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Danish executives lack global training

A major new survey shows that Danish executives working abroad have to learn the ropes themselves. This is not ideal considering the complexity of their responsibilities and lack of available global talent, says the author of the survey. According to the Confederation of Danish Industry, greater focus on global executives would give Danish businesses a competitive advantage. 
Danish executives and businesses are often more aware of the advantages of good management than those from other countries, believes Director Thomas Bustrup from the Confederation of Danish Industry. Photo: Colourbox.

Publiceret: 13.10.2016
Af Felix Bekkersgaard Stark mail

Many Danish executives are given global management responsibilities without being offered the development of skills that are imperative for them to succeed in their managerial role on the global stage. This is one of the conclusions of the Global Leadership – Practice and Development Revisited report.

The report is based on in-depth interviews with 37 top global executives who manage staff and are employed in multinational companies headquartered in Denmark.

“First and foremost, these interviews show that expectations of what a ‘global manager’ should be able to do differ widely. Some manage from Denmark, others live abroad and have responsibility for employees across a range of countries and others again live abroad and have to manage employees there. All three scenarios provide very different challenges,” says Rikke Kristine Nielsen, a leadership researcher from Aalborg University Copenhagen (AAU).

Natural talent will save the day

All the interviewees said that most of them did not receive professional training before taking on their new role.

“They feel very much that they were thrown in at the deep end and have had to learn their role as they went along. That’s probably fine if you are a natural leader because natural leaders will always be fine. But there aren’t that many of those around which means that businesses really ought to be asking themselves whether this is the right approach,” says Rikke Kristine Nielsen.

She points out that putting people who are unprepared in such positions of responsibility may prove to be expensive.

“This is true both of businesses operating in the Danish market and those already operating or wanting to operate abroad. But it is probably disproportionately more expensive to send an unprepared manager to the Chinese market if the learning-by-doing method does not work. It may even make things much more difficult,” says Rikke Kristine Nielsen.

See also: Four tips for global executives

Different types of leader

Already before Rikke Kristine Nielsen started her interviews, she had a strong feeling that the concept of global management was too general to be applied meaningfully to executives in such widely differing roles.

“I have heard from many executives that it doesn’t make sense and that many of them are crying out for methods to help them gain the right experience. Many HR departments run leadership programmes, but they rarely address the many different roles managers have to take on,” says Rikke Kristine Nielsen.

She therefore decided to divide survey respondents into function-based categories and was pleased to discover that managers responded positively to her categorisation.

“The practical challenges differ widely depending on function. For example, executives with employees in many countries and time zones experience problems having to manage by telephone or computer screen. Those challenges are not there if you are in the same physical location as your employees. But then you face other problems,” says Rikke Kristine Nielsen.

She believes that both top management and HR departments should consider more function-based leadership training.

“This applies at all levels. But perhaps especially in those companies considering starting up in new countries. In my opinion, good preparation can mean the difference between succeeding in getting established or not,” says Rikke Kristine Nielsen.

Better than many others

Director at the Confederation of Danish Industry Thomas Bustrup supports these findings. In his experience, though, Danish managers and businesses are often more aware of the advantages of good management than companies from other countries are.

“The Danish management style is sought after abroad and is often easier to adapt to other cultures than, for example, the American style is with its standardised processes that tend to be implemented globally. Danish businesses in China are better than most at retaining Chinese employees who have a habit of changing their jobs often,” says Thomas Bustrup.

But he still believes that there are good reasons for Danish businesses to spend even more resources on training their top executives.

“Good management can mean the difference between success and failure. When you move out into international markets, it is even more important that you prioritise looking at and training executives in how to manage and lead while respecting local culture, through digital channels and across countries. Doing that will represent a strong competitive advantage both compared to Danish and foreign companies that have not made this a priority,” says Thomas Bustrup.  

They feel very much that they were thrown in at the deep end and have had to learn their role as they went along.

LEADERSHIP RESEARCHER RIKKE KRISTINE NIELSEN, AALBORG UNIVERSITY COPENHAGEN (AAU)
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PUBLISHED: 10/13/2016 LAST MODIFIED: 10/13/2016