As the business world and patterns of trade become irretrievably global, organisations follow suit: not a blinding insight so much as an acknowledgement of economic truths. But as organisations become global, and both think and operate globally too, it isn’t just an issue for production, distribution and sales: all aspects of the organisation follow suit. Recruitment and talent management can be no exception. To succeed on a global stage, organisations need to find – and keep – leading players with the talents to match the environment.

Global leaders require what we might call “international literacy”. In addition to fluency in several languages and top business school educations, they have specific competencies that equip them for global roles: experience of operating in different regions; a keen understanding of cultural differences (both of employees and of customers); the ability to deal with the ambiguity that arises when faced with different sensibilities and complex cultural working patterns; a genuine enjoyment of diversity. They also typically have far more cross-sector experience than previous generations of leaders, and their CVs may show a history of making lateral career moves to broaden their experience.

The Economist Intelligence Unit worked with Heidrick and Struggles to evolve the Global Talent Index (GTI), aimed at providing businesses with comprehensive evidence of where talent is/was located in 30 leading economies, both in 2007 and as projected for 2012. There a large number of complex issue involved in calculating these rankings, which are then separately weighted. (We assume the weighting will also, if the GTI lives on, evolve to reflect the changing relative importance of these different factors in a fast-moving world.)

One particular element merits separate attention. ‘Proclivity to attracting talent’ is effectively a nation’s equivalent of its Employer Brand or Employee Value Proposition – its strength of attraction, if it is to be their ‘home’ working location, as a working base for future global players, wherever they may have started from. The GTI lists a number of factors that are used to calculate this specific index, which include:

  • technical skills of the workforce
  • personal disposable income per capita
  • employment growth and real GDP growth (%)
  • GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity)

But the caveat on this list is more eye-catching:

Perhaps the most difficult area to define because of its cultural nuance, is a country’s proclivity to attract talent. In other words, why would anyone want to work there?”

Organisations, of course, are not countries. Not only do they increasingly span geo-political boundaries, but they have (or aspire to have) defined cultures and values of their own. Inherently more flexible, they can also more closely define what they require – both now and in the future – of a workforce. But while they may not be dependant on factors with timescales as long as demographics (especially birth rate) and education to produce new talent, the issue is no less vital.

Water, water everywhere …
There’s another key difference between organisations and nations. To mangle a proverb, no organisation is an island: various tides may lap at their boundaries, but organisations must now connect on a global basis. Individual nations may rise and fall in the GTI’s projections, but recruitment searching for large companies is now a global activity, targeting executives across Asia, Europe and the US for key positions that may be positioned all over the world.

Just as organisations cannot be islands, leaders no longer lead on such an individual basis. While the ability to inspire others remains a key strength, success is increasingly dependent on leaders’ ability to pull together effective teams together. Newly recruited top talent must therefore do more than ‘fill empty shoes’ – companies need to move away from an ad-hoc process of replacement to a broader-focused approach that combines the assessment, development and training of existing executives alongside new talent recruitment. As Kevin Walker pointed out some time in his own blog posting, 5 Steps to Getting Started in Talent Scenario Planning, even in an unpredictable world, talent management and succession planning needs the ability to think ahead.

Be prepared
Many large companies are now creating their own internal academies or universities to train and develop staff from around the world: examples include Siemens, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and General Electric. International business schools’ provision has also evolved, and the overwhelming majority now provide in-house and bespoke programmes. Recognising that human capital is a critical fuel for both growth and continuing competitiveness, major companies are creating their own talent pipelines to keep the supply of fuel flowing – recruiting graduates from leading business schools and universities across the world to then induct them in their own in-house training and development centres.

As teamworking skills, cultural sensitivity and the ‘soft’ skills associated with mentoring, negotiating and listening are recognised as important for future success, the coaching industry is also growing very rapidly – if also in a largely unregulated manner. As we have commented before, there are dangers here both for companies and for the coaching profession. The inputs that executives now require from their development coaches are typically highly specific and require coaches with experience of operating in a world that matches their own experience. All too often, however, the coaching industry is supplying generalist coaching that not only falls short of what is required but risks bringing into disrepute an approach to executive development that can – provided with care and skill – reap rich dividends.

Being prepared has wider boundaries, however. Demographics are a powerful long-term factor, and Europe’s patterns of births and retirements may not necessarily be grounds for optimism: the ‘Japanese’ malaise could strike into other territories as tie goes by. Beyond the fact that international pipelines of talent can be turned off because of political actions just as easily as gas or oil equivalents, there will always be what Donald Rumsfeld so memorably called ‘the unknown unknowns’.

Few of us predicted the recent downturn, and whether 9/11 was predictable is a controversial question in itself: there’s no guarantee that there won’t be similar seismic upheavals ahead with untellable implications and repercussions. Geographic and climatic factors may also play a role: energy independence may become a significant factor if resources – or access to them – come under future threat. In 2009, it is interesting to note that 69% of electricity in Kenya and 87% in Brazil comes from hydro-electric generation or other renewable sources. In 2039, this may have become crucially important. Reports such as Ernst & Young’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices (download a PDF) may become more important reading in determining working locations in years to come.

Finders keepers
The labour market may be in glut, but recruitment at executive level requires the utmost care in selection. A key vacancy doesn’t become easy to fill just there are a greater number of inappropriate candidates now available – the secret is to select the right one.

Given the criteria for leadership in a global environment, which we outlined at the start of this article, competition is likely to remain fierce even as countries ascend the GTI scales in terms of their ability to educate and grow young and emerging talent. As search agencies now track key individuals through their careers and their movement around the world, talent retention now starts the moment the newly recruited top talent crosses the threshold.

Companies most likely to succeed in retaining the talents they require and can develop further will those that best analyse and understand what motivates them, and who use this knowledge to offer productive career support and development. Employers that allow their anxiety about potentially losing top executives to prevent sensible career discussions, or who avoid the subject altogether (turning a blind eye not just to the topic but also to the message this may send – as it most likely to leave the employee feeling under-valued and unfulfilled), are more likely to find themselves continuing to wrestle with staff turnover at the most senior level.

Part of any executive’s motivation will naturally be their own career development. Companies must address this issue if it is to be managed positively. Once motivations, intentions and desires are clearly identified, companies can either construct scenarios that suit both the company and the executive, or can identify where this cannot be achieved and plan ahead for a managed exit strategy. In a working environment where organisations cannot guarantee a long-term evolving career, as this cannot necessarily be dovetailed with their own strategic plans and objectives, executives can – and will – accept alternative offers; it is to companies’ advantage to accept that this will be the case so that they can be prepared when it does happen.

In this new world map of talent, the winning companies will be those that coach, motivate and develop their own talent, and those that develop an acute understanding of their own Employee Value Proposition. As with any organisational EVP, they must be acutely aware of any gaps between rhetoric and reality – and be prepared to change both the words and the actions where necessary: alternative offers will continue to be made, and it is the reality – not just the vision – of staying that needs to remain more attractive. The true challenge is to manage both these demanding aspects in parallel with an inclusive, global recruitment process.

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