The Need for a Corporate Global Mind-Set

When a certain U.S. multinational corporation sought to adopt a global policy on employee mobility, it convened a yearlong symposium with representatives from units worldwide. Through a format that encouraged brainstorming and in-depth discussion, a consensus gradually emerged that enabled executives to reduce mobility classifications from eight to two. One category, the expatriate assignment package, encompassed managers who agreed to a company-requested posting of two or more years; it included 23 core elements that were standard. The other category, the international assignment package, covered employees who were assigned to a position for less than two years or requested an international posting; that had 13 core elements and left the other 10 adjustable to local situations. Both the policies themselves and the process used to develop them were well received abroad.

In another U.S. multinational, however, a task force of U.S. employees from different levels and functions drafted a major revision of work-force policies. The draft was discussed in several managerial forums, and a detailed questionnaire solicited the opinions of all U.S. personnel. Corporate executives considered the final product, which reduced the number of policies from 120 to 10, a notable success. Unfortunately, the process included little input from overseas. Instead, headquarters presented the results to all geographic units as a fait accompli. A company executive later commented, “International participation was an afterthought.” The policies and the process were not well received abroad.

Both companies had progressive reputations. Why then did they approach international involvement in such different ways? A corporate global mind-set was the critical difference: The first company showed it, whereas the second did not. We define a global mind-set as the ability to develop and interpret criteria for business performance that are not dependent on the assumptions of a single country, culture or context and to implement those criteria appropriately in different countries, cultures and contexts.1 The global mind-set is a critical component of globalization. And as often noted, the truly globalized corporation is more a mind-set than a structure.2

Getting to a corporate global mind-set requires individual managers to demonstrate a glocal mentality, which features three components.3 First, think globally; recognize when it is beneficial to create a consistent global standard. Second, think locally: The process of becoming “truly global … means deepening the company’s understanding of local and cultural differences.&

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References

1. See M.L. Maznevski and H.W. Lane, “Shaping the Global Mind-Set: Designing Educational Experiences for Effective Global Thinking and Action” in N. Boyacigiller, R. Goodman and M. Phillips, eds., “Teaching and Experiencing Cross-Cultural Management: Lessons From Master Teachers” (London: Routledge, in press). We have slightly modified Maznevski and Lane’s individual-level definition so that it refers instead to the company level.

2. See C.A. Bartlett and S. Ghoshal, “Managing Across Borders: The Transnational Solution,” 2nd ed. (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1998), and “The Myth of the Generic Manager: New Personal Competencies for New Management Roles,” California Management Review 40 (fall 1997): 92–116; V. Govindarajan and A.K. Gupta, “The Quest for Global Dominance: Transforming Global Presence Into Global Competitive Advantage” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001); and T.P. Murtha, S.A. Lenway and R.P. Bagozzi, “Global Mind-Sets and Cognitive Shift in a Complex Multinational Corporation,” Strategic Management Journal 19 (February 1998): 97–114.

3. G. Svensson, “ ‘Glocalization’ of Business Activities: A ‘Glocal Strategy’ Approach,” Management Decision 39 (2001): 6–18.

4. R.M. Kanter and T.D. Dretler, “Global Strategy and Its Impact on Local Operations: Lessons from Gillette Singapore,” Academy of Management Executive 12 (November 1998): 60–68.

5. N. Athanassiou and D. Nigh, “The Impact of the Top Management Team’s International Business Experience on the Firm’s Internationalization: Social Networks at Work,” Management International Review 4 (spring 2002): 157–181.

6. For example, Y.L. Doz and C.K. Prahalad, “The Multinational Mission: Balancing Local Demands and Global Vision” (New York: Free Press, 1987); and C.K. Prahalad and K. Lieberthal, “The End of Corporate Imperialism,” Harvard Business Review 76 (July–August 1998): 68–79.

7. In an attempt to limit the variation induced by multiple country and industrial sectors, the research focused on U.S.-based high-technology companies, including most of the major companies in computer hardware, software and services as well as the telecommunications industry. The momentum and magnitude of this sector make it an attractive domain for exploring how companies face the challenge of managing a worldwide work force. Moreover, many of these companies are regarded as management trendsetters.

8. For example, J. Greenberg and R. Cropanzano, eds., “Advances in Organizational Justice” (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001).

9. T.M. Begley and D.P. Boyd, “Articulating Corporate Values Through Human-Resource Policies,” Business Horizons 43 (July–August 2000): 8–12.

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11. R.S. Shuler, P.J. Dowling and H. De Cieri, “An Integrative Framework of Strategic International Human-Resource Management,” Journal of Management 19 (summer 1993): 419–460.

12. Bartlett, “Managing Across Borders”; R.E. Miles and C.C. Snow, “Fit, Failure and the Hall of Fame: How Companies Succeed or Fail” (New York: Free Press, 1994); J.C. Collins and J.I. Porras, “Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” (New York: HarperBusiness, 1994); and Greenberg, “Advances in Organizational Justice.”

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15. Collins and Porras, “Built To Last.”

16. P.A.L. Evans, “Management Development as Glue Technology,” Human Resource Planning 15 (1992): 85–105.

17. See, for example, W.C. Kim and R.A. Mauborgne, “Making Global Strategies Work,” Sloan Management Review 34 (spring 1993): 11–27.

18. K.L. Newman and S.D. Nollen, “Culture and Congruence: The Fit Between Management Practices and National Culture,” Journal of International Business Studies 27 (fall 1996): 753–779; S. Taylor and S. Beechler, “Human Resource Management System Integration and Adaptation in Multinational Companies,” in S. Prasad and R. Peterson, eds., “Advances in International Comparative Management” (Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1993), 155–174; R. Gill and A. Wong, “The Cross-Cultural Transfer of Management Practices: The Case of Japanese Human Resource Management Practices in Singapore,” International Journal of Human Resource Management 9 (February 1998): 116–135; and B.L. Kirkman and D.L. Shapiro, “The Impact of Cultural Values on Employee Resistance to Teams: Toward a Model of Globalized Self-Managing Work Team Effectiveness,” Academy of Management Review 22 (July 1997): 730–757.