Courses groom global managers for tough reality
April 15, 2001
SINGAPORE (AP) Mandy Chooi is feeling the heat. It’s her first day on the job and she’s been asked to quell a staff rebellion in a strange country. Her pager is beeping, “urgent” e-mails are pouring in and her new boss expects a presentation before lunch.
A stranger watching Chooi would never guess the job is make believe. She works for Motorola Inc. in Singapore and is demonstrating a workplace-simulation tool the big U.S. electronics company uses to groom managers for the high-stress, volatile world economy.
Armed with mobile phones and overnight bags, global managers are expected to have chameleon-like abilities to cross borders and clinch complex deals. Multinationals are using realistic techniques to outfit leaders for running business units in more than one country _ and for staying calm in today’s turbulent work environment.
As layoffs sweep Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and other global companies, creative training courses help retain top talent in part by reassuring them their skills are crucial to the business.
“Nobody spoon-feeds you. It’s like real life,” Chooi said of Motorola’s simulator, an elaborate role-playing system where managers work at a laptop computer connected to the in-house computer network of an imaginary company called Global Enterprises.
Motorola, a big maker of mobile phones based in Schaumberg, Ill., uses the simulator in North America and introduced it to China last year. Role-playing centers are planned in other nations, says Chooi, who runs the company’s training courses.
During her demonstration, Chooi decides how to handle complaints about a manager in the make-believe country of Rundeen, e-mails requesting lunch dates and conference calls. Urgent replies stream in. The computer tracks her responses during the four-hour exercise and measures how she delegates tasks and manages time.
When a trainee uses the simulator, Chooi and other psychologists stay nearby in case users “freak out” _ although that rarely happens.
Companies that invest in creative training courses often have an easier time retaining managers in volatile economic times, particularly at hard-hit technology companies.
Executives tend to cringe at the notion of losing their jobs. “If the employees feel that they’re being developed they’re much more likely to stay,” said David French, a Singapore-based human resources and training consultant.
In today’s training environment, classroom-style lecturing is definitely out of vogue.
Cisco Systems, the world’s biggest maker of Internet networking equipment with offices in 75 countries, puts all its training courses on internal Web pages so managers can teach themselves, said Derek Tobias, head of Cisco’s management training in the Asia Pacific.
One outdoor exercise is blindfolding managers, giving them rope and asking them to create a complex shape. “They can’t see what it is but they have to be able to communicate and work together effectively,” he said.
But unlike the global executives they teach, courses readily available on corporate Web sites may not travel well.
Motorola’s simulator can in theory be used by any employee over the company’s computer system, but Chooi says managers in China should not be assessed by Chicago-based psychologists. Every culture has special needs and companies are thinking creatively to meet them.
Companies that send managers into danger zones have their own unique coaching.
General Motors, for example, trains people in self defense if they’re going to work in a country like Colombia.