The notion of talent management has been with us for many years, but the definition, identification and management of talent remains a complex and clouded concept.
Nonetheless, organisations are clear that proactive identification of critical talent, along with its deployment, development and evaluation, is vital to sustainable growth and, ultimately, to business success.
Talent management requires targeted selection of individuals to address skills shortages, manage projects and respond to customer needs. Once individuals are on board, development programmes and performance management are required to leverage the best outcomes from them. To ensure an effective talent management programme, organisations also need to take into consideration factors such as employee engagement and a supportive and inclusive workplace.
Talent identification and selection
It is well known that the development of talent to serve a global marketplace necessarily involves international experience. The identification and deployment of talent willing to work abroad adds another layer of complexity in the management of employees’ careers. Organisations must take into account the balance between the needs and expectations of local staff to gain senior career experience and those of employees based in headquarters or operations in other countries.
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The deployment of expatriates to service projects, fill skills gaps and manage local personnel helps to develop these individuals, leading to the greater likelihood of their gaining senior management and leadership opportunities. Organisations, however, need to question whether high-potential staff should always be identified from outside the local environment, thereby resulting in expatriation (and its associated costs and challenges), or whether local talent can be deployed instead.
Typically, local skills shortages act as a major driver to recruit and select individuals from outside the indigenous labour market, but talent management programmes should also consider opportunities for host-country staff to be developed if local employee engagement is to be maintained.
In developing a talent strategy, it is important to identify the overall business strategy. This is because talent management needs to be aligned with the overall corporate strategy or a locally based variant of it.
When identifying talent and reviewing its deployment in international settings, careful analysis is needed to understand how these locations and the job roles within them contribute to strategy. Again, in terms of talent identification, it is necessary to determine whether the job roles underpin strategic actions, for instance by reacting to customer and market imperatives, or whether the job roles are the drivers of change, taking the business forward into new domains.
These issues will determine the type of talent required, and will help organisations to identify the competencies necessary to achieve the strategic goals at both local and corporate levels.
It is important to evaluate the link between identified talent and the organisation’s customers and whether one will serve the other to best advantage. In order to take this forward, talent identification and deployment is likely to need to be tailored to the locations of operation. Thus, individuals selected to work internationally must fit not only with the strategic direction of the organisation but also with the culture locally – both organisational and societal.
Traditional approaches to talent identification for international assignments have typically been relatively informal and frequently based upon home-country performance management indicators. Working abroad, however, involves a wider range of competencies. Because of this, talent selection needs to be more formalised and structured.
To ensure best use of individuals who have worked abroad, it is also important to link talent selection to succession planning in such a way that those appointed can see a career pathway beyond the timescale of their assignment.
Diversity and inclusion
Survey data indicates that minorities are typically not well represented in the international assignee workforce. For example, women comprise around 25 per cent of the expatriate population, and this figure has hovered around the 20 to 25 per cent mark for many years. This suggests that women’s assignment participation may have peaked. It also indicates that employers are losing out on the talents of women and their abilities to forge relationships with clients and customers.
There is little data available on the make-up of the expatriate population with respect to ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation and other aspects of diversity. Yet, without a focus on diversity, talent management programmes that involve international assignments lack the wider spectrum of skills and abilities that contribute to the successful business outcomes of the home-country operations.
To be truly successful, talent management programmes need to be combined with initiatives that increase diversity and inclusion. In this way, worldwide operations can harness diversity to increase creativity and build inclusivity and engagement to achieve business-critical outcomes.
Creating a diverse and inclusive international assignee population may not be as straightforward as building diversity and inclusion within the home-country environment. For example, organisations need to take account of legal factors, which may preclude certain minorities from entering jurisdictions or living within them safely.
Despite the challenges, it is important that organisations do not prejudge individuals and their circumstances but provide an open and transparent selection process that is informative and unbiased.
Making assumptions that women will be unsuccessful in masculine cultures, for example, demonstrates a home-country prejudice that may not be reflected in the receiving location. Those being considered for expatriation need to know what to expect in the host environment so they can consider their options based on facts.
As organisations continually globalise and move personnel into new and relatively unknown destinations, international talent management raises the issue of how to deploy and develop individuals in challenging locations.
Background research into factors that can affect assignees and their families negatively must be identified and planned for. Organisations need to recognise potential obstacles, dangers and risks within the local cultural context. These may include, for example, limited medical and educational facilities, remote or harsh physical environments, unstable, insecure or violent regimes, and limited facilities in such areas as housing and goods and services.
Depending on the need for foreign nationals to work in such locations (as opposed to the deployment and development of local personnel), the talent selection process must take into account the effects of the location on accompanied status. Security reviews can identify whether the family can accompany the employee, the level of workplace and home security required, and how local travel will be managed. Medical reviews can establish the presence of local medical facilities and evacuation options.
Particular difficulties that may need to be addressed in challenging locations may work against the organisational diversity and inclusion strategy. For example, certain regimes may prohibit same-sex couples or female employees from sponsoring their husbands/partners in the host location.
The talent management strategy may need to consider how best to address employee development if particular locations become a career impossibility.
Organisations will also need to consider the costs involved in deploying foreign nationals into particularly challenging locations where hardship and housing cost become especially expensive and the additional support required in policy (including rest and relaxation breaks, security provision and so on) raises costs significantly.
Return on investment
This raises the issue of return on investment from a talent management strategy that involves international mobility.
Survey data suggests that organisations have yet to grasp the measurement of assignee costs effectively. While cost/benefit analyses are typically carried out prior to a transfer, measurement of performance while on assignment to assess the degree to which the expatriate has met organisational goals and added value is frequently not measured effectively.
Once the assignee has been deployed abroad, time is required to settle into the new culture. It takes time for expatriate performance levels to rise to their preassignment level, and thus on-assignment added value may not be as high as expected. Performance management measurements may, therefore, not be a true representation of employee potential.
As organisations move towards using shorter assignments, so the performance reducing effect of culture shock means that the proportion of the assignment during which the assignee is working at full capacity becomes reduced.
One way of addressing costs and return on investment is to segment policy in such a way that expenditure is targeted towards the most business-critical assignments and where the deployment of skills and knowledge is most crucial to organisational success. In this way, money invested in international mobility brings the best value to the business.
Future talent development is critical to business, but some individuals actively seek out the option to work abroad, and international mobility is an expectation of the younger generation. Full-cost assignments, therefore, need not be provided for those who wish to self-initiate their relocation abroad. A reduced assignment package may also be applied to the development of younger talent, such as that within graduate trainee programmes.
Survey research suggests that organisations are increasingly developing graduate trainee policies that rotate these highly qualified new recruits across a range of company locations and include short-term international assignments. Indeed, the business model used in large multinational corporations in a number of sectors, such as oil, banking and pharmaceuticals, includes graduate trainee programmes that develop individuals for global careers.
When assignee costs are met by the local operation, there is likely to be local demand for cost reduction. Local operations hosting graduate trainees are, therefore, very likely to support a low-cost policy that provides sufficient compensation to underpin the transfer but is not so generous that it brings an expensive unwanted cost to the business. This can provide a driver for a segmented relocation policy that delivers a tailored set of benefits applicable to graduate mobility.
Graduate assignment programmes that offer international opportunities are popular, as they provide not only an opportunity for career development but also exposure to international environments and senior business leaders. Developing graduates through international mobility also helps to create a high-performance culture and an organisational global mindset.
So, even though the benefits provision may appear lower than for other assignees, graduate schemes are attractive if they offer talent planning for future more-senior positions. Hence, rather than providing a series of graduate placements that address short-term needs, the strategy behind a graduate talent mobility programme should consider longer-term strategic imperatives, with placements providing stepping stones towards future goals. This means thinking beyond current roles to ensure that graduates see a future within the organisation and become engaged with it.
Return on investment in graduates can be achieved if the programmes that are developed for them result not only in their contribution towards business results through completion of objectives but also in longer-term retention and achievement of succession planning principles. It is, therefore, important that return on investment in global graduates is monitored.
This can be achieved through analysis of performance ratings and how these have improved after an international assignment, plus measurement of their career progress and the permanent roles they secure after programme completion.
Graduate talent mobility programmes should not only address remuneration and benefits issues but also provide coaching and mentoring opportunities. Graduates need to be encouraged to network and identify their own opportunities. That said, it is the organisation’s responsibility to ensure that graduates are placed in functions where their value to the business is recognised and they are supported to achieve their full potential.
The graduates themselves need to take stock of their career potential, ensure that they set themselves clear objectives, and commit fully to those objectives. They need to be aware of the value of networking, mentoring and coaching, and to engage with the opportunities presented.
Organisation-initiated actions to support graduate mobility, linked with the development of realistic graduate employee expectations which enable them to recognise their own responsibility for managing their own careers, are crucial foundations in a graduate talent mobility programme.
For related news and features, visit our Talent Management section.
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