Globalisation : Leading in a Global World

Albert A. Vicere is executive education professor of strategic leadership at Penn State's Smeal College of Business, and president of Vicere Associates, Inc., a leadership consulting firm with clients around the globe. He is one of the country's top leadership coaches, and is the author/editor of several books including Leadership By Design, The Many Facets of Leadership and more than 80 articles on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

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Globalization is a driving force in business today and its consequences are the subject of much debate. Yet, despite its increasing impact on every aspect of organizational effectiveness, I wonder if most leaders have really confronted its consequences in terms of leadership skills and mindsets.

Global means more than just sourcing or selling in foreign markets. It means recognizing that as we become more interconnected and interdependent, the basic processes of leadership and management must evolve to keep pace with the changing marketplace. It means that leaders need not just to “go global” but to “think global.”

Companies have made drastic structural changes in response to globalization. The traditional organizational structure was derived from the military and built around top-down, command and control hierarchy. I call it the “cone head model” with leaders at the top of the cone and workers at the base doing what their boss tells them to do. It’s a model built on control and standardization, and it worked well until globalization began to change the face of the economic landscape.

Many companies have moved to flatter structures with less people and less hierarchy in order to compete in highly competitive, faster-paced global markets. Such changes were intended to make companies to be more efficient, more flexible, and more responsive to customers and markets.
It turns out that often the only real change many of these companies made was in worker headcount. Many failed to eliminate work along with people. And many forgot about the customer, increasingly global and increasingly informed. So after a short burst of improvement, their overworked and confused employees couldn’t sustain productivity gains and better positioned competitors chipped away at their opportunities to grow in new markets.

More recently, benchmark companies adjusted by focusing on their core competencies as they restructured. Critical business processes that were not core competencies were outsourced and partnerships and alliances moved to the forefront of business strategy. High performing organizations fast evolved from cone-head bureaucracies to relationship-driven networks. And governments cooperated by forming networks of their own. The European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Association of South-East Asian Nations are just some of the groupings within which barriers are being dismantled, relationships formed, and growth promoted.

This is the essence of the global economy. It involves far more than new markets for products. It requires that companies search the world for the most efficient markets for labor, expertise, and even innovation. It requires that leaders learn how to manage complex global relationships with partners around the world, that they learn to work in global networks, and that they become comfortable in an environment of mutual dependency.

Simply put, we are growing closer to and more dependent upon each other. As our ties to people and companies around the world strengthen and as globally connected markets become stronger, we become ever more citizens of a global village as well as citizens of our country of origin. And, while I am sure we will endeavor to maintain our uniqueness, we will see a world business culture emerge as companies and economies become more intertwined. And the backbone of this culture is the internet - the information superhighway.

Just think of the global economy as a huge rollercoaster with the internet as the tracks. You and your company are on the ride. Some of it will be a hard uphill climb, but you know there’s a thrill once you get over the climb. That’s if you look at globalization for what it really represents--the growing interdependence of people, resources, businesses, and governments. And if you look at the information superhighway for what it really is the infrastructure that enables us to build the networks and manage the relationships demanded in a global world. Just one bit of advice though - on this ride, keep your eyes open.

© Copyright 2004 Albert Vicere

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