18 September 2019

Preparing for global competitiveness: Building a global mindset

by Dr Rodney Lim Thiam Hock

Business graduates entering the workforce need to be hyper-competitive. As organisations operate in increasingly complex and dynamic environments, employers are looking for global-ready graduates who have an understanding of the diverse cultural contexts that drive their operations. 

A global-ready graduate is someone who can perform globally by having an understanding of global systems, in terms of how things work in different parts of the world and how they interrelate with each other. As such, it is imperative that business students are equipped with a global mindset to improve their employability in a globalised world. 

A global mindset is an ability to make sense of the world from a broad perspective, to understand our interconnectedness, and to recognise opportunities in global and local trends. Acquiring a global mindset involves building a knowledge base and a set of skills that enable you to succeed wherever your work takes you.  

The basis of a global mindset is knowledge of different aspects of the global economy, including political, socio-cultural, economic and technological factors. These are elements of a good and rounded business education. Your knowledge should be complemented by an appreciation for diversity, not just in terms of differences between people, but in terms of diverse ideas and practices. 

Equally important is an awareness of yourself and how you fit in the broader global contexts. This means being conscious of your own values, biases and having an attitude of openness to different ways of perceiving, thinking and doing things. For example, while it may be alright for you to arrive five minutes late to a meeting, this may not be tolerated at all in some countries. 

Conversely, in another context, it is alright to be half an hour late. Although it is sometimes possible to reconcile or integrate diverse cultural views and values, you must accept, at times, the need to challenge your own understanding in light of other perspectives. 

Developing a global mindset also requires a set of skills. Some skills that are useful include language skills, communication and collaboration skills. Although English is a global language that you should master, you should realise that not everyone has the same level of proficiency in it. Since language and culture are closely related, learning one or more important languages can help you better understand cultural differences and give you an advantage in the workplace. 

Business students should not neglect basic transversal skills, or soft skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, digital competencies and social skills. These are not specifically related to a particular job or discipline but are transferable across diverse geographies and cultures, and in a wide variety of situations and work settings. They have become critical complements to knowledge and disciplinary expertise and are increasingly sought by employers around the world.

A particularly important skill is cultural intelligence, or your ability to adapt effectively to diverse, new and unfamiliar cultural environments. Adaptability is not about trying to merely function in such environments, but it is about learning to thrive by flexibly reshaping yourself to different situations. It means you should be comfortable with being uncomfortable in uncomfortable environments.

In fact, you should work on an ability to leverage all kinds of diverse experiences that come your way, be it a diverse work team, an unusual idea or an unknown practice that you encounter, toward improving your own performance.

Developing the knowledge and skills for a global mindset requires a willingness to learn. Research has shown that successful global leaders are continuous learners. They become more adaptable and agile by developing multiple frames of references, mindfulness, flexibility in thinking, and an appreciation for change and innovation. In other words, ‘learning how to learn’ is critical if you wish to succeed in a sustainable way in various cultural situations.

This form of learning is not something that can be easily gained by learning theory in the classroom, but requires an experiential learning approach. As such, where possible, business students are encouraged to immerse themselves, through study abroad programmes, into a foreign environment during their undergraduate studies. These short-term, immersive stints have become increasingly popular across universities worldwide, and have proven to be beneficial to students’ learning. 

Business students at Swinburne Sarawak who spend one or two semesters at the Melbourne campus have reported great learning and culturally enriching experiences that give them confidence and appreciation of the global workplace.  

In conclusion, students can no longer afford to expect a sheltered career in familiar confines but must be prepared for the challenges of an increasingly globalised workplace.  Building a global mindset is becoming an essential part of a good business education. 

Dr Rodney Lim Thiam Hock is a business lecturer from the Faculty of Business, Design and Arts at Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus. He can be reached via email at rlim@swinburne.edu.my.