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How to Build an International Talent Pipeline

Skill shortages and changing demographics are forcing talent leaders to find the right balance between mature and emerging market strategy.

March 15, 2013
Related Topics: Succession Planning
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Workers at Panasonic in Japan begin their days singing the company song, and each day a different person on the team — from the most junior to the top executives — holds up a scroll and reads the company’s seven business principles and the sentiment behind each. To Naoyuki “Nick” Tsuda, director of international HR and HR planning for Panasonic in North America, this is business as usual. Steve Safier, Panasonic Corp. of North America’s chief transformation and human resources officer, said he was in awe after witnessing this.

“It was striking to see people’s level of dedication and commitment, not only to the profitability of the company, but to the principles,” he said. “We have the same values in the United States, but these routines seem unfamiliar and awkward to us.”

The company’s business philosophy helps it to determine its objectives, approach to business activities and global direction. The principles serve as a compass, helping Tsuda and Safier maintain the right direction for the business. Although it hires and employs people locally across Panasonic’s 203 overseas subsidiaries in 46 countries, the company’s principles, practiced differently across the globe, ensure all employees have the same experience.

For the past year, in China, as well as emerging economies such as India and Brazil, the company has used Panasonic Leadership Competencies to screen recruits for middle management positions. These competencies include such factors as whether the recruits are committed to contributing to society, which is one of the company’s foundational business principles.

“From a functional talent perspective, we want to make sure we have the right people who fit the particular geographic and local culture,” Tsuda said. “But from a philosophy and values perspective, there are some things that are important to us around the world that we heavily emphasize regardless of the country the person is in.”

Safier said there are common experiences and learning opportunities every senior member must have — such as the company’s leadership development program for executives across the globe to build innovation and collaboration across multiple businesses — but at a more junior level, those experiences are country specific.

Like Panasonic, AT&T has both standard and customized opportunities for its 240,000 employees in 60 countries. AT&T University helps align employees across the globe around strategy and culture. But market demands and emerging market growth are one of the main reasons to deploy country-specific talent strategies, said Scott Smith, AT&T’s senior vice president of human resource operations. He said because market growth differs from country to country, the company provides opportunities and challenges to determine how and where the organization can acquire, compensate and grow talent.

“Determining what sources should be employed within a country depends more on the type of job than the country itself,” Smith said. “We evaluate the skills needed, and then target marketing sources that resonate with those candidates. For example, where we need to acquire significant volume of external talent, we have deployed new talent acquisition strategies in those countries and centralized that work within our staffing organization, which helps leverage economies of quality and cost better than when the work was decentralized in the field.”

Linda A. Hill, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, said regardless of the job or industry, continually developing and rapidly moving talent is key in emerging markets.
“They’re going to move if you don’t move them,” she said. “Those in fast-growing markets expect to move in their careers — not necessarily up — but they expect a kind of momentum that fits the business environment they’re in. Leaders need to give them opportunities that make them feel they’re growing and being developed at the speed of their market and not falling behind.”

Hill said the talent manager’s role is to work with the top learning executive to improve the leaders’ capacity to coach and mentor because they need to be able to accelerate development for the people in their group. From there, talent leaders should consider themselves consultants to the business.

“You’re the partner that works with the business and helps the C-suite understand not only for internal talent, but also for clients and customers in the market, what is necessary to succeed across markets,” she said.

To do this, talent managers must listen to their customers, create customized solutions and demonstrate the business value of every global or local decision made. In each market, customer needs may vary — the customer being the local general manager or local business owner within each country.

“Some of the off-the-shelf HR solutions are going to work in mature markets because the needs are more known and more stable,” said Seymour Adler, partner in Aon Hewitt’s talent solutions practice. “In emerging markets, by definition, things are less stable. Discovering, really listening, helping the business person formulate or articulate their needs, that’s really important.”

Adler said HR needs to create a customer service model and determine how to serve internal stakeholders.

“HR people may not be naturally gifted in those skills,” he said. “They have technical expertise in benefits, compensation and staffing, but consulting skills are increasingly a requirement. Leading companies are creating development programs for HR in honing these skills.”

Once prepared, talent leaders need to perform needs assessments or audits, make recommendations or proposals, coordinate the creation and implementation of an action or corrective plan, and when required, organize and coordinate cross-functional teams to assist the business in developing and implementing performance improvement corrective plans, programs or processes. Doing this globally on a budget can be challenging.

“Employers want good people in mature and emerging markets — these people are scarce — but they also want to control costs,” said Kate Donovan, managing director of ManpowerGroup Solutions, a contingent and permanent recruitment company. “HR’s challenge is to try to address that. How do you find and keep scarce talent but also manage costs and provide information to line executives in a way that they can have a clear picture of what the labor market holds around the world, and what strengths and challenges are in each country?”

Many talent leaders do not have an answer to the question. Last May, HfS Research in collaboration with PricewaterhouseCoopers published a white paper that reported 25 percent of global CEOs surveyed can’t achieve growth forecasts in a country because they can’t find the talent. Hill said the solution goes back to Panasonic and AT&T’s philosophy on infusing global values with local practices.

“If you’re going to build a global company, the fundamental challenge is to stop it from being ‘us and them,’ and create a collective ‘us,’” she said. “HR people are in a good position to help companies understand how to work together. They are a bridge, not simply to attract and develop people who fit who they already are, but rather a bridge to create a new notion of how to grow and do things better together.”

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