Monday, October 3, 2011
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
By Elizabeth G. Olson, contributor
FORTUNE -- For rising managerial stars, an overseas assignment can be a glamorous perk. Spending a few years abroad, largely on the company dime, sounds almost as good as a paid vacation. Almost.
But some corporations are taking a new approach to the overseas assignment and have begun to send employees abroad to work on short-term projects as a means to test how they work, and adapt, outside their comfort zones.
Companies still send executives to attractive locales like Paris, but short-term projects are often based in emerging markets where companies are looking to expand. Some businesses are even taking a page from the missionary's playbook, sending employees on charitable assignments with the side goal of promoting their business.
IBM (IBM), for example, is sending its budding leaders to Africa and other developing markets through its Corporate Service Corps program, with the goal of seeing how these managers how operate in unfamiliar surroundings, work with people from different backgrounds, and lay the groundwork for future business by developing relationships with local decision-makers.
"This is part of operating a global enterprise," says Tom Vines, vice president of business and technology leadership for IBM. "Leadership has to be more than just a class and more than just a webinar."
IBM vets its employees for performance and leadership qualities before selecting candidates to work on an array of projects in areas such as education, health care, and economic development. IBM has sent teams to Egypt, India, Kenya, and Nigeria, all strong growth regions for the technology giant.
In Kenya, John Fredette, a Boston-based IBM manager, joined a team last March for a month-long pro-bono consulting project with the Postal Corporation of Kenya. "Our goal was to work with the postal corporation to add financial services to what it offers customers," says Fredette. "We ended up giving them a roadmap so the postal corporation can add services like issuing passports, which people now wait in line for at government offices, to make better use of their locations around the country."
He had to present the team's plan to the Postal Corporation's national board to persuade them, he says, "that if you don't change the [company] mindset, it will become irrelevant. It was dicey to say that to them."
Too short for its own good or just right?
Since its launch three years ago, IBM's Corporate Service Corps has sent 1,200 employees to participate in more than 100 projects in 23 different countries. And its model has been adopted or adapted by other corporations like Dow Corning and FedEx (FDX).
Few programs are as large as IBM's, which selects around 500 employees to participate each year. The teams, usually between eight and 12 members, spend three months preparing for their trip, a month on location, and two months back at their home office wrapping up their work and sharing their experiences with other IBMers, typically through blog posts and public appearances.
Many companies argue that these short-term projects abroad help them respond to the demands of an increasingly global work environment, but leadership development experts have given mixed reviews to this approach.
Rosabeth M. Kanter, director of the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, praises such short-term projects as "cost-effective ways to build skills and relationships in a diverse team."
IBM's model, she says, "mirrors the way people increasingly work: thrust into new situations that require them to learn and react fast while adjusting quickly to different styles and cultures." A drawback, notes Kanter, who wrote Super Corp, How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good, is that: "People don't learn a country in depth the way they would on a longer-term assignment. "But they learn how to learn about countries," she adds. And, "sometimes the projects demand innovation that isn't possible in more routine business work."
Taking the costs into account
Briefer assignments also allow companies to provide leadership experience to upcoming managers without the family disruption and major relocation expenses of a long-term international move. Also, studies have found that there is a high rate of departure for executives that return from assignments abroad and find themselves off the management track or out of sync with the culture at company headquarters. Brookfield Global Relocation Services' annual trends survey for 2010 found that 38% of executives surveyed left their companies in the first year after their return from an assignment abroad.
Devising a relevant experience for each employee is key, says Michel Buffet, a managing partner at Fisher-Rock Consulting, which specializes in organization change and talent management. "There's a trend toward moving to short assignments, and customizing the experience for each employee," he notes.
Still, companies are not likely to abandon traditional overseas assignments any time soon as it allows companies to quickly address talent shortages in different parts of the world, says Haig Nalbantian, a director at Mercer, the global consulting firm.
"But we are seeing more concern at companies about the impact, given the high costs such moves incur," says Nalbantian. "A number of recent clients have talked to us about substituting shorter term assignments…. It has to be a balance."
"It's a struggle for every company," agrees Ed Hannibal, who leads Mercer's North American mobility practice. In a survey last year, some 30% of some 462 Mercer clients said they were using shorter term assignments, he says.
Charity with a twist
FedEx is launching its own take on IBM's leadership program. The company recently completed a pilot program in Brazil for its new Global Leadership Corps which "marries the Peace Corps with business," says Tess Smith, a human resources manager for the company.
During this particular project, FedEx employees helped Afro-Brazilian youth in Northeast Brazil prepare for college-entrance exams, teaching English and helping them obtain scholarships, according to Smith.
Candidates had to be nominated and recommended as high potential performers -- a vetting process similar to IBM's. But Smith notes that the FedEx program "is much less direct than IBM's. It does promote our brand, but it's not set up to get new business."
Dow Corning Corp. began its own program last year, starting with a cook stove technology project in Bangalore, India, to give its employees a chance to learn about working in emerging markets.
"International leadership experience is valuable, and people want to sign up," says Ed Colbert, the company's global director of talent management. Last year, 100 director-level employees applied and 10 were selected to participate.
"Short or long-term, it's much more valuable if an employee [goes] outside his normal comfort zone. The key for the employee is immersion."
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Monday, April 4, 2011
Saturday, March 19, 2011
The U.S. Embassy in Kenya has now moved, while the memorial and visitor's center remains at the site. It was nice to see in person, and re-acquaint myself with this part of our (and Kenya's) history.
When you first come near the market, a number of young men surround you and offer to help you along the way. Turns out these are 'brokers' of sorts that walk with you, pick out everything you may want, then negotiate summarily at the end of the process. I don't know if this was absolutely mandatory - but it was certainly an experience, so I was all in.
This guy and his 'assistant' walked with me - telling me about the crafts, tribes and anything else. If I was potentially interested in something, the assistant would speak Swahili to the shop owner and put it in a bag. At one point, I actually saw them exchaging some kind of ID number - which makes me think this is bit more structured than it is made to feel.
Once the shopping is done, the fun begins. We find a place in the shade, where they lay out the few items I am interested in. They then proceed to pull out a notebook (no lie), and write down their 'number'. I've seen this act before - so my move was to just walk away. The dance begins - back and forth we go - I walk away a few more times, which drops the price 15-20% every clip. In the end, we seal the deal with handshake and a smile, as it worked out fair for both of us. Overall, an interesting experience - not for everyone, I'm sure - but just another story from our time here.
Team Twiga was up first, with a 9:00 date with our friends at Posta Kenya. The presentation went well - even with some pretty strong words from our team on the urgency of their organizational change. They are not alone, however - postal corporations around the world are struggling, so the common theme is evolve or become extinct. Posta has clear challenges ahead - but with some support from the government and the right leadership, they have a chance to do some great things in the new Kenya. They were very thankful for all our work, and we exchanged some nice words and gifts before we left.
Then it was off to a meeting with the P.S. (permanent secretary) to share our work, then right into Team 3's presentation at the ICT board.
We wrapped the day with a team dinner at the Carnivore restaurant - ironic that at least one member of our team is a vegetarian. Very cool place - and the food is as exotic as you would think. From ostrich (very good) to crocodile to camel - it was all in play!
Friday, March 18, 2011
The first team completed their project yesterday, and the final two presentations take place today. For my team, it's off to Posta Kenya to present our findings. They have been a great client this far - and we look forward to sharing our ideas with them.
|Team Twiga on the 'war terrace'.|
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Yesterday, our Posta Kenya contact, Jane called to let us know that the regional postmaster would like for us to stop by for tea in the afternoon. We stopped in for a visit, and were greeted by them with gifts for the team - local handicrafts, and even official Posta Kenya caps. We also had some IBM gifts for their team as well. It was a great way to close out with the local Postal team that was of so much assistance in our project.
Tomorrow, we depart for Nairobi, and the first of our team presentations. Time to pack once again...
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
After spending so much time here and getting to the know the people and culture – whether it’s IBM, or anyone else, I do hope (and know) that Kenya is about to round third into a new era for the country-
Friday, March 11, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Our teams have been in Kenya now for almost 3 weeks - amazing how the time has passed so quickly. If there is something I would say about this group of people - it is that we do not leave one minute on the table. We are either working on our projects, coordinating community activities, organizing weekend plans - but no time is wasted, and I'm sure we will greatly appreciate that as we look back on this experience.
Yesterday, we traveled to Nairobi for a midterm review of our project with the client team. Overall, they are a good client and really appreciate the work that we are doing. They recognize the state of the world in postal services - and know that if they do not inherently change the work they work, they will be left too far behind to recover (and even now it is a question). I do hope we can be a catalyst in all this. Either way, I will leave Kenya proud of the work we have done.
Tomorrow, we will travel to a local coffee plantation for a combination of work and also pure curiosity. We will be talking to the owners about their business, but I am definitely also looking forward to seeing the operation and hopefully tasting some of the freshest brewed coffee in the world.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
On Saturday, we visited the Aberdares, a beautiful area of hills, plains and native wildlife. We were treated to a walking tour of the area - with a ranger armed with what looked like a world war II shotgun. I'm not sure if the gun would have stopped a wild cat, less a rhino, from charging - but the cool factor alone was worth it in my book.
We had seen many animals on our journey thus far, but it is a different experience altogether to be in their midst. In safari vehicles, the animals almost forget you are there, going about their business. When walking, they always have an eye on you - and seem to automatically keep a safe distance away. Anyway, it was a great afternoon, and just another experience here in Africa that I won't soon forget.
|Our guide doing his best to look like a bad man.|
Us, doing our best (and succeeding) in looking like tourists.
|If you look closely, you can see the White Rhino charging me from behind.|
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Monday, March 7, 2011
The local external relations lead contacted me over the weekend, letting me know that a team from CNBC Africa would be joining the team Monday, to do some filming for a documentary video and segment on the network. The topic (as it always these days) is Africa: the last real growth market. We did some filming of our team, with some of our community contacts and of course for the actual CSC work. We had previously set up a meeting with a local PCK branch, so took the opportunity to have the crew join us and see in person what exactly we were doing out here in the middle of Kenya.
The filming went well - we spoke to everyone, from employees and customers to people on the street. My colleague Eva and I had a chance to provide some project context to the camera as well. It felt good to be in 'production' mode again - as much as this consulting work is engaging and challenging, I don't think I'll be changing my career anytime soon.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
We finally had the chance to get out for a (quick?) hike on Sunday. While it takes several days to actually summit the mountain, we chose the less-strenuous and more work-friendly method of a weekend day hike. But when the trail head is at 2400 meters (higher than most peaks in Colorado), the thin air gets to you right away. We all had to work for our lunch, that's for sure - but 10K and 600 vertical meters later, we were rewarded with a beautiful vista of African countryside.
9. Kenyans drive on the left side of the road - actually, they drive on all sides. It is customary to pass at high speeds, using various blinker and high beam combinations to communicate with oncoming traffic.
8. Coffee plantations are everywhere, but all you can get is instant Nestle coffee (another company that has seized the branding high-ground here). Kenya is a tea culture - and business relationships are not sealed until tea is 'taken' together.
7. Pole Pole means "slowly slowly", and is the unofficial tagline of Kenya. Things here are task-driven, rather than time-driven - so long meetings or lunches are to be expected.
6. National Parks are enclosed safe havens for wildlife, and no one is allowed to live there. National Reserves are open land where people and wildlife live together. And yes, the giraffes, zebras and other animals roam freely around the countryside. Amazing, really.
5. Kenya is a very proud country and rightly so. Education is taken very seriously from early years.
4. The infrastructure is a major challenge, yet the omnipresent construction is one of the many signs of progress.
3. Some context to 4 above - Kenya was first declared an independent country in 1963! The US has had a 200 year head start on establishing our country, rules and infrastructure.
2. Mobile banking is widespread in Kenya - maybe moreso than in any other country.
1. Over 80% of Kenya's college graduates move on to work in other countries. Retaining and attracting top talent is a major issue, especially in the ICT industry.
Friday, March 4, 2011
We started out by introducing DOT, our partner in Kenya - and then followed with a brief update on IBM, including our Centennial and celebrating 100 years of innovations. After sharing the 100x100 video, my colleague Dave Sloan did a great job on articulating smarter planet, and what it means to everyone in the room - it's not about servers, but issues that affect us all, like energy, healthcare and cities.The theatre was full of stident and faculty, a testament to the 'marketing' our university partners had done.
After the presentation, we had 3 breakout sessions - career skills, led by our resident HR expert Reka, Digital Whiteboard presentation led by Francesco, and a continuation of the smart planet dialog, including a discussion on Watson, led by Dave.
I would say the day was a great success. The students were receptive, curious and asked all the right questions. I would say the future is bright for the Kenya technology landscape.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
"It had been raining for 20 days straight when, on May 20, 2010, Piotr Uszok, the mayor of the industrial city of Katowice, Poland, kicked off a five-hour meeting with a group of IBMers. The mayor had been awake since 3 a.m., and parts of the city were flooded, but he insisted that the situation was under control. This meeting was too important to miss. The IBM team—drawn from around the world—was to present recommendations on how Katowice could compete more successfully in the global economy. One day later, the mayor explained that he had previously known IBM only as a leader in the computer field. Now, he said, “we have seen the other face of IBM, which is connected with solving the problems of our contemporary world."
Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
It was truly amazing. Samburu is a semi-arid area (almost a desert) - and as a 'reserve', it is one of the many locations in Kenya where animals live and roam freely in their own environment. In other words, the people are the ones held captive - in this case in a touring van with an open roof. We saw many different animals, and the landscapes alone were truly breathtaking. We also had a chance to visit a local village of the Samburu tribe - nomads who have lived in the same traditions for hundreds of years.
And, of course we had to make a quick stop at the equator on the way home!
Friday, February 25, 2011
“The IBM team will help PCK to review the changing economic landscape in Kenya and develop a plan to deliver financial services to the poor across Kenya,” said IBM in a statement, adding that they would help the postal firm get a larger foothold in the agency banking market.
An IBM team of 12 professionals in IT, research, marketing, finance and business development drawn from nine different countries will arrive in Kenya this week to work free of charge for a month as part of its IBM Corporate Service Corps global programme.
The programme has seen IBM deploy close to 1,000 employees on 100 teams to 20 countries around the world over the past three years. "
Thursday, February 24, 2011
As usual, the people here were very gracious. They were very forthcoming and willing to talk (and talk and talk). It was really a great way to meet the real people of Kenya - in their environment.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
CIO Magazine; IBM Corporate Service Corps to facilitate efficient delivery of financial services
Capital Business of Kenya; An International team of consultants from the IBM's Corporate Service Corps program has arrived in Nairobi for a one month project
East African Standard; IBM experts to boost IT capacity in counties: attached is the print version and a link to the online version.
|Article in The Standard|
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
- Postal Corporation of Kenya
- Kenya Office of e-Government
- Kenya ICT (Information and Communications Technology) Board
|The IBM CSC and Kenya team|
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Kenya is already the business hub of East Africa, and is poised for a surge of new business opportunities in the near future. The already well established financial services sector is growing, while other areas such as telco are rapidly on the rise. Is Kenya - the same country whose presidential turmoil caused nationwide riots a short time ago - ready for this? Only time will tell. One thing is clear though - the 'tribal' aspect of this country continues to this day. This is not in a negative way - but when people introduce themselves, they usually follow with their heritage - Masai, Kikuyu or wherever. There is a lot of pride that has been carried down the generations.
Following the briefing, we went to a local cultural center, where tribal villages were set up in the proper fashion - there was also a ceremony where traditional Kenyan song and dance were performed - all done by their respective tribes of course.
Tomorrow is our first in-person presentation to out government clients. This meeting will definitely shape the rest of our time here.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Outside the Museum: Joshua, Anna, John, Reka and Eva.
Hopefully we'll see some of these that aren't the stuffed variety.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
It's with mixed emotions that I depart today for Kenya. While this is truly an amazing opportunity and a great business challenge, I will dearly miss my family and friends while I am away. I know the time will go by fast though, as we will be immersed in the project and local culture.
Our itinerary starts immediately once we arrive in Kenya - meetings are scheduled with the local IBM team, our partner DOT, and our clients for the CSC projects. At this point, we are familiar with all the key parties, having been introduced and kicking off the project remotely over the past few months. I look forward to finally meeting the teams in person.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
From their site: "Digital Opportunity Trust is a leading international organization, headquartered in Ottawa, Canada. DOT focuses on creating educational, economic, and entrepreneurial opportunity through the effective use of ICT for communities and people in countries that are developing, are in transition, or are under stress. DOT has a particular focus on youth and women. DOT operates programs in Canada, China, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico and the United States."
I look forward to finally meeting our contacts in person.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Why Kenya? Kenya is the business hub of East Africa - a growing economy set in the same place known as the 'cradle of mankind'. Kenya is a place of community, of family - but also a country that embraces innovation, technology and the need for progress.
I know I speak for our team when I say we are ready for the challenges ahead.
Jeopardy! The IBM Challenge poses a specific question with very real business implications: Can a system be designed that applies advanced data management and analytics to natural language in order to uncover a single, reliable insight — in a fraction of a second?
The competition will air on Jeopardy!, 2 games over 3 nights - February 14-16. To see some background on Watson, tune in the Nova Special February 9 at 10:00PM.
IBM Centennial Film: 100 X 100 - A century of achievements that have changed the world.
This film features one hundred people, who each present the IBM achievement recorded in the year they were born. The film chronology flows from the oldest person to the youngest, offering a whirlwind history of the company and culminating with its prospects for the future.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Since the official launch in July, 2008 the CSC has deployed 500 IBM employees from 44 countries on 29 teams to 9 countries. Projects vary from assisting networks of entrepreneurs and small businesses trying to grow to the utilization of information technology by communities left behind the "digital divide."