How Deloitte builds global expertise – 2002 Global Outlook – Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu

How Deloitte builds global expertise – 2002 Global Outlook – Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu – related article: How to Redesign and Market a Global Professional Development Program

Patrick J. Kiger

HR at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu revamped an international career development program, added assessment tools, and then marketed the program to candidates and executives. The result: more participation and better client service.

Although he is based in the medium-sized city of Leon northwest of Mexico City, Fabian Gomez spends much of his time working with clients who don’t speak Spanish. He is an audit partner for the Mexican branch of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a global accounting and business-services organization with 700 offices and 95,000 employees in 140 countries. “A lot of our business is serving Mexican subsidiaries of international companies, and the executives usually come from other places,” he says. “Tomorrow, for example, I have a meeting where six of the executives from one company are Americans, and 10 from another company are Japanese.”

To best serve his clients, Gomez has to reconcile Mexican-style accounting documents and data with U.S. or Japanese standards. He also has to deal with business nuances that are often quite different from his own Mexican cultural roots. “For example, in Mexico, when you meet with clients, you’re expected to spend some time talking with them about their families, how their grandfathers and children are doing. That’s an important part of the relationship with them. The American style, in contrast, is very direct and to the point. You have to be very conscious of respecting a client’s time.”

Gomez is well equipped to handle the challenges. He spent 18 months training and working in New York as a participant in Deloitte’s Global Development Program, an HR curriculum in which promising mid-career employees from throughout the world are assigned to work in other countries. Participants further develop their foreign language skills, study the business practices and cultures of other countries, and network with people from other countries to broaden their business perspective.

“We take great pride in preparing our people to help clients excel in a marketplace without borders,” says CEO James E. Copeland Jr. But the Global Development Program provides more than just a boost to corporate self-esteem. Management views it as a key part of the organization’s strategic objective of expanding and integrating its business operations around the world. “The GDP isn’t just about learning the accounting practices of another country,” says Lynda Spielman, deputy director of deployment. “It’s about taking all these promising leaders from different countries and reinforcing the concept that they’re in a global organization.”

The value of such a program to an international company might seem fairly obvious. Yet when Deloitte management made the decision to focus more strongly on developing its international talent in the late 1990s, the company found itself in an odd dilemma. Graduates of the program could not only help their home-country operations acquire new clients and keep existing ones happy, but also burnish their own credentials and career prospects. Despite such clear advantages, the corporation had difficulty getting people to participate. In 1997, for example, the program managed to attract only 128 participants, barely 1 percent of the organization’s vast global workforce. Only 25 out of 140 of the company’s international subsidiaries sent participants to other locations or hosted them, and a disproportionate number of employees in the program came from just a few countries, such as the United Kingdom.

Deloitte’s corporate HR team saw that it needed to get the Global Development Program off the ground in many more countries, and that it had to sell both employees and executives on the value of participation. HR was tapped to help redesign the program to make it more appealing.

Reshaping a program to fit global needs

The next phase was to launch an ambitious multimedia internal marketing campaign. The core element was a self-assessment tool artfully designed to help employees from a wide range of cultural backgrounds to decide if they were good candidates for the program.

When Deloitte’s corporate HR team started pondering how to jump-start the organization’s international development efforts in 1998, they realized that effective marketing often starts with understanding the audience, and tweaking the product to better serve them.

At the time, Spielman says, the Global Development Program was called the Strategic Career Development Program. The internal promotion efforts emphasized how international experience could help participants rise higher on the career ladder. After corporate HR sought feedback from company operations throughout the world, however, the team saw that the approach wasn’t working. Too often, what attracted potential candidates to the program was the opportunity to live in a particular country. They didn’t grasp the program’s strategic mission and how it related to the Deloitte operation in their home country.

Worse, the executives who headed the organization’s far-flung outposts often didn’t encourage staff members to participate. They didn’t see how allowing valued employees to spend a couple of years working in another country would benefit their own operations. And they weren’t always eager to bring in someone from another country and allow her to work for important clients just to gain experience–especially if they had to cover the salary cost.

As a result, the company decided to make some small but significant changes. The program was given a new name, carefully chosen to focus on its real mission–helping Deloitte to increase its global business capabilities. Instead of simply depending on employees to choose countries that appealed to them, HR coordinators began working with applicants to identify other places in the world that offered experience relevant to work in their own countries. For example, an accountant whose office worked with the Mexican subsidiary of General Motors might be sent to Michigan to provide services to GM headquarters.

“Today, about 25 percent of the participants are placed so that they can work with the same global client in another location,” Spielman says. If that isn’t feasible, the HR coordinator will look for a country where the employee can work with a client in the same industry as a major client at home. Establishing that sort of tangible linkage between the assignment and the home-country needs has helped make the program easier to sell. Additionally, Deloitte sought to encourage its operations in emerging countries to accept placements by agreeing to underwrite the employees’ salaries. The company also made the length of the assignment flexible.

To ensure that those improvements registered with the decision-makers at Deloitte operations throughout the world, HR put considerable effort into marketing the program to executives as well as potential candidates. “In order to undertake something like this, you need to have your business leaders on board,” Spielman says. “There are so many things that can deter them–if they had a bad experience [with an expatriate] four years ago, for example, they’re still going to have a memory that you’ll need to overcome.” To address this problem, HR designed its video and print materials to emphasize the value that the program would provide to the executives. “For example, we found Deloitte clients to talk about the importance of international knowledge and skills,” Spielman says. “Those interviews were something that our leaders found very appealing?”

Marketing the program to employees from diverse cultures

Another problem, corporate HR learned, was that good candidates for the program were sometimes deterred by anxiety about leaving their families behind and coping with life in an unfamiliar place.

“In many other parts of the world, life tends to be more collectivist,” Spielman says. “People tend to do things together, or else divide the responsibilities. A professional from another country may have great skills on the job, but he may never have turned on a stove or shopped for groceries. I had a 40-year-old Brazilian professional who still lived at home. Despite her accounting skills, she’d never actually managed her own money, because she just turned her paycheck over to her parents.” Going from that situation to living alone in an apartment in New York or Detroit can be a difficult experience.

An American who takes an international assignment may have to make very different adjustments. “If you’re used to watching Monday night football, you have to deal with the fact that they don’t have anything like that in Malaysia,” Spielman says. According to a 1997 study by the company’s Employee Relocation Council, 58 percent of employees on international assignments fail because of an inability to adapt to life in another country.

That’s why marketing materials were carefully designed to help employees feel more comfortable with the idea of an international development assignment. The “Experience the World” booklet, for example, included profiles of program participants from Chile, South Africa, Belgium, China, and the United States. “We also tried to balance men and women, married and single people,” Spielman says. “We wanted to create a message that everyone could identify with, no matter what country or background that person came from.”

To reduce potential candidates’ uncertainty, Spielman–who also teaches a class in cross-cultural management at New York University–felt it was crucial to develop a self-assessment tool that would help potential participants evaluate whether they were ready for a developmental placement elsewhere in the world. That wasn’t an easy task. “We needed something that would work for everybody, but also would dig deeper. We needed to force people to think introspectively and to be more culturally self-aware, so they could identify the issues that might affect them on an international assignment.” Spielman hired an outside consultant to redesign an existing tool, and then made additional modifications to ensure that the tool was culturally neutral. The finished product includes a case study that features a fictional Deloitte employee, Mark Peterson, and his wife, Linda.

Candidates evaluate the Petersons’ strengths and weaknesses, a drill that gives them comparative insights into their own real-life situations. Questionnaires and checklists help candidates to zero in on their biggest concerns. “They take the questions home and share them with their spouses. Each person takes the test separately, and they compare their answers.” The results can be scored numerically, so that the employee can get a more precise indication of whether he or she is a good candidate for the program.

Impressive results

The results of the program revamping and marketing campaign have been impressive. Since 1997, Deloitte has increased the number of participating countries in the Global Development Program from 25 to 50, and the number of employees has more than doubled, to 288. While it’s difficult to separate out the precise economic impact of that improvement, Deloitte executives see it as a factor in the company’s 11 percent growth in global revenue in fiscal 2001, to $12.4 billion. But the biggest benefit of successfully promoting the Global Development Program may lie a few years down the road. “Having more people with international training and experience may mean increasing the revenue we get from a client from $20 million to, say, $23 million, because we can handle the client’s subsidiary in Mexico,” Spielman says. In other cases, the added revenue isn’t as important as protecting a larger client relationship. “If you do a bad job on a $50,000 contract in Brazil, you may risk millions of dollars in revenue from the c ompany’s parent in the United States.”

In Leon, Mexico, the success of the program is seen in management’s eagerness to have more participants. “We now have three people with international experience in our office, and we’re hoping to add one more each year,” Gomez says. “People are very excited about it, because they know that if they have international experience, both they and the company are going to get ahead.”

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RELATED ARTICLE: How to Redesign and Market a Global Professional Development Program


Here are some key points, gleaned from interviews with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu management, on how a company can put together a global development program and then sell it to employees and overseas management.

Find out what internal clients don’t like, and fix those flaws. Remember, the best marketing tool is the product itself. Deloitte changed its program so that the value to its international subsidiaries became clearer, and so that the program more directly served corporate strategic goals.

Emphasize global corporate benefits, rather than just individual enrichment. The program needs the support of executives from your company’s international subsidiaries. They’ll do it if you can show them how employees with international experience can help them bring in new clients and nurture existing ones.

Provide participants with relevant experience. Whenever possible, Deloitte puts program participants to work either for the same corporate client they work with back home or in the same industry.

Provide a culturally neutral self-assessment tool for candidates. You should have a questionnaire that will be relevant to a candidate from Japan or Mexico as well as the United States. Remember that the goal of the questionnaire isn’t necessarily to score high, but to encourage a candidate to think about the issues involved in the new assignment.

Patrick J. Kiger is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. E-mail to comment.

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