A woman walks by a signboard showing flags of the participating countries for the upcoming G20 Seoul Summit at venue of the summit in Seoul
A woman walks by a signboard showing flags of the participating countries for the upcoming G20 Seoul Summit at the venue of the summit in Seoul November 4, 2010. REUTERS

All the World's a Stage - now, more than ever before, this truth stares unrelentingly at business practitioners in their faces. With growth dynamics and power centers radically altered, firms today have two choices before them: compete in a global playing field or perish. This may or may not imply a physical presence in international markets but irrespective of that, all firms, and consequently the skilled human resource pool in these firms, must communicate and manage across borders at some level or the other.

Naturally, B-schools preparing corporate leaders for the future have to ensure that these managers and leaders are equipped with the skills to operate successfully in a multinational context. With several studies indicating that the demand for culturally fluent managers capable of successfully handling diverse and ambiguous situations is steadily on the rise among recruiters, schools are increasingly focusing on developing a broad world view and tolerance for cultural differences in MBA participants - through their curricula and otherwise. While schools such as Harvard and Wharton have earlier been known to have a firm focus on developing soft skills and cultural sensitivity, the trend has spread wide and fast across all renowned global schools.

As Professor Valérie Gauthier, Associate Dean of the MBA program in HEC Paris says, In the climate of high demand and higher expectations that characterize global business today, mere technical ability is not enough; the ability to understand and collaborate with others, once considered a plus, has become an indispensable qualification. We call this quality savoir-relier, or relational know-how.

According to Professor Gauthier, applying the principle of savoir-relier to management training requires going beyond the traditional view of business education as a transmission of theories and techniques. While technical and theoretical mastery are essential to the development of a successful manager, viewing real-life management situations through these lenses alone may distort the reality of the situation and prevent the manager from fully addressing the problem at hand.

HEC recently signed a partnership with communications major Alcatel Lucent under which it will carry out research on the role of intercultural management values in the transformation of businesses.

INSEAD, rated by QS TopMBA as the No.1 school for international management, provides detailed training on cross-cultural management starting by introducing a model of dimensions by which to measure and understand national trends and individual behavior. Students study certain key dimensions in greater depth ( for example, low to high risk aversion, negative to positive feedback, deductive to inductive reasoning) and use simulations to explore strategies for effectively leveraging cultural differences (for example style-switching, confronting cultural differences openly and using intermediaries).

The above model underpins all exec education programs, and two courses in particular focus heavily on intercultural management - Managing Global Virtual teams (launched in October 2010) and Management Skills for International Business.

Erin Meyer, Adjunct Professor in the Organizational Behavior Department at INSEAD, clarifies, In our courses we encourage interaction and discussion so that multi-cultural participants learn from one another. Whilst our cross-cultural sessions are founded on a belief that national stereotyping is dangerous, our courses stress that ignoring cultural differences can be commercially fatal.

Schools are not only focusing on pedagogic ways to foster cultural skills, but there is significant research under way on the topic. One school which takes the lead in this is the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, also rated by QS as one of the top schools for international management expertise. Thunderbird's Global Mindset Leadership Institute has evolved a unique psychometric assessment tool to measure an individual's, or even an entire organization's global mindset.

Global corporations have a new challenge. They need to ensure a large pool of managers who can handle the increasing complexities of global competition and global integration. They need managers with a high stock of Global Mindset, says Thunderbird's Dean of Research Mansour Javidan, who helped develop the tool. Corporations, academic institutions, non-profits and government agencies now have the ability to measure and identify opportunities to develop this mindset needed for their long-term success.

Everyone who enters Thunderbird takes the Global Mindset Inventory shortly before beginning their programs, and then once again just before they graduate. (Even the faculty and staff take this test when they are hired.) Interestingly, the School says that students' scores increase significantly in the second test, not only indicating the efficacy of the Thunderbird experience but also empirically demonstrating that the attributes necessary for success globally can be acquired.

Another web-based self assessment tool used by students at Thunderbird, within a much-loved class on cross cultural communications, is the Cultural Orientation Indicator, (created by the Training Management Corporation). This helps them analyze individual cultural gaps and thus acquire the awareness and knowledge necessary for building effective multicultural skills. According to Professor Denis Leclerc, who teaches cross cultural communications at the School, The students often realize that sometimes the issues they have in teams are not due to personalities but actually due to misunderstandings and miscommunication across cultures.

While the consensus on the importance of cultural competence, whatever name it may be called by, is absolute, different schools have evolved their own different ways to imbibe it in students. Encouraging and ensuring a culturally and nationally diverse class is, of course, the first step so that communication and collaboration among peers can in itself generate significant awareness of how things are done differently across nations and cultures. Substantive experiential knowledge gained during the program through immersive stints in various geographies is another trend that could be very valuable in this regard.