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Coaching for Global Effectiveness
by Trevor J. O'Hara


The field of Executive Coaching has seen a steady rise in popularity over the last couple of years. Senior executives and CEOs the world over are now seeing the clear benefits coaches have brought to both their business and personal lives. Yet with globalization a fact of everyday life, executives are becoming ever more unprepared for the increasing levels of complexity and unpredictability brought about through doing business globally. Not only do they need to operate effectively in this new global environment, they also need to develop the necessary skills to allow them to do so. And this calls for a certain type of coaching that is flexible and tailored to the specific challenges and uncertainties of global business.

A recent study by Bain Consulting in New York tracked the 1996 – 2000 financial results of 7,500 publicly traded companies with revenues in excess of $500 million from 7 countries. The results were astonishing: only 1 in 6 companies showed a growth in foreign sales and operating profits as rapidly as its domestic ones. This daunting success rate begs the question: If the chances of global success for larger organizations are only 1 in 6, then what chances do those companies with smaller expansion budgets have without some form of effective risk mitigation? Could global effectiveness coaching be a means of helping senior executives become comfortable with the challenge of global expansion? Could it help create real value globally, avoid the traps so many of us fall into, and dramatically increase the chances of global organizational success?

What is Coaching for Global Effectiveness?

Coaching for Global Effectiveness is regarded as a specialized area of coaching that meets a wide range of global-facing business (and personal) demands. It contrast to the traditional training approach where global skills development (such as cross-cultural training, working in international teams, remote management etc) tends to be "prescribed", global effectiveness coaching takes a much more flexible, tailored and personal approach. Coaches take the most appropriate route depending on the goals and current situation.

Global effectiveness coaching should first be seriously considered when senior executives are confronting the major organizational (and often cultural) change and restructuring that normally accompanies global market entry. Many organizations simply react to the globalization imperative, embarking on overseas expansion at whatever the cost and without first considering how real (global) value will be created. Studies have shown that those organizations that place a great emphasis on developing a corporate global mindset throughout the organization will be more likely to succeed on the global stage. Yet studies have also shown that one of the most taxing challenges that an executive can ever face is the prospect of navigating an organization into new global waters. The consultancy PWC recently carried out a survey of the 100 fastest growing technology companies in the US and showed that of all the challenges facing CEOs, the prospect of taking an organization into global waters was the most daunting. Simply put, global expansion means that an organization will never be the same as it used to be. And since global performance is directly related to the global performance of executives, small wonder that many CEOs show emotions such as lack of confidence, self-doubt and stress.

Secondly, global effectiveness coaching is valuable as an investment in global skills development. Gone are the days when executives could rely on the old axiom: "It worked at home, so it will surely work overseas." Only hard experience and many an embarrassing situation brought about by blunders and cross-cultural gaffes have shown that organizations need to shed their reputations for ethnocentric arrogance when overseas. That is also why organizations such as Shell and HP have such a profound reputation for investing in, and keeping, global skills and talent. But therein lies a major paradox as well; the greater the demand for global skills and talent, the less the supply. It takes time and effort to invest in global experience and talent, and it takes even more time and effort to ensure they are anchored into the organization. Global effectiveness coaching is not only crucial for ensuring that organizational commitment to global skills development is forthcoming. It is also crucial for providing individuals and groups with the necessary encouragement and support when learning how to become more effective in their global facing roles.

Thirdly and finally, sometimes even the most internationally experienced executives are often unprepared for the landmines they can step on when operating globally. Cultural and business blind spots are an everyday fact of global business life, compounded by long periods of time spent overseas, language barriers, a demanding work environment spread across multiple time zones, and pressures from your domestic peers who never seem to understand you or be there when you need them. This is an environment where business and personal lives clash dramatically, and can result in culture shock, fear, fatigue, anxiety, stress, under-performance, self-doubt and lack of confidence. In these scenarios, global effectiveness coaches act almost as a personal advisor and mentor, using their own global expertise and experience to help the executive meet their daily challenges and reach their goals.

Coaching for Global Effectiveness: Classic Interventions

10 years ago, the only executive likely to have had "global" experience of some form or another was the expatriate manager returning home upon completion of a three-year overseas assignment. The global skills and experience people gained during their assignment were generally under-valued by many corporations when they were repatriated. Not surprising, since expatriates were hardly ever selected for their global abilities in the first place. Within a decade however, not only have corporations realized that managers don't even need to set foot on a plane in order to interact with overseas clients, partners, employees and suppliers, they also need to become much more effective at working within a global-facing environment. Global effectiveness is no longer just a "desirable" element on people's resumes. Global experience and expertise is now widely becoming a crucial factor for promotion to the high executive ranks of an organization.

Below are some of the typical scenarios where global effectiveness coaching can become very valuable.

  1. A CEO is charged with taking the organization into global markets, but he really isn't sure how to build the corporate global mindset that will enable him to navigate the organization globally.

  2. The organization has been rapidly entering new global markets. The problem is that there is a shortage of global talent, and the company needs to ensure that key people in a global-facing environment are developing the necessary global capabilities.

  3. High levels of tension exist between HQ and overseas subsidiaries and branch offices. In-country General Managers really don't feel HQ understands the real issues on the ground. After all, nobody from HQ has even bothered to make the trip.

  4. Cultural misunderstandings, communications errors, and different sets of expectations are creating problematic relationships in a cross-border setting with partners, clients, suppliers and employees.

  5. An executive is having trouble remote managing people across different time zones, geographies, cultures and reporting structures.

  6. The cross-cultural/diverse make-up of a project group is having a negative impact on results, and nobody seems to be cooperating with each other.

  7. An executive has been promoted to VP for Global Sales and Marketing, but is finding that leading, managing and inspiring his cross-border team for results is proving difficult. Different management styles, reporting structures and personal agendas seem to be getting in the way, both locally and remotely.

  8. A senior manager wants to make his next career move by emphasizing the global aspects of his career. But it may involve a move to another country - which brings him into direct conflict with his family.

  9. A woman executive is about to be posted on overseas assignment. She wishes to take her family with her, but that will involve a career shift for her husband too.

  10. The wife of an expatriate General Manager is suffering from culture shock and wishes to return home with the children. The domestic situation is getting worse by the day. The marriage is at risk and the overall work performance of the General Manager has deteriorated.

  11. An executive returns home to HQ after 15 years of expatriate assignments in various countries. She shows signs of derailment after she feels the organization has not done enough to repatriate her fully back into the organization.

  12. There is major cultural mismatch following an overseas acquisition. An "us v. them" attitude has emerged across the organization and people are getting on the wrong side of each other.

Inv-ROI: An Alternative Way at Looking at the Return on Investment in Coaching.

Measuring return on investment (ROI) has traditionally been the question for those charged with maintaining a close eye on the corporate bottom line. A recent study by Fortune magazine asked executives to provide a "conservative" estimate of the monetary return they received from a 9-month coaching program. The survey showed a return of 6 times the initial outlay for the service. In other words, an $18,000 executive coaching investment returned $108,000. In addition, 70% of the executives improved working relationships with their direct reports, 71% with supervisors and 63% with peers. There was also an increase of 61% in job satisfaction as well as a 44% increase in commitment to the organization.

But operating within a global environment requires an alternative and even more powerful model of looking at return on investment in executive coaching. The investment in global expansion, in terms of people, management planning, commitment, time, cost and patience is not cheap. Many executives are surprised by the length of time it can take before an overseas venture becomes profitable. Estimates range from an absolute minimum of 18 months to as much as 5 years. It can take even longer to change an organizational mindset to become more globally focused. When one looks at the internationalization effort in this light, it is not surprising that only 1 in 6 organizations become profitable international operations.

The Investment Returned on International, or Inv-ROI, is an even more powerful way of looking at the return on investment in global effectiveness coaching. The INV-ROI measures the combined return on investment in both the process of globalization (i.e. the everyday actions and decisions taken by executives to reach global markets) as well as global mindset (i.e. the corporate global mentality that has to be adopted by all executives in a global facing environment in order to stay in global markets).

A company that is internationalizing its business and wants to measure its INV-ROI in global effectiveness coaching should seriously consider the cost to find, recruit, select, develop and retain new people with international skills and talent. It should consider how internationally experienced people will reduce both time and cost to international markets. It should consider the improvement in cross-border working relationships with direct reports, the reduction of conflict inherent in cross-border teams, JV partners and acquisitions. It should consider the increase in the quality of global customer service. It should consider the reputation of other leading global players who, as a direct consequence of investing in global skills and talent, have created powerful global brands as well as a high level of responsiveness to local markets. It should ultimately consider how much under-investment in international skills and talent could ultimately cost the company in terms of productivity, output, and even perhaps overseas market failure.

Ultimately, the Investment Returned on International (Inv-ROI) offered by global effectiveness coaching will not only have a direct bearing on the investment returned on people, but also on the level of organizational success in the global marketplace.

Qualities of a Global Effectiveness Coach

Although global effectiveness coaches share a wide range of skills with other forms of executive coaching, it is their many years of international management experience that really sets them apart. Global effectiveness coaches have a unique insight into the broad range of globalization issues that can profoundly affect both business and personal lives. Indeed the range is so broad, that some global effectiveness coaches are now becoming specialized within the specialization itself.

Once you have decided to work with a global effectiveness coach, it then pays to take your time to ensure you know precisely what you're looking for. This crucial investment will eventually pay off in terms of time, knowledge, experience, trust and chemistry. The following are 12 key criteria for identifying the critical characteristics of a global effectiveness coach so that they can help you achieve your global organizational goals.

  1. Management Experience

    One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is selecting a coach who really has no prior experience of corporate or organizational dynamics. Successful global effectiveness coaches are credible precisely because they have been executives themselves. They are already very familiar with the issues associated with leading, managing and inspiring other people, achieving results through teamwork, and steering organizations through the complexities and politics of change.

  2. International Experience

    In the same way that executive coaches are credible and successful thanks to their executive backgrounds, global effectiveness coaches are credible because they have many years of international experience within a corporate context. "International experience" does not simply mean a short stint overseas. Neither does it mean simply interfacing with overseas customers, suppliers or employees via telephone or email (although that helps of course). Successful global effectiveness coaches will have often spent many years living, working and interacting in many different overseas environments (one culture simply doesn't suffice). Most have experienced culture shock in one form or another, and have dealt with it quickly and effectively. Many are multilingual, and have taken the time and effort to assimilate other cultural worldviews into their business and working lives. It is precisely because of this experience that executives fully understand the wide range of complex issues surrounding not just business, but global business. It would be wise therefore to look for at least 10 to 15 years international business experience in a global effectiveness coach.

  3. Specialization and Expertise

    You should understand that just as in other fields, global effectiveness coaching introduces a wide range of different coaching specializations, and it would be wise to strongly differentiate at the very beginning when selecting your coach. Global effectiveness coaching was originally born out of the need to provide expatriate and mobility support for overseas executives. But nowadays, the real issues and concerns surrounding global business are simply too large and complex for any single specialization to provide any meaningful support. An "expatriate coach" simply cannot fit all needs, and may not necessarily understand the full range of complex issues surrounding the nature of global business either. The expertise of global effectiveness coaches lies in their ability to operate within and across the three broad categories outlined in the introduction: organizational change for global performance, global leadership and skills development, and dealing with the everyday blind spots and complexities that arise in a global facing business environment.

    Within this broad context, you should then look more precisely at the 12 global effectiveness coaching areas outlined earlier, and then ask yourself why you really need to engage the services of a global effectiveness coach. For example, an expatriate coach will unlikely be the best candidate for increasing team performance. Equally, coaching a domestic team is not the same as coaching a global team. Whilst some of the dynamics of teamwork may be the same, others will be completely different, and it therefore pays to have somebody who has long experience of working with global teams.

  4. Diagnostic Instruments

    Just as a physician uses diagnosis in order to provide an analysis of his patient's improvement opportunities, coaches use a similar range of diagnostic tools and instruments the executive can use to take effective action. Global effectiveness coaches know when to select and use a range of validated psychometric tools, assessments and 360 feedback in their coaching practice so that the executive can better understand their own behaviors and competencies.

    However, in the area of global effectiveness coaching, most of these tools are often insufficient at providing an analysis of the executive's global capabilities across a spectrum of different global-facing environments. Two of the more well-known validated psychometric instruments in this field include the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), developed by Drs. Milton Bennett and Mitch Hammer, and the Overseas Assignment Inventory (OAI), developed by Michael Tucker. In addition, there is a range of non-psychometric instruments and simulation exercises that provide feedback on global skills and behavior.

    It is always wise to check the global effectiveness coach's knowledge and experience in the use of these cultural psychometric instruments and feedback tools. They form the crucial basis of any global effectiveness coaching relationship.

  5. Investment Returned on International (Inv-ROI)

    Like other forms of coaching, global effectiveness coaching is expensive, so it always wise to conduct some form of due diligence on the coach's background. A talented and experienced global effectiveness coach will have no hesitation in demonstrating examples of both their international experience and effectiveness. They would also be willing to provide a minimum of 3 different references. If the coach raises the issue of confidentiality, then be wary; you can still check with corporate HR that the relationship indeed existed and that real value within a global context was provided.

  6. Results

    Before signing any contract with a global effectiveness coach, make sure you're entirely clear on the overall results your organization wishes to achieve. You can clarify this in a number of ways. First, ask the coach to describe at least three cases or success stories where they coached the client from beginning to end. Second, you can drill down by focusing on a typical strategy taken by the coach during a typical session, and finally, you can ask about the structure and content of a typical session in these case studies.

  7. Delivery

    A smart global effectiveness coach will be able to clearly delineate differences between coaching, counseling, therapy and mentoring, and emphasize in particular the developmental aspects of the coaching relationship. For example, the global effectiveness coach should be able to demonstrate concrete examples of how they are able to coach a client from beginning to end in areas such as global leadership development, international skills and experience, career development in a global context, international team-building skills and so on.

  8. Training and Credentials

    Since coaching has become very popular over the last few years, many people want to call themselves coaches, and the field of global effectiveness coaching is no different. While many coaches are very skilled, there are some who want to capitalize on this popularity. A closer look at the coach's undergraduate and postgraduate education will provide an initial indication of the global effectiveness coach's relevant knowledge base. In addition, since coaching is a discipline, look for evidence of specific coach training, recognized and credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). The ICF has been credentialing coaches since 1988 and recognizes two levels of coach - the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) which leads to the more advanced Master Certified Coach (MCC). If the coach is not yet credentialed, then look for evidence that the coach is already well underway with an ICF accredited program.

  9. Client selection.

    Like other coaching professions, global effectiveness coaches won't simply coach anybody. The litmus test of most experienced coaches is whether a client is "coachable". Make sure the global effectiveness coach has certain criteria for taking on a client.

  10. Bait & Switch Coaching

    Ascertain whether the individual selling in front of you will ultimately be delivering results. If it turns out that other global effectiveness coaches will be brought into the picture once the coaching contract has been signed, check that they are not less experienced by going through this checklist again. In particular look out for international management experience and credentials.

Globalization is here to stay. And even though the world appears to be becoming smaller, it is also becoming more complex and unpredictable. Relentless competitive pressures from all parts of the globe, major swings and changes in market conditions, mega-mergers, increasing customer expectations and rapid technology advance all require executives with the necessary skills and talent to keep up with this change and complexity, and to read and interpret it in a way that allows them to be swift, responsive, effective, creative and innovative.

It was the legendary CEO Jack Welch who said: "The real challenge is to globalize the mind of the organization. Until an organization captures the intellects of other areas, it really does have a problem. Until you globalize intellect, you have not really globalized the company".

The winners then, will be those organizations who respond well to this call, and embrace coaching as a powerful way of helping managers to succeed by creating an environment where skills development and behavior change is consistent with the needs of the business plan as well as the global marketplace.


The Author


Trevor J. O'Hara is Principle of O'Hara Global Effectiveness Coaching, and Founding Partner of Renarc, an organizational consulting firm that specializes in globalization issues.

Many more articles in Coaching in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2003 by Trevor J. O'Hara. All rights reserved.

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