Fostering Global Competence

Globalization is one of the defining concepts of our time. Here’s how HR can become competent business leaders on the world stage.

By Donald Shandler, Ph.D. Jul 2, 2015
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HR Magazine June 2015

There’s no question that globalization has brought about unprecedented changes in the way countries, industries, organizations and people do business. Today, employees represent increasingly diverse demographic backgrounds. The world, driven by technology, has become smaller, more transparent and quicker to change. New markets offer a range of challenges and opportunities in the “global village,” with competitors ranging from large global players to small startups.

In the book A Manager’s Guide to Globalization (McGraw-Hill, 1996) Stephen Rhinesmith writes:“The three levels of globalization—strategy/structure, corporate culture, and people—must be aligned and integrated to compete successfully in a global market.” In other words, managing the complexities, contradictions and conflicts associated with globalization has made global competence a 21st century imperative.

Academics and researchers have quibbled over how to define “global competence.” For example, the Asia Society defines it simply as “the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance,” while a National Education Association policy brief presents a more comprehensive definition: “the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and understanding of international issues, an appreciation of an ability to learn and work with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds … and skills to function productively in an interdependent world community.”

In addition, two HR professionals—Victoria Di Santo of Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals and Paula Caliguiri of Rutgers University—have put forth a global competency model that includes eight dimensions:

  • The ability to transact business in another country.
  • The capacity to change leadership style based on the situation.
  • An understanding of the company’s worldwide business structure.
  • Knowledge of professional contacts worldwide.
  • Knowledge of international business issues.
  • Openness.
  • Flexibility.
  • The ability to see pastethnocentrism.

HR leaders know that one size won’t fit all—and, most likely, your organization will want to tailor the definition and dimensions of global competence to meet its own needs. Perhaps you have even created your own organizational or industry-specific global competency model. But the most important thing to know is that HR professionals have an important stake in globalization—and they need to foster global competence in both themselves and others in their organizations.

Global Competency Models

The following three global competency models—from an HR association, a university and a health care organization—each provide a framework for individual and organizational performance.

The SHRM Competency Model

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Competency Model is a good starting point because it explores “what it means to be a successful HR professional, across the performance continuum, around the globe, from early to executive career levels.”

The model identifies the foundational competencies that HR professionals need to succeed, one of which is “global and cultural effectiveness.” That competency includes 18 skills. For example, globally competent HR professionals should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a willingness to develop and grow their understanding of global and cultural effectiveness.
  • Show awareness of and appreciation for global multidimensional and diverse perspectives in an organization’s line of business.
  • Implement and audit organizational/HR practices to ensure global/cultural sensitivity.
  • Maintain advanced knowledge of cultural differences within the region and across potential borders.
  • Possess general awareness and understanding of cultural differences.

For a complete description of the model, as well as a competency content validation study, visit

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Binghamton University’s Career Development Center’s Global Competency initiative prepares graduate students to compete in a competitive global job market. It assists the students in identifying international competencies, defining transferable skills, and communicating global competencies in a resume or job interview.

The following introduction to the Global Competency program is one I wish I had had when I entered the job market:

What Does Being Global Mean?

  • Appreciating other cultural perspectives and norms (being open-minded and nonjudgmental; accepting differences).
  • Being experienced in multicultural environments either abroad or in your own country.
  • Being adaptable in unfamiliar situations.
  • Having international awareness, knowledge and understanding.
  • Being able to effectively communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries.

For more information, visit

The WHO Global Competency Model

The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Global Competency Model consists of seven core competencies, three management competencies and three leadership competencies. It bears some similarity to the SHRM Competency Model in that it provides an opportunity to assess competencies for individuals at different levels in an organization.

WHO Global Competency Model

Core Competencies

  • Communicating in a credible and effective way
  • Knowing and managing yourself
  • Producing results
  • Moving forward in a changing environment
  • Fostering integration and teamwork
  • Respecting and promoting individual and cultural differences
  • Setting an example
  • Management Competencies
  • Creating an empowering and motivating environment
  • Ensuring the effective use of resources
  • Building and promoting partnerships across the organization and beyond

Leadership Competencies

  • Driving WHO to a successful future
  • Promoting innovation and organizational learning
  • Promoting WHO’s position in health leadership

Global competency models are continuously evolving to meet changing global conditions. Like the global market itself, they cannot remain static.

Guidance for Human Resource Professionals

So how can HR go about fostering global competence? Here are three recommendations.

Recommendation 1: Assess and Develop Your Own Global Competence

HR professionals spend considerable time designing global performance and learning systems for employees, managers and their organizations. Ironically, however, they often underinvest in themselves. To become true champions of global competence, they must assess and cultivate their own skills.

Fortunately, there are myriad global competency assessment tools and processes developed by associations, international consulting firms, scholars and publishers. However, for the purpose of this article, I have chosen one generated by Binghamton University’s Career Development Center. It lists 30 questions in six clusters that are intended to help people identifythe international knowledge, skills and experiences they already possess.

The following is a list of the six international competency areas with sample questions for each:

Language and Communication Skills—What languages do you speak? Write? Understand?

Knowledge of Culture, Both Traditional and Popular—With what cultures and nationalities have you had close dealings?

Education—In how many countries have you studied?

Ability to Adapt—When faced with a new environment, do you fit in quickly?

Knowledge of Business and Employment Practices—Are you familiar with the predominant management styles in more than one country? Can you articulate differences and similarities of these styles?

Global Thinking Skills—Do you follow the news from multiple countries on a regular basis?

Your answers to these questions may suggest that you have more work to do in order to be a champion of global competence. Clearly, the bar has been raised for HR professionals. Many organizations are not only assessing the global competence of their professionals, but also aligning certification programs with a global business perspective.

Recommendation 2: Develop Globally Competent Business Leaders

Fostering global competence requires not only well-credentialed HR professionals, but also globally competent organizational leaders. They are both allies, along with educators and politicians, in creating a sustainable global organization.

However, according to an American Management Association study, little progress has been made in global leadership development. The study included the findings of a survey of more than 1,000 senior business and human resource executives from 57 countries. While the number of organizations addressing global leadership increased from 31 percent in 2010 to 44 percent in 2014, most organizations have yet to develop a global mindset. Further, global human resources consulting firm Development Dimensions International found that only one-third of leaders identify themselves as being ready to lead “across countries and cultures.”

According to Kevin Martin, chief research officer for the Institute for Corporate Productivity, a human capital research firm, “Companies have to ratchet up efforts to develop leaders with global skills and competencies.” This can be accomplished by creating a distinct global leadership program, or at least by including global competence in a general leadership development program.

These findings suggest a need to purposefully develop leaders with global skills and competencies. Such individuals are needed not only to operate effectively on business global issues, but also to create a more inclusive culture. HR professionals have the opportunity to collaborate with business leaders to build global leadership development programs.

Recommendation 3: Educate for a Global Workforce

In international comparisons, the United States is falling behind, not only in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but also in global competence. But that may be changing. Educational reform is underway for cultivating global competence, beginning in elementary school. Moreover, in 2012, the U.S. Department of Education added a global component to its definition of 21st century education. And NAFSA, an association for international educators, presents a definition of global competence that drives home the importance of fostering global competence from school to workplace:

“In a knowledge-based economy that puts a premium on creativity, innovation, and collaboration, one of the most important twenty-first century skills students need is global competence. It is now a prerequisite for success in a world that demands scientific and technological literacy as well as cross-cultural leadership.”

In The Global Learning Organization (McGraw-Hill, 1993),Michael Marquardt and Angus Reynoldsexplore how organizations “can redirect energies to become a learning organization in the global context.” They present a comprehensive model, actual programs and systems from world-class organizations, as well as specific implementation steps. The authors make a basic and important point: Global corporations need to be global learning organizations.

Increasingly, more research-based global competency teaching methods are emerging from schools of business as well. One example from Poznan University in Poland provides specific directions for using role-playing games and case studies for developing successful collaboration in business by means of cultural and intercultural competencies. As many HR professionals know, university-based case studies often emerge as critical components of leadership and executive development programs.

Another way to foster global competence is by using a toolkit. Consult, for example, Global Competence: 50 Training Activities for Succeeding in International Business(Human Resource Development Pr, 2000). This workbook is divided into six parts: icebreakers; culture-general activities; culture-specific activities; language and interpretation; leadership and development; and expatriation and acculturation.

Donald Shandler, Ph.D., is president of Shandler Associates, a consulting firm specializing in the development of managers, leaders and professionals.

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