Global-Talent Challenges Growing, Changing

Cultural intelligence is a highly nuanced and critical competency, yet some respondents to a recent study reported that they believe their corporate leadership is sometimes lacking in depth of knowledge and understanding of the stakeholders in various countries.

Thursday, October 4, 2012
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Today's rapidly changing global marketplace is intensifying the challenges multinational employers face in trying to execute effective learning and development programs.

So says a joint report by the Institute for Corporate Productivity and ASTD titled The Global Workplace: Learning Beyond Borders. It reflects two studies of 637 worldwide employers in 2008 and 2012. Although the number of respondents indicating their global learning initiatives were successful went up (29 percent in 2008 to this year's 32 percent), all cited challenges that remain.

"Chief among the themes that emerged from both studies," the report states, "is that there are marked and meaningful differences in the way business is conducted worldwide. Sensitivity to, and understanding of, this fact is critical in terms of effectively designing and delivering learning and development on a global scale, as well as transferring understanding of the organizational culture.

"Cultural intelligence," it goes on, "is a highly nuanced and critical competency, yet some respondents to the 2012 study reported that they believe their corporate leadership is sometimes lacking in depth of knowledge and understanding of the stakeholders in various countries.

"This should be an issue of concern and focus for organizations intent on conducting and expanding effective training in cultures outside their headquarters."

Among the top challenges cited as hindering global-learning programs were budgetary constraints and insufficient staff (with 83 percent, respectively, saying it was a problem to very high, high or moderate extent), followed by travel, at 68 percent.

Ravin Jesuthasan, Chicago-based global-talent-management-practice leader for Towers Watson, says he's not surprised by these leading challenges, or by the indication that global training, in general, has a long way to go to become fully efficient.

"As we've all gone through this financial crisis," he says, "many organizations [global and domestic] have scaled back on training, and on the customization of training programs."

Now, as companies begin to look at reinstating them and notching them higher on the list of business priorities, Jesuthasan says, he's also seeing another force at work contributing to the slow-moving progress on the global-training front.

In Towers Watson's recently released report, Global Talent 2021, conducted in conjunction with London-based Oxford Economics, one important theme that surfaced -- among the 352 HR professionals polled in the first quarter of 2012, and the ensuing modeling exercise of 46 countries and 21 industry sectors, as well as follow-up interviews with HR executives -- was how radically different determining needed skills has become from even just a few years ago.

"We're seeing organizations being much more careful and thoughtful about what their emerging skills are that they will need, and much more thoughtful about [how to] ensure they can develop the employees" available to them, says Jesuthasan.

From a development perspective, "we saw a dramatic upsurge in the need for digital skills, and how products and services would be delivered in a more mobile world," he says.

The skills needed to propel global organizations forward, according to the Towers Watson study, broke down into four main buckets: agile thinking (and leading), global-operating skills, digital skills, and interpersonal and communication skills/relationship-building (elements of which, says Jesuthasan, are considered to be risk-mitigating factors).

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"We also saw employers taking a much more segmented view of the workforce," Jesuthasan says. "They're looking at places in the organization where they need talent that's great and other areas where [they've decided they] would be better off with talent that just gets by."

Many are also starting to think, on a global/regional basis, how they can collaborate with one another for talent. For instance, in the energy industry, some companies are "setting up programs in a collaborative function to attract and train the right petroleum engineers," he says.

Many are also teetering between whether they should hire the costlier, position-ready talent -- that is, if their HR and recruitment professionals can find the right job-ready person who is about to walk from his or her current company -- or take on lesser-trained people who they can pay lower salaries to and train and develop more slowly into the job.

"This is what we're seeing progressive companies doing, saying, 'Maybe we can attract the larger pool of lesser-skilled, not-job-ready people, but take them on, pay them less and develop them into the job,' " says Jesuthasan, adding that position-ready candidates are very hard to come by globally.

"Interestingly," he says, "the number of large multinationals that feel they are ready to hire [such employees] in India, for instance, is actually quite small."

So, as careful as global employers are right now in skills deployment and training, what does Jesuthasan see as the underpinnings of this "new deal," as he calls it?

The seismic and tectonic market shifts -- which are, in turn governing dramatically shifting global-talent pools and needs -- all speak to "why training is going to [eventually] come back with a vengeance," he says, "[because] as we have that much more volatility, the needs of employers will keep getting much more complex."

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