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Corporate International Service Learning

A new study reveals the value of CISL in delivering leadership development

Monday 02 October 2017


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Increasingly, companies such as BD, Credit Suisse, EY, Merck and Microsoft are turning to Corporate International Service Learning (CISL) as a way to build the talent and capability of their workforce while simultaneously addressing real needs in the markets where they do business.

For many people, CISL programmes are inherently attractive. They offer a powerful immersive learning opportunity in which employees travel across international borders and apply their work-based skills to support other organizations that create positive social impact. However, in the eyes of some sceptics the very fact that these programs create a positive social impact can detract from the powerful leadership development and other positive business impacts that they provide. In such circumstances CISL programmes can often be regarded as a nice thing to do, but not a need to do.

Until recently, little research had been done to objectively challenge these views.  However, in 2015 Emerging World conducted the CISL Impact Benchmark Study, the first comprehensive cross-company Study to examine the longer-term impact of CISL programmes on participants and the associated return on investment for their employers.  The Study was well-received and Emerging World has recently published its second Study which offers more robust data, deeper analysis and interesting new areas of research. The 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study gathers data from 688 respondents from 6 companies including BD, Credit Suisse, EY, Merck and Microsoft.  Each respondent had completed a CISL experience at least 12 months previously and was asked to reflect on how their experiences had impacted them through a series of questions administered using an online questionnaire.

Click on DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE above to read the 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study

The results explored how their CISL experience (sometimes referred to by their companies as a Global Pro-Bono or International Corporate Volunteering (ICV) assignment) had impacted them upon their return. It explored a number of key areas including depth of learning, breadth of learning, engagement, retention, career mobility and business impact.  New for this year was also a section on Responsible Leadership and a special webinar is being offered to IEDP readers to find out more. 

To understand the impact of CISL programmes on depth of learning, Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Learning (figure 1) framework was used.  The Level 1 (reaction) data was extremely positive (100% of respondents had recommended a CISL programme to at least one colleague) but the retrospective nature of the Study also enabled data to be gathered at the deeper levels of the framework showing how these, often profound, experiences shape longer term changes in behaviour and impact business results.

Companies with CISL programmes see them as an integral way for developing global leadership skills and capabilities. The Study explored the impact of the CISL experiences on a range of global leadership behaviours and competencies including those associated with the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) moniker used by many companies to describe the current business context. The results clearly show high levels of development across all competencies with Seeing Things from Different Perspectives and Self-Awareness ranked highest.

These emotionally impactful experiences also drive deeper employee engagement – a significant value-added component for companies looking to develop their leaders in this way.  As we know, engaged employees are ‘culture carriers’ and those that ‘go the extra mile’.  The Study explored several measures of engagement, all of which were positively impacted with 81% of participants reporting increased loyalty and 86% increased pride in their organization, and 78% said that they were likely to advocate more strongly for their organization and what it stands for.

Not all respondents in the survey continued to work for the company that sent them on the CISL experience – however a large proportion (89%) did and of those that left 57% said that the experience had contributed to their decision to stay for the remaining time. Of those that remained, significant numbers (75%) had changed role and 52% attributed this change to their CISL experience.  The data suggests that these experiences can be used to help companies drive employee mobility both laterally and upwardly within the organization.

For those with existing programmes or a deeper interest into what makes them effective, the Study investigated how a range of programme management and design variables such as preparedness, and line manager engagement impacted the results.  The data was interpreted with support from the University of Winchester and a number of impact levers were identified that can be used to design and develop stronger CISL programmes. More information is available in the report.

However, some of the most topically relevant findings from the Study come from the section that deals with Responsible Leadership.  This area of the research was designed in collaboration with Dr Karen Blakeley, Head of the Responsible Management Centre at the University of Winchester.

At the start of the year, Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum made a call for more responsible leadership in response to the crisis in confidence in leadership experienced by many around the world.  The CISL study explored impact in a number of dimensions of responsible leadership and showed that these experiences not only led large numbers of participants to think differently about the world and their relationship to it but also to take positive action in ways associated with being more Responsible Leaders.

What may have changed since Emerging World’s first Study is a growing acceptance that developing more socially responsible and inclusive leaders is generally good for business.  The information in this Study therefore is even more arm to the bow of those that believe that these experiences offer exactly the kind of development that all leaders across the business world would benefit from. 

To find out more about Study, join the IEDP webinar on 12th October which will feature Matthew Framer, MD of Emerging World, Dr Karen Blakeley, Head of the Responsible Management Centre at University of Winchester and Lutz Ziob, Dean of the 4Afrika initiative at Microsoft responsible for one of the CISL programmes examined the Study.  

Click on DOWNLOAD THIS RESOURCE above to read the 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study

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