Fostering a Global Mindset Culture in Your Organization

A recent “Idea Watch” article in Harvard Business Review reported on some new research that Carol Dweck and her colleagues are conducting.  As some of you are aware, Dweck popularized the concept of “growth mindset” (versus a fixed mindset). People with a growth mindset, according to her early research, enjoy challenges, strive to learn and consistently, and see potential to develop new skills.  

Now she has been exploring the idea whether organizations can have growth or fixed mindsets. So far, her research seems promising.  She and her team have developed a survey that has been implemented among employees at seven Fortune 1000 companies. Employees rate the extent to which they agree with a series of statements, such as “When it comes to being successful, this company seems to believe that people have a certain amount of talent, and they really can’t do much to change it.”

Dweck concludes that there is a great deal of consensus about what the prevailing mindset is in these employees’ organizations with regard to growth.  Her research shows that employees in growth mindset companies are:

  • 47% likelier to say that their colleagues are trustworthy
  • 34% likelier to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company
  • 65% likelier to say that the company supports risk taking
  • 49% likelier to say that the company fosters innovation.

Similarly, I believe that organizations can be assessed on whether it has a global mindset culture, above and beyond the presence of employees who have the traits or qualities of an individual global mindset.  Of course, hiring and developing such individuals in your company is helpful, but can be inefficient since it may take companies a long time to reach the critical mass needed. Another approach therefore is to develop an overall strategy to build or improve the organization’s global mindset culture.  The first step in developing this strategy is to diagnose your company’s current state with regard to its global mindset culture. So here are eleven key indicators that will help you assess your company’s current global mindset culture.

  1. Top management commitment to building a global mindset culture.  How regularly do the senior executives in your company reinforce the importance of thinking globally and recognizing the importance of markets other than the home market?  How often do executives travel overseas to learn about the importance of these markets – especially from their overseas subsidiaries? How frequently do managers and executives from overseas subsidiaries come to headquarters to participate in meetings?  Are key executives from overseas represented in important task forces and corporate initiatives?
  2. Structures and processes for global alignment and coordination.  What formal and informal mechanisms has your company put in place to facilitate efficient and effective coordination across countries where your company does business?  How well defined are your company’s formal structures, such as matrix relationships, global and regional roles, and roles and responsibilities of headquarters and subsidiaries?  When global teams are created, how well represented are subsidiaries from relevant countries?
  3. Infrastructures for global communication.  Has your company invested in the necessary technologies to enable efficient communication across countries?  And how much training and support is being provided so employees can take advantage of these new tools?
  4. Assessment of global mindset potential.  How important does your company consider global mindset in selecting internal or external candidates for positions that will require cross-cultural interactions?  Is cultural fit one of the criteria used before assigning individuals to global roles?
  5. Use of development assignments to build global mindset.  When setting development plans for individuals who may have high potential, what opportunities are provided for them to learn and acquire experiences in working across different markets and cultures?
  6. Reducing the headquarters ‘center of gravity.’  Has your company considered relocating some key functions out of headquarters into one of its key markets overseas?  Are at least some of your company’s centers of excellence or expertise located overseas? Are regional heads and their staffs still based in headquarters or have they moved out to the regions?
  7. Cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity as a key element in the company’s learning strategy.  How available and accessible are resources for employees to improve their cross-cultural awareness (e.g., on-line courses on doing business in different cultures, reimbursement for language training, etc.)?
  8. A global talent pool.  How inclusive is your company’s global talent management process?  For example, when considering internal candidates for key positions, does the slate of candidates include highly qualified employees from different locations?
  9. Recognition and rewards for those with global mindsets.  How valued are those individuals who have proven themselves in overseas assignments, not just in improving business results but also in being recognized as someone who has worked effectively with different cultures?  When these individuals complete their assignments, to what extent does your company leverage their experience? Does your company’s competency model and performance evaluation system include global mindset behaviors as a key element?

In a recent study by Price Waterhouse Coopers (Wang, 2014). 4,108 return migrants from 81 countries of origin who had spent between three months and two years in the U.S. at some point during the years between 1997 and 2011 under a category of the J-1 visa designated for professional training completed a survey.   These respondents all had bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and had work experience in many industries with companies such as Google and JPMorgan Chase, as well as thousands of small startups and midsized companies.

What did they find?  While almost all of the respondents reported having learned about practices overseas that they could implement in their home countries, only 67 percent reported having shared any of this knowledge upon their return. And only 48 percent reported having shared knowledge and then having seen this knowledge implemented.   The study concludes: This means that on average, for every two workers with international experience hired by a given firm, only one will successfully share knowledge from overseas at some point during his or her tenure.

Interestingly, countries like China, India and Brazil are creating incentives to entice their foreign-trained nationals to return.  A recent Wall Street Journal article described the emergence of these “sea turtles,” the term used for a Chinese native who is returning home after several assignments in the West.  The article mentions several such Chinese businessmen who, after working for multinationals like Coca-Cola and Nike in the U.S., have decided to return to China, often in much larger roles and with much greater compensation than they had in their former companies’ headquarters.  Aside from these considerations, there is the perception that the opportunities with a Chinese company are greater, as are the psychic benefits. For example, Guo Xin, a sea turtle who joined a Chinese recruiting firm, said, “You’re making global decisions rather than having these decisions made for you” by Western headquarters.  

  1. Support for individuals on overseas assignments.  Does your company provide ongoing support for individuals on overseas assignments – before, during and after the assignment is over?  In Ernst & Young’s Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey (2013), they found that on average, 16% of assignees left the company within the first two years after repatriation, and a further 41% returned to their pre-assignment position.  Does your company require some form of cultural training for the individuals and their families prior to an overseas assignment. For example, BASF works with an outside vendor that helps international assignees adjust to their new surroundings.  The vendor also provides “cultural attaches” who will help BASF employees with the day-to-day logistics of settling in a new country, e.g., finding apartments, completing mandatory state registrations, setting up bank accounts, etc.

In another company, I helped develop an expatriate mentorship program whereby international assignees were assigned to senior executives as mentors, with the condition that these senior executives had to be outside these individuals’ functions.  For example, the CIO volunteered to mentor two individuals in Marketing and two managers in Finance who were all in overseas locations. He kept in contact with them throughout their assignments, and helped facilitate their transition back to their next assignments.

  1. Formal and informal processes for sharing best practices globally.  When he was CEO of GE, Jack Welch was relentless in promoting knowledge management, and he held people accountable to make sure that they were proactive in communicating and sharing best practices.  How much sharing of information and best practices goes on internally in your company, and are there formal and informal mechanisms for facilitating the dissemination of these best practices? Somewhat belatedly, for example, GM has just begun to implement this.  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (November 2, 2014), President Dan Ammann described what the company has started to do:

“A couple months ago we brought about 25 of the top sales leaders from around the world together in Charlotte, N.C.  We conducted workshops where each discussed the tactics they are using in their home markets to drive sales, work with dealers and interact with customers.  This is the first time anyone can remember that happening.”

Perhaps next time they should meet in Beijing, Sao Paolo, or Mexico City.

Once you’ve done your assessment, then you’ll have a better understanding of where the gaps are, and your organization can begin to prioritize actions to narrow these gaps, taking into account the organization’s overall strategic goals and where the best payoffs are.  For example, if the organization is planning a major expansion into China over the next three to five years, then assessing cultural fit among high potential employees (#5) and establishing an office in one of its cities (#6) should be high on the list of actions.


Bennett, J.  (2014). GM’s Ammann Drives for Change.  Wall Street Journal, November 12.

Chu, K. and Lublin, J.  (2014). Chinese firms bring more natives home.  Wall Street Journal, September 3.

Gupta, A. and Govindarajan, V.  (2002). Cultivating a Global Mindset.  Academy of Management Executive, 16(1), pp. 116-126.

Idea Watch.  (2014). How Companies Can Profit from a Growth Mindset.  Harvard Business Review, November, pp. 28-29.  

Wang, D. (2014).   The Untapped Value of Overseas Experience.  Strategy + Business: