Ideas for Leaders #018

Principles of Competitive Global Talent Management

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Key Concept

Companies must use talent management to build and sustain a talented workforce. Recruit, develop, deploy and retain the right people; these are the core aims of a successful global talent management strategy. Rather than follow untailored ‘best practices’ to do that, a company can subscribe to six outline principles that are consistent with the organization’s overall strategy and culture.

Idea Summary

A multi-year, collaborative research study set out to examine the steps global companies can take to ensure that they recruit, develop and deploy the right people.  Researchers from institutions including INSEAD, Cornell, and Cambridge University came together and analysed companies that were selected based on superior business performance and reputation.

They found that in addition to adhering to a common set of talent management principles, leading companies follow many of the same talent-related practices. During their study, they asked interviewees why they thought their company’s individual practices were effective and valuable. As a result of their responses, the authors formulated six core principles.

Adopting a set of principles rather than best practices is more effective at challenging current thinking. Moreover, best practices are only ‘best’ in the context for which they were designed; principles, on the other hand, have broad application.

Business Application

The six core principles that successful companies should adhere to in order to retain a competitive advantage in talent management are as follows:

  1. Alignment with strategy: managers should ask themselves, given the company’s strategy, what kind of talent do we need? Strategic flexibility is important, and organizations must be able to adapt to changing business conditions and revamp their talent approach when necessary. Examples of companies that have done so include; GE and Oracle.
  2. Internal consistency: implementing practices in isolation may not work and can actually be counter¬productive. The principle of internal consistency refers to the way the company’s talent management practices fit with each other. Consistency is crucial. The emphasis placed on consistency at companies such as BAE Systems and IBM can help to illustrate why that is paramount.
  3. Cultural embeddedness: many successful companies make deliberate efforts to integrate their stated core values and business principles into talent management processes such as hiring methods, leadership development activities, performance management systems, and compensation and benefits programs. IKEA, the Sweden-based furniture retailer, for example, where applicants are selected using tools that focus on values and cultural fit. Another approach to promoting the organization’s core values and behavioural standards can through secondary socialization and training.
  4. Management involvement: successful companies know that the talent management process needs to have broad ownership, not just by HR, but by managers at all levels, including the CEO. Senior leaders need to be actively involved in the talent management process and make recruitment, succession planning, leadership development and retention of key employees their top priorities. One of the most potent tools companies can use to develop leaders is to involve line managers. It means getting them to play a key role in the recruitment of talent and then making them accountable for developing the skills and knowledge of their employees. The research cites the example of Unilever to demonstrate how this can be done.
  5. Balance of global and local needs: for organizations operating in multiple countries, cultures and institutional environments, managers need to figure out how to respond to local demands while maintaining a coherent HR strategy and management approach. The research found different methods of doing this, giving examples of Matsushita, Rolls Royce, Shell and others. However, among all the companies they studied, there was no single strategy.
  6. Employer branding through differentiation: companies should find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors, in order to attract employees with the right skills and attitudes. The companies studied differed considerably in how they resolve the tension between maintaining a consistent brand identity across business units and regions and responding to local demands. One way companies are trying to get an edge on competitors in attracting talent is by stressing their corporate social responsibility activities. Here, the research gives the example of GlaxoSmithKline.
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