A Different Culture = A Different Mindset

Last week, Deirdre White, the CEO of CDC Development Solutions, joined the Wall Street Journal for a forum of CFOs from the world’s largest companies in Washington, DC to discuss talent development.  Notable economic thinkers such as former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, SEC Chairman, Mary Jo White, and Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Krueger, debated the 2013 economic outlook and policy, while CFOs identified their top 20 most pressing priorities.

Deirdre was asked to develop three proposals in response to questions around the theme, The Talent Hunt. Once a talented employee comes in the door, what’s the best way to develop their abilities?  How can ever-more globalized companies instill an international perspective when many managers want to stay close to home?

The topic ignited a vigorous debate.  The session was closed to the media, so we can’t share the details here, but one point was apparent: those responsible for the bottom line have a different culture and a different mindset.  While employee engagement ranked among the top twenty priorities, “lowering US corporate taxes” was, by far, the clear winner on CFO agendas, which, as an aside, sparked some sarcasm in the Twittersphere.

Deputy Managing Editor, WSJ, Gabby Stern:

While statistics clearly show more millennials than ever desire jobs that provide opportunities to give back and incorporate a social purpose, this sharp prioritization reminded me that, like International Corporate Volunteerism (ICV), coming from a different culture means holding a different mindset, and along with it, different motivations.

In our line of work, though it may seem obvious, it’s sometimes easy to forget that not every audience shares our views on the imperative for global development. Global CFOs’ top five priorities were:

1)    Lower corporate taxes

2)    Improve cybersecurity

3)    Enact a territorial tax system

4)    Develop a coherent energy policy

5)    Invest in infrastructure for the oil and gas sector

While ICV didn’t reach the top five, Wall Street Journal Senior Editor, Emily Chasan, reported on the quandary faced by many companies – the cultivation of talent. In her article, CFOs Say Recruitment in Emerging Markets Is Their Top Talent Challenge, Chasan points to the difficulty of developing talent in less mature markets.  “The biggest place we’ve been adding talent is developing and emerging markets,” points out PepsiCo CFO, Hugh Johnston.  “As quickly as you can fill the positions, you have new needs because the businesses are just growing that rapidly.” CDC Development Solutions witnesses this daily in projects across Africa, South America, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.

In case you’re curious, here are the top four recommendations from Deirdre’s session on The Talent Hunt:

  1. Engage Employees
    Appeal to employees’ heads, hearts and hands through community/global involvement/affinity groups.
  2. Promote Persuasion
    Employees must be effective communicators: written/oral, internal/external. They should learn to speak across disciplines as well as across business functions.
  3. Encourage Partnerships
    Avoid siloism. Use cross-functional assignments.
  4. Continuous Learning
    Make sure employees master skills required in an evolving financial environment. Employees must be continuous learners in a dynamic business setting.

It was disappointing this particular group of CFOs didn’t fully appreciate the strategic value in ICV, especially given that skills gained through the program align so well with many of their desired leadership competencies. “I learned a great deal from the perspective of these CFOS,” Deirdre said. “My hope is that they will come to embrace newer models, like ICV, that both develop talent and deliver social benefit.” CFOs clearly face the issue of talent development and retention.

At the same time, we need to question our own assumptions to help CFOs understand how pro bono consulting can actually address one of their top talent needs. Just two weeks ago, the State Department hosted a forum on International Corporate Volunteerism, which brought together leadership from IBM, Citi, Amazon, CDC Development Solutions and many more to discuss how ICV cultivates global leaders and retains top talent.

Stan Litow, President of the IBM Foundation and the Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at IBM, stressed how critically important international experience is in building a leading business and in addressing global challenges.

“What would happen, if every Fortune 500 company fielded 100 employees a year?” said Litow. “Imagine the impact that would yield, both on your employees and on the world.”

Katie Levey

Katie Levey

Katie is Director of Media Relations at PYXERA Global where she designs communications and press strategies to empower nonprofits and corporations that are impacting positive social change through their programming and their business. Before PYXERA Global, Katie founded the nonprofit communications consultancy, Wake Up for Good, where she worked with organizations including American Diabetes Association, Smithsonian Institution, Catchafire, and saveup.com.

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