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The Importance of a Global Mindset for Success Overseas

In the current worldwide economic situation, being culturally aware and interculturally competent is a must for success in this highly competitive international market. Successful business people from all over the world are competing for top positions in international organisations. Being business savvy and having a good track record at home is no longer enough to secure the best roles in the global arena.

According to new research published by the Harvard Business Review, a ‘global mindset’ is what candidates need to be successful in a global role in which they will need to be capable of adjusting to different environments and have the ability to work effectively with international colleagues. This ‘global mindset’ is defined as having three key elements: intellectual, psychological, and social capital.

Looking at how two people, one with and one without a global mindset, deal with cultural difference and international situations can give us a very good idea of how important having a global mindset is for anyone in a global role.

Alan, a promising employee at a US-based manufacturer was sent to Beijing as general manager for consumer products. He was excited by the challenge and looked forward to helping his company through a difficult period which was due to internal tensions that were interfering with the growth of the company. Before he started his new role he researched Chinese culture and read that the Chinese tend to think collectively and prioritise the interests of the group. As he started his work in China he emphasised the need for cooperation and teamwork amongst his employees in order to improve the situation and achieve the desired results.

After 60 days however there were no visible improvements and Alan found that although his employees had agreed to all of his suggestions, they had not committed to any specific action and were also not holding anyone accountable for the lack of improvements. Alan soon started to lose confidence in his abilities, took a dislike to Chinese food and Chinese culture and ended up returning to the US before the end of his international assignment in China costing the company wasted time and money.

Debra, Alan’s colleague, had a completely different experience when she was sent to Sao Paulo under similar circumstances. She was expected to turn around operations affected by low productivity and poor staff morale in a short timeframe. Unlike Alan, Debra was born in Venezuela to US military parents, had travelled extensively throughout her life and was fluent in several languages. Debra quickly embraced her new position and sought input from the local staff about what needed to be done to improve productivity. She did her research and took every opportunity she could to reach out to her staff. Within months, her project was back on the right track.

So although Debra’s background was more international than Alan’s, why were their experiences so different?

According to experts, the intellectual, psychological and social capitals that make up a ‘global mindset’ are each comprised of three key attributes that can guarantee organisations that their assignees are ready and likely to succeed in an international assignment. These attributes are:

Intellectual Capital: Global business savvy, cognitive complexity and a cosmopolitan outlook.

Psychological Capital: Passion for diversity, thirst for adventure and self-assurance.

Social Capital: Intercultural empathy, interpersonal impact and diplomacy.

Debra’s previous experiences abroad and her knowledge of other languages and cultures helped her to better understand her new employees and how she needed to deal with them in order to increase staff morale, confidence and productivity. She possessed, apart from talent, the ‘global mindset’ required for the international assignment set by her company. While Alan was talented as well, his skills weren’t as transferable to another culture given his lack of previous exposure to an international environment.

Debra was born into a different culture and had international experiences from an earlier age than Alan. However, the skills necessary for success in international assignments are not necessarily skills you are born with but can be acquired through cross cultural awareness training and international exposure.

Cultural awareness training programmes can equip you with the relevant tools and strategies to communicate efficiently with foreign counterparts and reduce the stress coming from a new and international context. They can also help you to adapt your management styles and understand the motivation factors and expectations of your new counterparts, ensuring a good working atmosphere. Getting familiar with their cultural values will also help you to decipher their behaviours and thus avoid critical incidents which can jeopardise a project or a profitable business opportunity.

IBA Global’s specialist courses such as cultural training for Relocation, Managing International Teams or Effective Global Leadership can provide you and your company the necessary knowledge and skills required to thrive in the international arena. By being culturally aware and prepared to work across different cultures, employees of international organisations who posses this ‘global mindset’ are invaluable assets to their company, capable of increasing their chances of success and of profitable international assignments.

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