Developing Leadership Training in the Public Sector

Advances in technology mean that companies around the world are now more connected than ever. That makes functioning in a competent manner on a global stage paramount for organizations—including those in the public sector. However, a summary of recent data related to executive learning from [email protected], UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, reveals that global effectiveness is lagging. Although these findings are geared to private sector organizations, experts note that lessons there can translate to the public sector, as well. Here, we’ll examine why global competence and multicultural sensitivity need to be included in training for public sector leaders.

Global Competence Is More Important Than Ever

As noted in “UNC Leadership Survey 2015—Compete and Connect: Developing Globally-Competent Leaders,” advances in technology have both made the world a smaller place—and created new challenges in the process:

“… While this unprecedented level of interconnectedness brings about enormous opportunities for business growth and expansion, the promise of globalization is not without its fair share of challenges. From overcoming the obstacles of working with people of different cultures and languages to conveying a consistent brand and message across borders, companies today must reassess their talent and their ability to compete for current skillsets and ensure they can achieve global success in a smaller, flatter world.”

The report highlights the military-coined acronym of VUCA—which accurately describes the global environment facing the public sector today:

  • Volatile—demands change quickly and change rarely happens in predictable or repeatable ways.
  • Uncertain—disruptive change is the new normal.
  • Complex—there are numerous challenging factors at play that are often difficult to understand.
  • Ambiguous—causation is often unclear and there is greater potential for misunderstanding and confusion in international environments.

In such a world, the need for organizations to exhibit global competence is critical. However, although they recognize this priority, many organizations encounter difficulties in identifying and staffing multinational leadership roles with “ready” talent. The result is that even if a global growth strategy is in place, such organizations can’t execute them effectively. In a survey of more than 300 human resources and training development professionals, the following data points came to light, and highlight the dichotomy:

  • 86 percent of global organizations surveyed said they will expand their operations to other countries in the next three years.
  • 92 percent said they plan to extend the reach of their products or services in other countries in the same period.
  • However, only 41 percent of leaders of multinational companies believe they can lead effectively across countries and cultures.
  • In addition, although 76 percent of multinational organizations believe they need to develop global capabilities—only 7 percent of multinational organizations believe they’re developing global capabilities effectively.

Fortunately, 92 percent agreed that global competence is something that can be developed through training—and a key component of such training needs to be multicultural sensitivity.

Multicultural Sensitivity Is Essential

When seeking to train public sector leaders in global competence, multicultural sensitivity is a critical component—especially since organizational cultural barriers remain the top reason that most international strategies fail. A survey of 323 people by the Human Capital Institute and UNC Executive Development revealed that multicultural sensitivity and awareness were the most important qualities for leaders in a global business environment. The Department of Defense (DOD) agrees.

In a special report, “Cross-Cultural Competence in the Department of Defense: An Annotated Bibliography,” the authors note:

“Over the course of the last decade, the need to select, train, and develop a force capable of operating anywhere in the world has never been more apparent. From Iraq to Afghanistan to Haiti to Africa, our Service members must effectively navigate cultures very different from their own across the full spectrum of military operations. Accordingly, research on the particular skills, abilities, and attributes that facilitate effective cultural performance, known collectively as cross-cultural competence (3C), has gained renewed interest across the U.S. Department of Defense … .”

The report notes the basic definition of 3C to be “the ability to successfully operate across cultures using particular knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics (KSAOs) germane to effective cross-cultural competence.” The 3C KSAOs include:

  • Knowledge—about cultures in general, which includes a basic understanding that enables individuals them to ask appropriate questions when entering a new Area of Operations (AO).
  • Skills—that demonstrate the “level of proficiency or competency in performing a specific task.”
  • Abilities—which represent enduring “capabilities that an individual possesses at the time when he/she first begins to perform a task.”

By integrating global competence and multicultural sensitivity into trainings for public sector leaders, government agencies can better prepare to operate beyond the domestic front when needed.

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