The challenges and risks of global leadership programmes and how to overcome them

Leadership Blog  |  6 minute read

Mike Straw

Written by Mike Straw

The challenges and risks of global leadership programmes and how to overcome them

A leadership programme with both global reach and local relevance? It can be done – but there are hurdles to overcome. Mike Straw explains how context is decisive when designing and delivering an international leadership programme with impact.


It’s a frequent source of friction: a hard-working team in say, Mumbai, being expected to drop everything for a leadership development course rolled out by the London global HQ.


That training might not take into account local ambitions and targets. It might misunderstand the culture in which the Mumbai team operates. And if on top of that, if the dates clash with an Indian national holiday, the programme is dead in the water – and the organisation will suffer!


At Achieve Breakthrough, we know all about the challenges of global leadership programmes – and the very real risks of getting it wrong.


In the first of this two-part blog, we’ll take a look at what could be undermining your programmes, and the risk of leaving things unresolved. Keep an eye out for part two, where we’ll discuss our golden rules for successful delivery.


Challenges: design, delivery, and managing stakeholders


A McKinsey study from a few years back found that just 11% of executives believe that their leadership development interventions achieve and sustain the desired results. But why is that?


In our experience, the challenges global leadership programmes encounter often fall into three main categories:


  • The design stage: Any global leadership programme will naturally involve a large number of stakeholders, operating across different territories and cultures. At the design stage, it’s essential that any programme is simple enough to scale globally, but also have the capacity to be localised slightly in each different region. Without that, stakeholders are unlikely to see relevance to their day-to-day experience when it comes to delivery.


  • The delivery stage: Local teams will all have their own competing priorities, and are also likely to be operating with limited resources and under pressure. Global programmes won’t work if they feel disconnected and remote from the day to day. There is a need for global reach, but local relevance. It’s wise to have local associates who can flex their style to suit the local culture, rather than flying in your global HQ team. By building relationships with local stakeholders, you’re ensuring your programme won’t be rejected out of hand.


  • Managing stakeholders and combating cynicism: Complicating the above, there’s a constant churn of people in any business. But if this happens in the delivery stage you almost have to start again, creating an even greater need to work at pace while still ensuring relevance.


A further challenge is not about your programme itself. It’s about what’s gone before. By the time senior executives are in their fifties, say, they will have been on countless leadership development courses, some of which they may feel had little relevance to their reality. At best, some of these people will go into the programme thinking: ‘It’ll be nice to meet my colleagues and go to a nice place, but I don’t expect much to change’.


To counter this, you need to make your programmes relevant, get the branding on-point, ensure they’re experiential, and keep everyone engaged. You need to develop mindset and capability along with leadership skills.


The risks: costs and disenfranchisement


So, what if, like the majority of programme designers in the McKinsey study, you get it wrong? Obviously, you’ll have wasted money and people’s time. You’ll have failed to deliver the impact and the ROI you require. And these days, with organisations continually striving to do more with less, that’s seriously bad news.


But worse than that, you risk disenfranchising local regions by not listening to them or respecting their local goals, abilities and ways of working. They may start pushing back and challenging you, creating an organisational rift. Before long, your programme’s irrelevance becomes its brand, and the next cohort could be even more cynical.


Fortunately, there are examples of organisations getting it right.


Pandora: developing ambitious leaders worldwide


Pandora is the world’s largest jewellery company, employing 33,000 people. Headquartered in Denmark, it has three crafting facilities in Thailand and retail teams worldwide.


Its RISE programme, developed by Achieve Breakthrough for 3,500 leaders in 19 countries, has delivered phenomenal results for the business. It has transformed Pandora and its leadership team, leading to a decrease of attrition by 14% and an increase in engagement by 18% globally.


The aim of RISE is to develop people to lead with ambition, courage, empowerment and ability. RISE has to be relevant for leaders spanning six levels of people management, in three very different populations with very different needs: office, retail and manufacturing. And the content has to be consistent across 19 languages, while being delivered by local facilitators.


Between September 2022 and December 2023, some 91 cohorts passed through RISE – and gave it overwhelmingly positive feedback. It’s now being rolled out across divisions and locations and being integrated into Pandora’s onboarding process.


Achieve Breakthrough: driving impact in leadership development


We all know that ongoing leadership development is a necessity in our fast-changing world. And you can ensure that your coaching programme has something at stake for every single participant.


As we said at the beginning, context is decisive. So we make our work relevant to local teams at every stage, from design to delivery to follow-up. That’s how our programmes drive the impact and achieve ROI that you need, no matter where in the world they’re delivered.


We’ll set out our approach more in our next blog. In the meantime, we’d love to discuss the challenges and risks you face in your own global programmes, and explain how the Achieve Breakthrough approach could work for you. Contact us today.


Pandora Stats 2



Published 12/06/2024

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