Human Resources Actions

My first day on the job is turning into a nightmare. I am about to meet with a promising young manager who has just botched a new assignment, and in just a few hours, I'm scheduled to make a strategy presentation to my new boss. But the phone won't stop ringing, and I'm being deluged with e-mail.

It's a good thing this isn't really happening. I'm at a makeshift office in suburban London taking part in a workplace-simulation exercise. It's just like the one hundreds of Motorola Inc. executives around the world will go through in the coming months as part of a wide-ranging effort at the company to identify and evaluate tomorrow's top international managers.

Like many multinationals, Motorola is pressing to find talented leaders to run its increasingly complicated global business. As companies cross borders to make acquisitions and expand operations, the demand for employees with international management skills is growing exponentially. The consequences can be dire for firms that fail to build up a cadre of competent global managers. Poor decisions can lead to multi-billion-dollar flubs, as products flop and marketing campaigns go awry.

Motorola's Internet-based test, developed with Aon Consulting Worldwide, can be administered remotely any place in the world. As Aon executives explained to me how the simulation would work, I imagined myself enduring several hours of awkward play-acting. In practice, the experience is startlingly lifelike.

My role is Chris Jefferson, regional manager in the finance unit of a fictitious conglomerate, Globalcom. My laptop computer has been specially set up so that I can send and receive e-mail, look up information about my employer, and consult my calendar—where several meetings have already been scheduled. An Aon psychologist will play several roles, phoning me from an adjacent office and popping in at the end in the role of Jean Dubois, my boss.

As soon as I settle in to my windowless, brick-walled office, the telephone...