A Roadmap to Best Practices in Global Talent Management
The foundation of every corporate enterprise, large or small, is its people. A neighborhood pizza parlor may employ five people who are all members of the same family. A mid-sized manufacturer may have a central office in one city and two or three sales representatives in foreign trade centers. A vast global enterprise may have thousands of employees in every corner of the world.
For all of these business enterprises, the central challenge of talent management is this: how do we ensure the continued growth and prosperity of the company? At the pizza parlor, how do we know that the family’s son or daughter is ready and willing to take over when Ma and Pa retire? At the midsized manufacturer, how do we know that our overseas sales reps are connecting with our foreign clients? At the global enterprise, how do we balance the preservation of our company’s native culture and heritage while at the same time facing the reality of reinvention and change and progress?
Challenges Facing Global Enterprises
Every business that employs human beings¾from the pizza parlor to the global giant¾is shaped by the personality traits and capabilities of the individual employees and managers. Every person brings to the workplace varying degrees of creativity, skill level, ethics, family values, and even physical abilities and limitations. The employee may be ambitious or lackadaisical. The manager may embrace the corporate culture or be suspicious of everything the company promises.
Because of their sheer size and scale, global enterprises face additional business conditions that present unique obstacles to leadership development. These include the physical distance between centers of activity, which may be thousands of miles; time zone differences between centers of activity; and language differences. National laws and policies that limit or control human activity can impact the behavior of executives, from choice of dress to whether or not an executive can get a driver’s license. Cultural differences can create misunderstanding. Religious practices and beliefs may impact an executive’s daily or weekly schedule. And ethnic or national pride may supersede loyalty to a foreign-based global corporation.
These additional talent management challenges, which regional companies face to a lesser degree or not at all, impact every area of talent management of the global enterprise, including these scenarios:
· Managing ex-pat talent. An in-house executive may possess skills and capabilities that make it possible to send him or her from their home environment to a distant or foreign location for an extended period of time. Time is needed for the executive to get to know the local culture, develop trust and relationships with local partners, make reliable reports, and apply a long-term perspective to the overseas project. But for many people it is difficult to remain away from home due to family responsibilities or simply because of personal preference. Not everyone is capable of being an ex-pat executive.
· Working with indigenous talent. The global enterprise presumably has a good reason for operating in a foreign country: there are profits to be made. And operating a profitable project often requires using local talent. At the lowest level, this may mean hiring local drivers, assembly-line workers, or maintenance staff. At higher levels there are engineers and marketing consultants and human resource experts. Every individual who is hired or contracted brings a host of personal qualities that may be positive (otherwise you wouldn’t hire them in the first place) or problematic, or (most likely) a blurry combination of both.
· Creating long-term relationships. There are local politicians and tribal leaders and other powerful stakeholders who must be honored and convinced that the project is good for them and their constituents. There are local vendors and contract partners who must operate according to the organization’s expectations. Aligning these stakeholders requires a certain kind of executive who, with a sense of humility, enjoys connecting with people of different cultures and belief systems.
· Recruiting and developing new talent, including talent from indigenous cultures. For a global enterprise, the simplest solution for talent acquisition would be to annually skim off the top graduates of one business school, train them, and set them on a corporate leadership development path. This is what the U.S. Army does at the West Point Military Academy: each year the Army receives one thousand freshly-trained second lieutenants, ready to get to work and move up the organizational ladder. But unlike the U.S. Army, global corporations tend to be less top-down in their management style (or should be, if they want to last very long). While some global companies, such as oil companies, aren’t necessarily engaged in retail sales in the areas in which they operate, most companies are doing business in a chosen region because they want to sell their product in that region. The organization itself must take on the character of the region, and the only way to do this is to recruit executive talent from that region.
· Mergers. Organizations grow in two ways: organically from within, or by the acquisition of, or merger with, other organizations. This means that almost overnight a company may have hundreds or even thousands of new employees who speak a different language and have different cultural practices and even different ethical standards. Sometimes a newly acquired local operation can continue its day-to-day activities without the average employee even knowing there has been a change of ownership, but inevitably at some point up the executive ladder there must be not only interaction but also close cooperation between executives of very different backgrounds. History has shown time and time again that from the standpoint of talent management, international mergers can extremely challenging.
The Value of Case Studies
We know that global corporations can do much better: a glance at the headlines on any given day proves this. The challenge of global executive management is real and very serious.
The first step to solving the global talent management problem is to identify the scope of the problem and, if necessary, break it down into manageable chunks. Having done this, we can then begin to determine if any global organizations have avoided or solved the talent management problems that we have identified. Surely, in all of modern history, there must exist examples of successful and relevant global corporate behavior or practices. We can determine if these positive results were achieved by accident or happenstance or design.
If no positive examples exist, we can be confident that at the very least the history of global commerce is littered with examples of failure or poor results. We can determine the success rate of hiring executives from the indigenous culture. We can consult studies that suggest a high failure rate of emerging leaders within their home organizations. We can solicit testimony from engaged executives who can provide insight into the challenges of global talent management.
Defining the Traveling Global Executive
The next step in the process is to take everything we know about the success and failures that global companies have experienced, and create a set of ideal qualities that the traveling global executive must possess in order to both succeed in the short term and provide leadership for his or her organization in the long term. These qualities may or may not include:
1. A mental and emotional openness to the values of different cultures.
2. The ability and desire to acquire new skills (language, cultural) quickly.
3. The ability to bring together people of disparate backgrounds.
4. The physical ability to travel and to live in unfamiliar environments.
5. The emotional ability to remain away from home for extended periods.
6. The vision to create an organization that embraces creativity but develops unified action.
Toward Best Practices in Global Talent Management
Once we have established a set of goals, we can develop a set of best practices that global enterprises can use to meet these goals. This is where the rubber meets the road: global organizations are in critical need of workable, proven solutions. Using input from highly experienced and capable executive leaders, a roadmap can be created that will allow global businesses to turn talent management liabilities into assets, and pave the way for a brighter, more productive future.
Louis Carter is CEO and founder of Best Practice Institute