|Although he is based in the medium-sized city of León northwest of MexicoCity, Fabian Gomez spends much of his time working with clients who don’tspeak Spanish. He is an audit partner for the Mexican branch of Deloitte ToucheTohmatsu, a global accounting and business-services organization with 700offices and 95,000 employees in 140 countries. “A lot of our business isserving Mexican subsidiaries of international companies, and the executivesusually come from other places,” he says. “Tomorrow, for example, I have ameeting where six of the executives from one company are Americans, and 10 fromanother company are Japanese.”|
To best serve his clients, Gomez has to reconcile Mexican-style accountingdocuments and data with U.S. or Japanese standards. He also has to deal withbusiness nuances that are often quite different from his own Mexican culturalroots. “For example, in Mexico, when you meet with clients, you’re expectedto spend some time talking with them about their families, how theirgrandfathers and children are doing. That’s an important part of therelationship with them. The American style, in contrast, is very direct and tothe point. You have to be very conscious of respecting a client’s time.”
Gomez is well equipped to handle the challenges. He spent 18 months trainingand working in New York as a participant in Deloitte’s Global DevelopmentProgram, an HR curriculum in which promising mid-career employees fromthroughout the world are assigned to work in other countries. Participantsfurther develop their foreign language skills, study the business practices andcultures of other countries, and network with people from other countries tobroaden their business perspective.
“We take great pride in preparing our people to help clients excel in amarketplace without borders,” says CEO James E. Copeland Jr. But the GlobalDevelopment Program provides more than just a boost to corporate self-esteem.Management views it as a key part of the organization’s strategic objective ofexpanding and integrating its business operations around the world. “The GDPisn’t just about learning the accounting practices of another country,” saysLynda Spielman, deputy director of deployment. “It’s about taking all thesepromising leaders from different countries and reinforcing the concept that they’rein a global organization.”
The value of such a program to an international company might seem fairlyobvious. Yet when Deloitte management made the decision to focus more stronglyon developing its international talent in the late 1990s, the company founditself in an odd dilemma. Graduates of the program could not only help theirhome-country operations acquire new clients and keep existing ones happy, butalso burnish their own credentials and career prospects.
Despite such clear advantages, the corporation had difficulty getting peopleto participate. In 1997, for example, the program managed to attract only 128participants, barely 1 percent of the organization’s vast global workforce.Only 25 out of 140 of the company’s international subsidiaries sentparticipants to other locations or hosted them, and a disproportionate number ofemployees in the program came from just a few countries, such as the UnitedKingdom.
Deloitte’s corporate HR team saw that it needed to get the GlobalDevelopment Program off the ground in many more countries, and that it had tosell both employees and executives on the value of participation. HR was tappedto help redesign the program to make it more appealing. The next phase was tolaunch an ambitious multimedia internal marketing campaign. The core element wasa self-assessment tool artfully designed to help employees from a wide range ofcultural backgrounds to decide if they were good candidates for the program.
Reshaping a program to fit global needs
At the time, Spielman says, the Global Development Program was called theStrategic Career Development Program. The internal promotion efforts emphasizedhow international experience could help participants rise higher on the careerladder. After corporate HR sought feedback from company operations throughoutthe world, however, the team saw that the approach wasn’t working. Too often,what attracted potential candidates to the program was the opportunity to livein a particular country. They didn’t grasp the program’s strategic missionand how it related to the Deloitte operation in their home country.
Worse, the executives who headed the organization’s far-flung outpostsoften didn’t encourage staff members to participate. They didn’t see howallowing valued employees to spend a couple of years working in another countrywould benefit their own operations. And they weren’t always eager to bring insomeone from another country and allow her to work for important clients just togain experience — especially if they had to cover the salary cost.
As a result, the company decided to make some small but significant changes.The program was given a new name, carefully chosen to focus on its real mission– helping Deloitte to increase its global business capabilities. Instead ofsimply depending on employees to choose countries that appealed to them, HRcoordinators began working with applicants to identify other places in the worldthat offered experience relevant to work in their own countries. For example, anaccountant whose office worked with the Mexican subsidiary of General Motorsmight be sent to Michigan to provide services to GM headquarters.
“Today, about 25 percent of the participants are placed so that they canwork with the same global client in another location,” Spielman says. If thatisn’t feasible, the HR coordinator will look for a country where the employeecan work with a client in the same industry as a major client at home.Establishing that sort of tangible linkage between the assignment and thehome-country needs has helped make the program easier to sell. Additionally,Deloitte sought to encourage its operations in emerging countries to acceptplacements by agreeing to underwrite the employees’ salaries. The company alsomade the length of the assignment flexible.
To ensure that those improvements registered with the decision-makers atDeloitte operations throughout the world, HR put considerable effort intomarketing the program to executives as well as potential candidates. “In orderto undertake something like this, you need to have your business leaders onboard,” Spielman says. “There are so many things that can deter them — ifthey had a bad experience [with an expatriate] four years ago, for example, they’restill going to have a memory that you’ll need to overcome.” To address thisproblem, HR designed its video and print materials to emphasize the value thatthe program would provide to the executives. “For example, we found Deloitteclients to talk about the importance of international knowledge and skills,”Spielman says. “Those interviews were something that our leaders found veryappealing.”
Marketing the program to employees from diverse cultures
“In many other parts of the world, life tends to be more collectivist,”Spielman says. “People tend to do things together, or else divide theresponsibilities. A professional from another country may have great skills onthe job, but he may never have turned on a stove or shopped for groceries. I hada 40-year-old Brazilian professional who still lived at home. Despite heraccounting skills, she’d never actually managed her own money, because shejust turned her paycheck over to her parents.” Going from that situation toliving alone in an apartment in New York or Detroit can be a difficultexperience.
An American who takes an international assignment may have to make verydifferent adjustments. “If you’re used to watching Monday night football,you have to deal with the fact that they don’t have anything like that inMalaysia,” Spielman says. According to a 1997 study by the company’sEmployee Relocation Council, 58 percent of employees on internationalassignments fail because of an inability to adapt to life in another country.
That’s why marketing materials were carefully designed to help employeesfeel more comfortable with the idea of an international development assignment.The “Experience the World” booklet, for example, included profiles ofprogram participants from Chile, South Africa, Belgium, China, and the UnitedStates. “We also tried to balance men and women, married and single people,”Spielman says. “We wanted to create a message that everyone could identifywith, no matter what country or background that person came from.”
To reduce potential candidates’ uncertainty, Spielman — who also teaches aclass in cross-cultural management at New York University — felt it was crucialto develop a self-assessment tool that would help potential participantsevaluate whether they were ready for a developmental placement elsewhere in theworld. That wasn’t an easy task. “We needed something that would work foreverybody, but also would dig deeper. We needed to force people to thinkintrospectively and to be more culturally self-aware, so they could identify theissues that might affect them on an international assignment.” Spielman hiredan outside consultant to redesign an existing tool, and then made additionalmodifications to ensure that the tool was culturally neutral. The finishedproduct includes a case study that features a fictional Deloitte employee, MarkPeterson, and his wife, Linda.
Candidates evaluate the Petersons’ strengths and weaknesses, a drill thatgives them comparative insights into their own real-life situations.Questionnaires and checklists help candidates to zero in on their biggestconcerns. “They take the questions home and share them with their spouses.Each person takes the test separately, and they compare their answers.” Theresults can be scored numerically, so that the employee can get a more preciseindication of whether he or she is a good candidate for the program.
In León, Mexico, the success of the program is seen in management’seagerness to have more participants. “We now have three people withinternational experience in our office, and we’re hoping to add one more eachyear,” Gomez says. “People are very excited about it, because they know thatif they have international experience, both they and the company are going toget ahead.”
Workforce, June 2002, pp. 62-66 — Subscribe Now!