A couple things struck me after I sent off last week’s blog entry on global mindset: First, lots of people who go on assignment think they have one. (After all, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have been selected for the assignment, right?) Second, most people really don’t. Third, the people who’ve actually developed a global mindset can bring extraordinary value to their organizations.
I’m reminded of two, probably extreme, assignees I’ve worked with here in China and their relative global mindsets. The first, "Mr. A," has worked in Asia for more than ten years, speaks fluent Chinese, and is by nature very aware of the impact he has on others and constantly checks with local employees to validate his own assessment. "Mr. B" has also worked in Asia more than ten years, speaks reasonably fluent Chinese, loves the expat premiums, and doesn’t particularly care what anyone thinks of his style.
Mr. B was brought in by his company to fix a branch that had major and serious relationship problems with local Chinese staff and partners, issues so large that the Chinese central government had been made aware of them. Not healthy. On joining the organization, he cut off communication between employees and the home office, making himself the only communications point. He systematically eliminated anyone he didn’t like. He even designated specific individuals to serve as "office spies." (The Chinese staff even circulates a list periodically of who those folks are so staff know who to avoid!)
Mr. B has great technical knowledge of Chinese history – and is probably trying to emulate some portions of its authoritarian past and present. But he has none of the social skills necessary to build relationships or the psychological capabilities to bring together an organization in disarray. The consequences have been severe… 40 percent turnover and literally millions of dollars in rework. I suspect Mr. B survives in the position because the home office doesn’t know what’s happening over here and keeps hearing the story that the problem lies with the Chinese workers.
Mr. A, in contrast, is one of the best problem resolvers I’ve ever met here. His company once had some massive machinery coming into China on one of those multiple-football-field-size cargo ships. The ship had been delayed enroute because of a typhoon and so was scheduled to arrive in the middle of the night. That was a big problem because (a) the cargo vessel would have to slow down or drop anchor incurring extra costs, (b) the crews standing by to move the machinery to the factory would have to stand down, then get recalled, incurring extra costs, and (c) plant production would be delayed. Even worse: China closed its border at night back then and so the vessel would not be allowed into port at all. Massive and very expensive problem.
Mr. A pulled out all the stops, talking with local port officials and Beijing customs officials. Mr. A’s Chinese staff had his back and went the extra mile in talking with relevant local government agencies. The result? The Chinese government kept the border open for the vessel. No bribes, no special payments. Just relationships and trust built up over time between Mr. A, the authorities, and his staff as a result of his knowledge of China, his demonstrated ability to work culturally appropriately in China, and his social and influencing skills with the authorities. Savings to the company? We calculated it out at something like $5 million.
So this year’s Globie Award for “best example of global mindset in action” goes to Mr. A. All he’s going to get off me is a coffee, though. Times are tight!