Globalization, Complexity and Change: Challenges for Chief Learning Officers (Part I)

Globalization: Extending your reach, adopting new mindsets and incorporating new cultures

In its 2011 annual CEO survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 66% of CEOs reported that a lack of the right skills is their current biggest talent challenge. CEOs also reported that the need for organizational agility is paramount to their future success in the global marketplace.

Neither of these findings is surprising. We are living and working in a world characterized by increasing globalization, complexity and change. A major task for all CEOs, HR directors and CLOs is to facilitate the development of a workforce that is both capable and competent to thrive and work within an emergent environment—every day.

Although on the surface this may appear to be a Sisyphean task, if we think about the challenges of each of these areas, we can identify strategies for leaders to maximize the associated opportunities and minimize the risks. In fact, there are some reasonably straightforward actions that any CEO, HRD or CLO can take to keep their organizations ahead of the curve.

Meeting the Challenge of Globalization

The telecommunications revolution of the late 20th century helped many businesses extend their reach across national boundaries and cultures. In the words of Philip Evans and Thomas Wurster, modern telecommunications have destroyed the “tyranny of the richness and reach trade-off.” Whereas previously we were forced to choose between the two, now we can have both.

Of course, breaking the richness and reach trade-off has had huge implications on our approach to workforce development. The rise of early Web-based eLearning is testament to the fact, as are many subsequent advances in technology-based learning. Nowadays it is rarely argued that bringing people together into classrooms for knowledge and skills development has inherent benefits over learning at a distance through any number of telecommunication-based channels. In fact, the converse is more frequently posited—that providing the opportunity for learning and performance support in the context of work, wherever that may be, leads to improved outcomes over classroom-based knowledge and skills-centric learning. Additionally, cost models mean that the majority of technology-based learning leads to savings and cost reductions.

Along with globalization we have witnessed widespread disintermediation. In the past, intermediaries with specialist international and cross-cultural expertise helped those organizations that needed to work across the globe. Today disintermediation is as natural as spring water. Leaders, managers and individual contributors in organizations are expected to work with colleagues and supply chains no matter where they happen to be located. It is part of normal business life for individuals and teams to participate in teleconferences scheduled at almost any time of the day or night—usually at a time most convenient for the majority (or the most senior!).

Globalization is not simply about extending reach. It is also about adopting new mindsets and incorporating new cultures. The corporate cultures of large organizations extend and sometimes even supplant the individual national cultures within organizational walls.

CLOs have a critical responsibility to support culture within their organization. At the heart of culture is communication, and it is a responsibility of the learning organization to facilitate communication through supporting effective teamwork across boundaries and focusing on the development of the associated skills and capabilities—including not only language skills, but also influencing, networking and team skills as well.

To hear more, register now for the webinar tomorrow: The New Frontier for Learning in the Global Workplace at 07:00 PST/16:00 CET!

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