Leading the training revolution

Attitudes
to leadership training are being turned around in the Asia Pacific region, with
managers being sent on diverse courses to bring out the best in them in
tropical climes, writes Ed Peters

When Asia Pacific looks at leadership training, the talk is all of
‘intellectual rejuvenation’. For managers bogged down with e-mails, hectic
travel itineraries and targets and expectations that go off the end of the
page, the last thing they need is a crash course that feels like yet more work.

There is also a deepening sense that old, tried-and-tested methods do not
fit in the modern world, and that there is a real need to look at leadership
and training in a revolutionised long-term way.

As the economic situation tightens across the region, corporations are
expecting more from their executives, whether they are in middle management or
higher. CEOs are looking for their staff to acquire additional skills, new
management techniques and bright ideas to spark restructuring in the
sink-or-swim era of global competition. In short, they want a change of brain.
The solutions are coming thick and fast.

"I think executives should really take a step back and think about how
they can be current and at the same time balanced," says Japhet Law
Man-yuk, dean of the faculty of Bus-iness Administration at the Chinese
University of Hong Kong.

"Executives should think about balancing and emphasising their
interpersonal skills, instead of just adding to their skills set. They should
be developing good habits that apply to work and their entire life – habits
such as regular sports and exercise, leisure activities and interesting
hobbies.

"Getting away from your everyday work and being exposed to issues you wouldn’t
normally look at gets the juices going again, both physical and mental. It’s
all about stress management and getting to know yourself better. Such skills
are important and transportable across functional disciplines, across your
entire career cycle."

A quantum leap from Hong Kong, the resort island of Phuket off the west
coast of Thailand provides a searing example of just what Law has in mind.
Quest, an adventure-based corporate training facility set in seven acres
surrounded by a luxury hotel complex on what was once an abandoned tin mine,
aims to alter hard-pressed executives’ vision with a full programme of
thoroughly unusual exercises.

Where Quest differs hugely from many other corporate training programmes in
Asia Pacific is that it runs full tilt into the traditional Asian and Confucian
ideals of teaching. Many educational establishments in the region rely on rote
learning from primary school onwards, with individual thought and initiative
placed a long way behind regurgitating the answers that those in charge
perceive as the right ones.

Quest programmes can range from brief ice-breakers at the start of a
conference to lengthier affairs stretching over two days, priced at anything
between US$20 and $290 per head, focusing on indoor and outdoor initiative
problem-solving activities, which are followed by a discussion to analyse
performance and what participants have learnt.

Australian Bruce Hancock is Quest’s recently appointed manager, a qualified
training professional with 14 years experience in the health and fitness
industry. In the past he has tackled such diverse projects as leading a dozen
Microsoft employees over the Kokoda Trail through the jungles of Papua New
Guinea.

"The Asian market is definitely ready for this next step in team development
and there is huge potential for specialist programmes linking work performance
and lifestyle," he says.

"I am conducting sessions on this topic with guests at the Sheraton
hotel with a lot of success. We look at a variety of topics including work
performance, lifestyle, health, change, relationships, stress in relation to
performance, exercise prescription and support systems."

The training Hancock and assistant facilitator Elliott Cumming provide at
Quest has evolved through an extensive study of what they came to perceive as
an overall balance between personal enhancement, health and lifestyle.

"I decided that people were diverted from the underlying issues that
prevent peak performance, so I decided to explore in depth the process of change,
resistance to change and the barriers imposed on individuals and groups,"
says Hancock.

The result was a model Hancock calls ‘The Kaleidoscope Model of Change’. The
concept was to explore the various steps to change, as well as the resources
necessary, both internal and external. Using an experiential process, he looked
to determine what factors motivate an individual or group both positively and
negatively, and the resulting model was centred on ongoing multi-directional
movement. "How can anyone really enhance performance without looking at
his or her willingness or resistance to change?" he asks.

"Focusing and refocusing uniqueness and adjusting to find the ideal
synergy is the idea at the core of our philosophy, and from this point we can
expand to all areas of enhancement."

Quest’s highly varied programmes take on such subjects as enhancing
motivation for change, identifying and implementing leadership communication
skills, developing skills to increase self-esteem and motivation, and developing
awareness around behavioural patterns conflicting with positive enhancement.

"Our assessment tool evaluates specifically where the blocks are, and
determines the actual skills, characteristics and traits of our clients in 46
individual categories," adds Hancock. "It also displays attitude and
performance capabilities, which are crucial to success. I have been using this
tool with CEOs, HR directors and top-level management. Coupled with a detailed
brief on objectives, it enables us to tailor a programme to relate directly to
the needs of the company.

"All of our activities are conducted in an energetic, dynamic
environment conducive to learning that always enables the client to have fun
during the process."

Hancock says Quest is fully open to growth, and is exploring strategies for
franchising or consultancy rights with others interested in training and
development in the region.

It has pulled in clients from around Asia and as far afield as Australia,
and has enjoyed some excellent feedback. Among its clients is Mohammed Bedran,
associate director Asia Pacific for Colgate Palmolive, who took delegates on a
half-day team-building course.

"We were in Phuket for a week-long conference, and the idea of going to
Quest was to build up relationships," says Bedran. "It certainly
taught you to expect the unexpected, and it was quite amusing during a boat
race task to see the boats sinking with engineers aboard.

"It was definitely productive – everybody was satisfied – and certainly
worth the money we spent, and if we were back in Phuket for another conference
we would do it again."

From Phuket to Bali, another of Asia’s so-called paradise islands, the venue
for the Executive Center for Global Leadership (ECGL) opened its doors in
November 2001. Some observers might consider it ironic that Indonesia – whose
economic and political imbroglios over the past few years have made it anything
but an example for the rest of the world to follow – should host such a
facility.

ECGL is, however, the personal project of former government minister Tanri
Abeng. Describing the venture as "his vision for management
education", ECGL is intended to bring together executives of different
nationalities, cultures and corporations in a learning environment supervised
by professors from well-known universities worldwide.

ECGL also breaks new ground in that Indonesian companies are traditionally
run in a ‘top-down’ fashion, with junior executives and even middle management
rarely accepting or being given much in the way of independent responsibility.

The ECGL campus is located in the middle of the island at the Bali Handara
Mountain Resort, which includes a Greg Norman-designed golf course, and
upcoming programmes include such subjects as leadership for CEOs and the
development and practical implications of corporate governance.

"Meeting the challenge of globalisation is not an option for today’s
leaders – it’s an imperative," says Professor P V Lakshmipathy, ECGL’s
principal director.

"We provide our participants with the skills and knowledge to be
effective in an increasingly complex and challenging global environment, with
courses run throughout the year constructed to fit into demanding executive
timetables. They are specifically designed to repay the investment with skills,
knowledge and contacts that can make a significant difference,"
Lakshmipathy says.

Courses set for 2002, costing from around US$500 per head per day inclusive
of accommodation and meals, are very much aimed at the upper corporate
echelons. Dr James O’Toole from the University of Southern California will head
up a three-day seminar on ‘Leading Change’, focusing on the deep-seated
resistance to change that research shows leads to 80 per cent of all new
business initiatives failing.

Dr Tan Jing Hee, an affiliate of Louis Allen Associates, will also present a
leadership programme. And Erasmus University’s Dr Gregory Maassen’s three-day
programme on corporate governance is described as "a must for current and
future board members as well as political leaders".

Given Indonesia’s shaky performance since the Asian financial crash at the
end of 2001, ECGL’s inauguration is a sign that the country is starting to look
beyond its own borders and that it is considering longer-term solutions. While
delegates at ECGL’s seminars are more likely to be drawn from the international
community rather than the rest of the Indonesian archipelago, Abeng’s project
does indicate an acceptance of new attitudes to leadership and a change in the
way of learning about them.

Sun-kissed tropical resorts are not the only places offering a new take on
Asia Pacific leadership and training, as demonstrated by the Ecole Management
de Lyon (EML) in France. As of next September, EML will be offering a Master in
European Business via a course specifically tailored to non-Europeans.

The school has become increasingly aware of the need to explain Europe’s
particular business practices to overseas students, and so aims to link
decision-making processes and management situations to the surrounding social,
cultural and political environment. The programme specifically highlights the
importance of understanding local, European contexts, and is targeted in
particular at Asian, Middle Eastern and South American students.

Developing skills

The programme will focus on developing participants’ skills and expertise to
work either in a European company, or in a foreign company with business
activities in Europe.

The programme includes 12 sessions and a compulsory three-month placement
with a Europe-based company to convert the teachings of the programme into
practical work experience.

Patrick Molle, EML’s president, says: "With the EU representing about
370 million inhabitants and a GDP of 8,300bn euros and with technologies and
firms spread across the globe, the European environment provides an enormous
wealth of management processes and knowledge.

"The course will provide a comprehensive insight to European business
for many non-European students, with a ‘hands-on’ opportunity provided by way
of the work placement," he adds.

Professor Chantal Poty, in charge of the new programme, says: "This
sort of course is ideal training for overseas students, as it gives them the
knowledge to understand the European Union’s history, organisation and business
system and the global aspects of marketing and financial issues."

That schools like EML are proactively trying to attract students from Asia
Pacific is especially good news for countries such as China, which has an
estimated 10,000 locally trained MBAs out of a population of 1 billion and
rising.

Sad to record, those who do secure a cherished spot in one of China’s 60 MBA
programmes don’t necessarily emerge with the skills needed to compete in a
cut-throat economy. Even the Education Ministry concedes that its business schools
are in a very primitive stage. Most professors parrot information from outdated
textbooks and have no practical experience to share with students, who lament
that they cannot trust teachers who have never dealt with a market economy.

Long-term survival

China’s business schools stress rote memorisation rather than the flexible
problem-solving skills required by real-life managers. Student participation is
not encouraged, so budding professionals have little chance to practice
important presentation skills and debating techniques.

As an alternative to overseas study, cities such as Shanghai have opened
their own management schools, such as the China Europe International Business
School (CEIBS), which is jointly funded by the municipal government and the
European Union.

Despite an English-language curriculum, such programmes are raking in
applicants because diplomas – even if they’re only for quasi-MBA degrees –
guarantee students their pick of jobs. In order to attract the best of the bunch
to their boardrooms, some multinational firms are even doling out thousands of
dollars in tuition themselves.

The importance of such human investment is also dawning on an unlikely
business sector – China’s threadbare state-owned enterprises. Forced to compete
in a leaner, meaner economy, some of these firms are lavishing costly training
on their managers in order to ensure long-term survival. At CEIBS, nearly half
of executive MBA students are being funded by state firms such as China
Non-Ferrous Metal Industry and China Eastern Airlines.

In the past, managers at state enterprises simply worked their way up the
factory line, landing in an office after a couple of decades of dedicated
service. But with the red ink overflowing, state firms have had no choice but
to raise salaries and provide extensive training to their staff. Many managers
welcome that commitment, especially since some fear that a glass ceiling at
multinationals stunts their rise because they are local hires.

From Shanghai to Bali, Phuket to Hong Kong, attitudes to leadership training
in the region are gradually being revolutionised. It was prophesied that this
would be the Pacific Century, until the Asian financial crash put a spanner in
the works. However, as new business school graduates emerge in coming years,
the prophecy could well yet come true.

Weblinks

www.lagunaphuket.com/mice/main_quest2.htm
(Quest)

www.cuhk.edu.hk/ (HK
Chinese University)

www.em-lyon.com/WORLD/index.asp
(EM Lyon)

www.ecgl.ac

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