Employees in traditional outsourcing locations now often aspire to broader and more responsible roles: leading project teams, interfacing directly with customers, authoring entire reports, scoping and designing new systems. Firms that are able to meet these aspirations will retain their top talent; those that do not are likely to lose it. It is not easy to make the transition from existing outsourcing roles to a global talent approach that matches each employee’s developmental stage with the opportunities available around the world. Beyond simply placing an employee in a new role, there are often critical skill gaps that need to be addressed. Consider the mutually frustrating encounter between a Western manager and his Indian counterpart outlined below.
Example: The Report
Michael, a team leader for a pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland, comments,
“Two weeks ago, I sent a report along to our team in Surat with the raw data and information on the target audience. I followed up with a check-in call to make sure that Jas, the person in India assigned to this project, had gotten the documents and see if he had any questions. I told him that, ideally, I needed the report in two weeks, and asked if he was okay with that. He said, ‘sure.’
“Two weeks later, I got the report back and saw that while Jas had integrated the raw data, the implications had not been interpreted at all. The key messages were not clear and the nuances in the tone and language were just not right for my European audience. Actually, the report was unfinished in many ways. So it was now up to me to rewrite it, without any cushion time, which then impacted my deadline. I would say that this feels pretty typical of my interaction with the team in Surat, although they are supposed to be providing end-to-end report writing services.
“I expected Jas to take the data and interpret it based on his expertise. He should be able to discern which messages need to come across to the audience and then craft those messages in a way that will make sense to our audience and add value to me. It will be quicker for me to just do the rewrite now rather than spend so much time explaining all the changes. I expect another professional like me to be able to own the communication he is writing and deliver a product that is complete, on time, and reflects a deep understanding of the material. We don’t necessarily get that from our team there. If there is a question about something, I am always available. I am just an e-mail away. But those questions should come up early enough for me to address them, without impacting the deadline.”
Meanwhile, Jas, an Indian team leader based in Surat, expresses his own frustrations:
“The project with Michael could have gone better. When Michael called, I had not yet had time to look at the documents he had sent since I was working on a couple of other reports. So I didn’t have any questions at that time and figured I could rely on my team here in Surat to figure out any elements I didn’t understand. The thing is, I can constantly discuss and get help with my local team if I have an issue, but how can I do this with Michael? I don’t even know him. If I start out by asking a million questions, he will think that I don’t know anything and I will lose credibility with him.
“When I finally got around to looking through the materials that Michael sent, I realized that it would take a lot of time to write this report. By that time, I only had a week left to complete it. I worked late hours with other members of my team trying to finish this document to meet Michael’s timeline. I was hopeful that we could complete it, but we were only able to finish it to a certain level. Anyway, it’s better that I get Michael’s input on what we already have written and then make changes from there.”
Often they give us only a small amount of information and then get angry when we aren’t able to read their minds. I am just responsible for doing the work I am given, to the specifications which have been outlined. Our client stakeholders determine those specifications. I am not in a position to argue with that. If they would give me more information or be more readily available—or if we had a relationship—that would be different. But the work is still just thrown over the wall to me and then there is silence. I try to match the specifications they send, but they often want me to make things up out of thin air. It is not my place to be offering my opinions in this kind of paper. I am just trying to give them what they want.”
This dynamic between Michael and Jas points to the core struggles in play as organizations try to reposition themselves for global relevance. Most organizations recognize the trends and are in the process of aligning themselves to benefit from the global economic shifts. But they have found that their internal talent management processes are unable to keep up with, much less effectively drive, the organization’s global growth. The transition to global talent sourcing, it turns out, is not just a matter of hiring more global workers. It requires a colossal mindset shift in the organization and new approaches to delegation, teamwork, employee engagement, knowledge transfer, performance evaluation, and developing the competencies needed to make all of these possible.
Accountability & Communication
There are many components to building an executive presence, including posture, dress, gestures such as the form of one’s initial greetings, and so on. The rules for these are largely unwritten and vary somewhat by culture. There are also important general skills required of employees who aspire to join the executive ranks in most multinationals. There are clearly things that Jas could do in the report scenario just discussed to make the interaction more successful. Becoming a full-fledged global team partner brings with it a higher level of accountability. He currently appears to be expressing a kind of passive/aggressive attitude that is unlikely to establish him as an executive peer. If he wants others to see him as a true global partner, he needs to take more responsibility and initiative, and step out of an outsourcing mindset himself. There is a danger that he will create a self-fulfilling prophecy: if he assumes that he is being treated as a second-class corporate citizen and acts accordingly, he may find that this is indeed the way that others treat him, even if corporate policy is to move away from outsourcing. How can Jas get a virtuous cycle going by altering his approach?
If Jas is unclear about his responsibilities, it’s up to him to reach out and request clarification from Michael while expressing his intention to get the job done. It is not helpful to his reputation to provide a half-baked response and feel resentful about his role, especially if he is assuming that the ultimate responsibility lies elsewhere. Jas also needs to cultivate a particular skill of distilling and communicating key messages. Inexperienced people in his position tend to provide large volumes of detail without sufficiently digesting or interpreting the information. The term “executive summary” highlights the expectations of leaders who are exposed to large volumes of information on a daily basis. They want to know the main points and to have the option to drill down for further detail as needed; likewise, they expect their peers to be able to both synthesize and probe.
Several familiar cultural patterns were probably in the background of the initial response Jas gave to Michael: deference to hierarchy, a preference for relationship-based interactions, and reluctance to draw direct conclusions for others who will make their own inferences. For Jas to be effective at higher levels in this organization, however, he will need to understand these patterns and take steps to flex his own style. It is neither possible nor desirable for him to become a Westerner, but his current mentality will not serve him well in a global leadership position. Jas may find that Michael is amenable to meeting him partway if he asks him for help and expresses an eagerness to learn new skills.
Developing Future Leaders
There is responsibility on both sides in this example. It is all too common for a person in Michael’s role to conclude that Jas lacks business acumen and other essential leadership capabilities,evaluating the report Jas has produced negatively while doing the work himself or steering it elsewhere. Michael can help to break the cycle of unmet expectations and critical performance evaluation by reaching out to Jas and learning more about his capabilities and developmental needs.
It may be that Jas is not the right person for the role, but it is more likely that he needs hands-on mentoring, exposure to best practice models, and constructive feedback that will enable him to grow into his position. Jas will feel more comfortable talking about his developmental needs if he feels that Michael believes in him and is actively involved in providing support. Michael will also be better able to target what he delegates, and to accurately anticipate and rely upon the work that Jas produces. They should get to know each other a lot better, and this is a worthwhile investment of Michael’s time in spite of the geographical and cultural distance that separates them.
Organizations committed to global talent development will make sure that Michael is also held accountable for enabling his global colleagues such as Jas to move to the next level of performance. Leaders who are consistently able to do this will in the long run add far greater value to their companies than they will by deliberately or inadvertently shutting the door to those who could learn rapidly with the right kind of guidance.
Moving from mutual frustration to effective collaboration is complex because it requires a level of self-awareness and conscious effort from everyone involved. Jas cannot do all the work himself, and neither should Michael. When enough key individuals do learn to work together in a way that combines their skills, however, the results can be quite powerful, including retention of vital personnel, greater employee engagement, mutual learning, and higher levels of performance all around. Companies that create the formula for this will discover a powerful accelerator to their global growth, and a competitive edge versus rivals that remain stuck in old outsourcing models.
To learn more about leading in a global economy, join Dr. Gundling for our Soundview Live webinar: Leading Across New Borders.