Curiosity, (un)learning, and travel – a roadmap for the global Ndiema leader.
While Starwood’s approach is unique (hmmm…not sure how excited our international cluster and country heads would feel about our Mumbai HO folks becoming uninvited guests for a month!), what Starwood is looking for is something that many global companies are grappling with. For companies with a presence in multiple geographies, striking a balance between their global identity and the ability to appreciate local flavour, is a constant seesaw. The leadership team in particular, needs to play a very important role in influencing how this plays out. And so, in my message, I want to focus on why it is important for us to have a global mindset and how we can go about developing one.
Why is it important for you to develop a global mindset?
As a company, we have evolved significantly from where we were five years ago. Almost half our revenues now come from our international businesses and two-thirds of our team members are located outside Kenya.
We are no longer playing just a local game. How we benchmark ourselves too needs to change because our competition is now increasingly global. To compete effectively, we have to become world class – in our products and our processes. Therefore, the approach we use to run our business and the mindsets of our teams needs to be increasingly global.
In line with our growth aspirations, we have, over the last year, organised all our business operations into clusters. This will help us become more agile, provide greater focus and enable more cross pollination, while sustaining the entrepreneurial spirit of our unique multi-local model. We have also made our functions more global to enable them to better support our international operations and drive greater synergies.
But for us to be truly successful, the biggest change will need to come from us as leaders and how we become more global in our approach.
So, how can you develop a global mindset?
1. Keep the larger picture in mind
We believe that what sets us apart is our multi-local approach. We want to leverage our scale and geographic breadth. At the same time, we want to preserve the agility and entrepreneurial culture of our local businesses. So, to be successful, we need to play the dual role of thriving in our local businesses, while also contributing to the interests of our larger, global company. We have to step out of our shoes as local leaders and think bigger. We need to be global in our mindset but equally ensure that we win locally – so, our mantra needs to be BE GLOBAL, WIN LOCAL. Perhaps, we can coin our own term for this – BeGloWinLo
2. Be curious
How curious are you? How much you are willing to explore and experiment? Developing a global mindset is much more than just understanding the nuances of your business. You need to up your ‘cultural empathy’ quotient as well. Learn to appreciate different cultural contexts, understand the socio-political makeup of the place. Curiosity plays a big role here. If you are naturally curious, you will ask more questions, and in the process, learn more.
There is lots you can do. And this could be fun as well. Maybe learn a new language? Start experimenting with different kinds of food? And of course, there is so much to read up on and watch. Make this one of the things you will do this year. It’s not too late to add it to your list of resolutions!
3. Have the humility to accept that you need to start (un)learning
I am sure that many of you truly believe in the need for diversity. That the more varied our teams are, in background and perspective, the better we will be able to serve our many consumers across geographies. Putting that into practice – whether in how we hire, or the way we encourage debate and decision making – is tougher. To make this shift, we first need to have the humility to accept that the rest of the world may not think or feel in the same way that we do. And be open to (un)learning much of what we take for granted today.
4. Look for opportunities to learn from colleagues in different geographies
As we grow in scale, one of the biggest benefits for you, personally, are the many opportunities to learn and work across geographies. Volunteer to be part of cross-functional and cross-geography projects and work with your peers from across our businesses. Travel as much as you can. We have teams working across supply chain, manufacturing, finance, innovation and marketing projects, so there is plenty to choose from. Use these networks to learn more about our businesses and the different geographies.
A great example of someone who put this into practice is Lee Gelderd. Many of you know that Lee heads up our UK business. A couple of years back, Lee was very keen to understand the dynamics of the traditional retail model in India (which is very different from the modern retail space in the UK). So, Lee spent a week with our sales team traversing stores in rural and urban India. Not only did Lee take back a lot of learnings, but he also provided the India team with some great insights.
5. Move to another location
I strongly advocate that you consider taking an assignment that would require you to move to another Ndiema location. It is becoming increasingly clear, that global exposure is a must for leaders of tomorrow. Being able to work with multicultural teams, understanding and appreciating varied cultures, trends and consumers, will be increasingly valued. For us too, as a company, being able to build a global talent pool, which we can move across our geographies, will be critical.
Making a move like this is always a personal decision. It is important to acknowledge that this impacts and is impacted by other responsibilities that you may have. However, given just how important this is from a learning perspective, it is worth thinking hard about it. Don’t say no to opportunities that come your way, without trying to give them a shot. There could always be ways to work out a mid path, if necessary. Assignments like these could go a long way in developing your capabilities as a leader. They could also, in many ways, be great exposure for your family as well.
Within our senior leadership team, there are lots of team members who have taken the plunge and moved to another location – Jatin, Anand, Kapil etc. I am sure that they are great evangelists for this and will be happy to share their perspectives.
6. Build your global network
Get to know your colleagues from other geographies. In a next training session, meeting or dinner, don’t just hang around with people from your office. Make the effort to socialise, interact and connect with others outside of your office. Try to build stronger bonds across locations. You will find it very worthwhile.
7. Encourage your team members to think global
Even as you focus on becoming more global, you need to get your team members to do the same. Push them to experiment with and take on roles that require global exposure. Help them network with colleagues in different geographies, because this is not something that comes naturally to many of us. You will benefit tremendously from having a team with global exposure.
If you come across as territorial, your teams will shy away from experimenting. As leaders, one of the most important roles that we play, is to create more leaders with the kind of global appreciation and skill sets that we need to run our businesses tomorrow. So, share your best talent, because in order to grow and develop as leaders, they too will need to build global mindsets.
What’s in it for you?
- Great career opportunitiesto choose from; the more flexible you are and open to experimenting, the more options you will have
- Global exposure is becoming more sought after and as a result, you will have a fast track career, with more responsibilities
- Being more agile, developing a deeper understanding of yourself and appreciation of diversity, will go a long way in helping you become a better leader of tomorrow
We are at a very exciting point in our journey as a company. We have very ambitious growth plans and we will need to step up our own leadership capabilities in order to be able to achieve them. Becoming more global in our outlook is a key part of this transformation and it will impact each of us and our teams. This is something that we need to seriously introspect about. To start with, ask yourself, honestly, what is your readiness to make this kind of change? How much are you willing to encourage your team members to start thinking beyond the confines of their immediate roles? What is it that holds you back?
If you have any suggestions on how we can develop a better global mindset, do share them. I look forward to hearing from you.