RESEARCH
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Executive Learning in Emerging Markets

Developing leaders to succeed in an uncertain future



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A study from Emerging World confirms that immersive learning, in an emerging market context, helps leaders develop the skill to operate effectively in a VUCA world. Here they describe their findings:

Have you ever thought of developing your leaders by sending them to work with fast growth entrepreneurs in emerging markets? Or challenging your executive teams to learn by co-developing solutions to social challenges in partnership with NGO’s and UN agencies?

Such experiential approaches to leadership development are growing in popularity as a response to the need to develop globally aware and responsible leaders with the skillsets necessary to succeed in a VUCA world. The approaches are not only head-turning, but a new research study we recently undertook, with companies that offer these kinds of experiences to employees, provides rich data that demonstrates they are also highly effective from people development perspective.


This immersive learning approach is known as Corporate International Service Learning (CISL). In CISL initiatives, employees travel internationally to apply their business skills to support  startups, social enterprises, NGO’s and government agencies on specific challenges they are facing. Approaches between companies vary along dimensions such as duration (from a few days to a few months), location, seniority of participant and whether experiences are undertaken individually or as part of a group. They are not always led by the learning function either, some initiatives such as Microsoft’s MySkills4Afrika program are led by business units. While CSR functions may also champion the approach –such as in Credit Suisse’s Global Citizens Program in which c. 40-50 VPs and Directors are annually selected to work with partner education and microfinance organizations in various locations across the world.

Regardless of structure, the experience of being challenged to apply your skills in a very different culture and context to achieve outcomes that make a very tangible difference to people’s lives has the potential to be highly developmental, and through our study we wanted to capture data that would understand and measure this learning much better.

The CISL Impact Benchmark Study was conducted during 2015 and had responses from over 300 participants from 5 different companies (Becton Dickinson, Credit Suisse, EY, GSK and Microsoft), who had all completed a CISL experience at least 12 months prior to participating. They were asked to reflect on what impact the experience had had on them subsequently to participating and respond using an anonymous online questionnaire administered through Qualtrics.

A Participants Story

Anya Smith, a senior marketing manager with a large multinational corporation, recently travelled to Nairobi in Kenya to work with a promising technology start-up that was looking to expand their business. Anya’s experience in marketing coupled with the entrepreneur’s local knowledge and enthusiasm enabled them to develop a plan to increase brand awareness and target new customers. Wanting to make the most of the opportunity, the entrepreneur also asked Anya to help develop a model for expansion, by exploring options for recruitment and considering innovative partnerships. However, for Anya, the goal of the engagement was not necessarily to create new business opportunities but to develop as a leader. By supporting an unfamiliar organization, within an unknown context, she was able to practice dealing with the ambiguity and complexity that comes with emerging markets, whilst developing her collaboration and self-confidence.


The findings showed that CISL programs provide a strong return on investment for companies in terms of depth of learning (as measured using a Kirkpatrick framework), the development of a range of important global leadership competencies and behaviours, as well as offering enhanced career mobility and increased employee engagement.  

Highlighted findings include:

  • Deep levels of learning: 79% of employees reported positive changes to the way they work as a result of their experience
  • Broad development of 12 global leadership competencies and behaviours vital for future success including self-awareness, dealing with ambiguity and the ability to work with culturally diverse groups and teams
  • Enhanced loyalty and engagement: 75% of respondents came back with increased motivated to contribute more than was required of their role
  • Outstanding approval ratings: 99.7% of participants had recommended a CISL experience to a colleague
  • Accelerated promotion: 66% of returning participants have moved to roles of increased scope and seniority

In addition, the study also provided some really interesting insights about what aspects of program design and management impacted results – information that would help companies design effective programs for the outcomes they are looking for.

With companies becoming more integrated into society than ever before, on a global level never previously experienced and in an environment of rapid change and uncertainty, our research suggests that companies should look at CISL as an approach for developing the kind of leaders required to succeed in this uncertain future.

To receive an electronic copy click here: 2015 CISL Impact Benchmark Study or contact Emerging World at info@emergingworld.com




 
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