People may well be the greatest asset a business possesses, but that won’t count for much unless the skills, knowledge and potential within the whole organisation are fully utilised, especially when operating globally. That’s why the manner in which talent is identified and developed is proving to be a hot topic in the boardroom as it’s evident that too many companies are not getting the most out of their best and brightest.
Rudi Kindts, Non-executive Director for technical recruiter Matchtech and former HR Director for British American Tobacco, says: “Talent management is rapidly becoming a leadership issue. For too long, it has been dominated by process, methodology, technology and best practice. It has become a tick-box exercise: competency framework developed – tick; state of the art recruitment and selection – tick; efficient online development – tick; performance management system in place – tick… And still the same old questions are being asked and the same old responses given.”
It’s no longer good enough. Bruce Cox, Managing Director at Rio Tinto Diamonds, comments: “Talent management has to be built into the management processes of the leadership teams within the organisation. We undertake formal quarterly reviews to discuss key talent, from each of the operating businesses, cascading up to the executive committee of the company.
“These reviews are designed to ensure that our key professionals are being developed to their full potential. Success can only be fully achieved, however, if the business leaders are sharing their talent across the business.”
This is where the real challenge lies, as managing talent effectively tests the culture and trust within the different parts of an organisation, which is why such programmes need to be led from the top. Jon Dymond, Director at business consultancy Hay Group, says: “A failure to articulate the value in your people [across the globe] is a leadership issue. The better companies clearly own their talent globally… [and avoid] people getting shifted to meet emergency, short-term-needs, preferring instead to opt for early workforce planning that is connected to the business.”
Basic talent logistics is one thing, but aligning the goals of an individual so their ambition segues into the overall purpose of a multinational business is something else entirely as this requires vision, leadership and communication. Sarah Murphy, Group HR Director at international food business AB Mauri, says: “[Your approach] has to start with understanding what the business is trying to achieve, before setting the framework for what the right standards should be for individuals in each role type.
“That becomes your central spine and a common reference point to go back to, and only then can you be clear on any gaps… If you don’t have the standard, managers will assess against the last ‘best’ that they had, whereas what we are trying to look at is the ideal, not just the best that we can find.”
Rudi explains: “It requires the careful management of a challenging paradox: on the one hand it is paramount to increase efficiencies through simplification and standardisation of processes and methodology; on the other, [best] practice should allow you to personalise as much as possible.”
In the long run, there are significant benefits to adopting a strategic approach to talent management, both in terms of using resources effectively and running a business on a more efficient basis. Gerry Skelton, Human Resources Director for the UK’s Air Navigation Services Provider NATS, says: “Without the ability to cross-fertilise between different business models or agendas, organisations are gravely disadvantaged in a competitive marketplace.”
And he should know. NATS has recently evolved from two countries of operation to 29, significantly reviewing and revamping how it uses and develops people within the organisation. “We wanted to address key issues at the executive level, just to have the latest updates [on where talent is within the business], their capability and our bench strength and quite frankly, it’s been eye-opening,” he says.
The result has been to create a framework where staff can move into different areas of the business and apply their skills and experiences in new markets, rather than before, where a career would largely be a vertical progression within a particular division. “Cultural legacy has been the greatest challenge we’ve come up against,” says Gerry. “People don’t like change. You get someone who has been there ten or 15 years, and the next step up would be theirs by tenure, and now you’re talking about changing that.”
It won’t be possible to please everyone and attempts at overseas appointments, placements or even just promotions are never a sure thing, regardless of how good the company’s strategy and communication might be. Sarah says: “You might have a plan but you’ve got to be quite pragmatic about it because it depends on the individual’s life circumstances, and there is no guarantee that an individual will move to a location that for two years you have been grooming them for, because life doesn’t happen like that.”
Overall, in a global market, the company that can align its vision, values and strategy at a Group and local level will be better positioned to get the best out of employees. Annette Burgess, UK Commercial Director for Publisher Baker and Taylor, says: “There is a need for a broad ownership… Global shared values and a global talent pool are needed [alongside] local talent pools. Managing talent can become complex at the global level, so we need to have a better understanding of cultural differences, legislation, demographic trends and labour laws.”
How this is achieved will vary from business to business, but it is not something to be ignored. Indeed, those that get it wrong, or don’t recognise that a different approach is needed, will suffer harshly in the international marketplace.