that is taken for granted in similar programmes (or given superficial answers, such as you have to go global because your competitor is going global), and explore the challenges of global strategy in great detail. We use a framework to assess Global Business Risks and Opportunities, and look closely on three critical aspects of global business, innovation, market development and leadership.

In the accompanying unit, we seek to develop cross-cultural competence of our learners. Usually, this is done in one of the two ways in Asia. One, a list of attributes are described for each country, promoting huge stereotypes. In the typical 'Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands' fashion, this is about rattling off a mechanistic rules of engagement with people from each culture. Indeed, this approach is completely ineffective, because such lists are completely off the point, too hard to remember and imparted without any logic.


The second way to impart the culture training is about trying to explain the rationale underlying behaviour: This is about Hofstede (and mostly Hofstede) and his dimensions, as well as explaining things like Fast and Slow culture, and various other models. This approach is more involved and common sense based than the previous one, but usually leaves the learner slightly bedazzled because these 'dimensions' relate to behaviours they have never experienced first hand.

In deciding how we see Cultural Competence, we decided to take the second route, but instead of solely relying on theories, we have constructed the programme in continuation of the theme of strategic thinking. So, we present scenarios to the learner which require understanding of cultural dimension and encourage them to apply the theories learnt in interpreting the case. Typical example of this approach will be that the learners will be presented with a typical cross-cultural conflict scenario, and would be given the tools to interpret the same: Once they have arrived at their own interpretation of and indeed, recommended solutions for resolving the conflict, they will come together in a meeting to discuss this among peers and a mentor.

These two 'knowledge' units are then followed up by a sustained intervention based on practice. First, the learners are required to take on a live project for their employers which requires engagement with global customers, suppliers, colleagues or partners, looking at the application of global strategic thinking and development of their cross-cultural competence. The learners are mentored through this project, and helped along with resources, ideas, cases and feedback, while they undertake their research and present their recommendations. In the other unit, the learners are expected to look at their own self-development in the global context, and effectively become a part of a global community of professionals, by enhancing their global intellectual (knowing about the world), psychological (knowing about behaviours of different people and developing a cosmopolitan outlook) and social (knowing people across the world) 'capital'. Again, this engagement plays out over a longer period of time, in keeping with our belief that it takes a longer intervention to affect thinking and behaviour. 

We did keep in mind the futility of trying to develop global values and attitudes solely inside a classroom, and hence, designed the delivery around face-to-face facilitation by educators from different cultural backgrounds, online interaction with tutors and peers, study of cases and examples from a wide variety of countries, industries and settings, and a competency-based assessment mechanism that focuses on skills and behaviour, rather than context-blind technical knowledge about the issues involved.

Though we wrote the programme, we wanted this programme to be clearly bench-marked. We have been modestly successful in this: Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), which is UK's largest professional body for Leadership and Management professionals, endorsed the programme. University of Greenwich, which is a really forward thinking university, also accepted the programme for a certification from their appropriately named Centre for Innovation, Imagination and Inspiration: This certification is competence-based, and the learners get a transcript clearly outlining the activities and projects they have engaged into, a clear boost to their CVs as their project work is highlighted and certified.

It has taken us more than six months to put this proposition together, design the content and the readings, and get the external endorsements and certifications. Now, this is good to go: We believe this will be of enormous value to global service organisations which seek to improve the global outlook of their employees (new recruits or seasoned locally focused managers). By certification, we ensured that this is not just an in-house programme, but the learners will have demonstrable competences which should help their employers to project their offering to global clients. We have started marketing this programme in India and China, and looking to engage with education institutions and training organisations in other countries to take this forward.

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