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BAE Systems Inc

Building global mindsets for a global future

How BAE Systems Inc and Saïd Business School built cultural awareness and a global mindset.

Set against the backdrop of increasing globalisation of markets, cultural awareness and a global mindset is fast becoming a key leadership quality that global organisations would wish their leaders to possess.

BAE Systems is an excellent example of this; committed to the delivery and support of advanced aerospace and defence systems, it is headquartered in Britain but with home markets in America, Britain, Saudi Arabia, India and Australia.

Anticipating a future where 50% of sales may come from beyond these home markets, BAE Systems Inc – an American subsidiary of BAE Systems – recognised the need for managers who have developed such a global mindset.  In doing so, it placed a premium on the ability to understand customers and their cultural context and earn the credibility and respect necessary for continued success in overseas markets.

A bold initiative was therefore embarked upon to identify and retain future high-fliers and help them achieve global awareness early in their careers. BAE Systems Inc also hoped to reduce the attrition that can be a problem at this stage of the careers of bright graduates.

This attrition, coupled with the anticipated reduction in recruitment of new graduates, meant BAE Systems Inc needed to find a way to retain and motivate high-calibre entrants. Offering them recognition as potential future leaders while providing training in global awareness was an ideal solution.

While sending future leaders on international assignments is commonly used to build this type of capability – and BAE Systems Inc regularly employs this strategy – using international assignments alone to build the required global mindset on the scale envisaged was thought unsustainable. An alternative was therefore sought to meet this challenge head on.

Early in 2010 the company approached Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford in Britain, an executive education provider  that stood out as one of the elite schools in the rankings and that it was familiar with, to design a new development initiative to build global mindsets in future leaders.

The result of this was the Global Early Careers Development Programme, which would expose participants to the stimuli necessary to create a global mindset at a lower cost than deploying this population on international assignments.

This approach had another distinct advantage in reducing the risk created through the differences in depth and quality of these assignments. Therefore, the learning and development across cohorts was to be controlled and consistently applied throughout the talent pool. The following objectives were desired from this programme:

  • To provide a pool of talented future leaders who have an understanding of the global issues that will be required for leadership in the years ahead

  • To increase the profile, capability and visibility of early career leaders

  • To engage participants in experiential learning

  • To understand how partner organisations working in different contexts operate

  • To expose participants to senior business leaders

  • To provide an intellectually challenging experience through innovative approaches to engage gifted adult learners

In order to ensure the programme had the desired organisational, commercial and behavioural impact in terms of developing demonstrable global mindsets, the design was carefully co-created between a team from Oxford and BAE Systems Inc to inspire specific behaviours post-programme.

The programme allowed the space for participants to demonstrate the ability to build successful internal and external international business relationships; choose career paths that align with their interests as a result of deeper knowledge of BAE Systems’ reach and activities across the globe; make decisions that align with the challenges facing the company; and to seek and apply the advice and insights of internal mentors.

For the programme to achieve such behavioural impact it was recognised that learning in the classroom had only limited impact. For real awareness and understanding it was essential to utilise Discovery Visits in America and Turkey – the locations for the first two of the three programme modules.

These visits, which were facilitated by Oxford faculty, provided encounters with unfamiliar people and places. These self-contained high-impact “learning journeys” were designed to surface, test and shift key assumptions about the future of life and business and served as an essential mechanism to bring some of the more abstract content and themes of culture and difference to life.

The first visit took the group to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a Government agency in Washington DC. Here the cohort spent several hours meeting a selection of those granted refugee status in America (victims of torture, human trafficking and political asylum seekers). The impact of this experience, learning directly of the often extreme situations from which the refugees sought safety, was very impactful emotionally, psychologically and intellectually.

In Turkey, a visit to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar was used to challenge participants to purchase 500g of Turkish Delight and a handmade inlaid jewellery box through negotiation with Turkish store owners. As before, the outcomes required were clearly tied to building global mindsets by giving participants first-hand experience of negotiating in a new culture and developing skills through the ability to transform acquired knowledge generated in the classroom to new situations.

This second module also leveraged its location by incorporating a visit to one of BAE Systems’ business partners in Turkey, joint venture partner FNSS in Ankara. Here, a day was spent meeting a variety of the company’s leaders and learning the specific dynamics of marketing defence systems and services in the Muslim world.

The capstone was a third module delivered virtually. In itself this brought enormous time and cost benefits with Telepresence technology allowing for perceptions of facial expressions and other body language to be “felt” by the cohort and the faculty team. Delivery of this module virtually also provided an ideal format to provide participants with exposure to senior executives globally, enabling access to their perspectives, insights into the future and experiences.

The programme challenged the participants, inspired new and original thinking, and encouraged the creation of a more productive space for innovation and conversation.

For example, the first cohort to complete the programme set up their own self-organising and self-directed learning group utilising the social media site LinkedIn.

This programme took a first and deliberate step towards the creation of a new generation of business leaders who can think creatively within the context of a global economy. It provided an important intervention at a crucial career point to engage them in applying a global perspective to their future work. An initial evaluation of the programme’s impact demonstrates promising results.

As the third cohort draws to an end, out of the 50 participants from the first two iterations, 32% have already gained promotion while 18% have taken on new roles and opportunities including overseas assignments and entry onto the next career progression-planning programme.

This review is based on “Trusted, Innovative, Bold: Building Global Mindsets for a Global Future” by Andrea Lewis (BAE Systems Inc) and Tim Sellick (for Saïd Business School).

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The Global Early Careers Program provides a unique development experience for early career professionals who want to expand their global mindset and build careers in the global marketplace. I regularly bump into our high potentials who have been through the Program. I can honestly say that I have heard nothing but praise for the Program, its intent and the way that it’s managed. It really has helped fill a void an present options to a group that has been suffering from high turnover.

Executive sponsor John Kelly. Vice President of Business Winning Land and Armaments.