Building an international talent pipeline

Employers are caught in the midst of a global talent squeeze, forcing HR to leverage on creative talent sourcing practices and global talent competencies. HRM looks into what it takes to build a truly international talent pipeline

Employers are increasingly looking beyond borders to recruit the best talents and spur their organisations forward. It is no wonder therefore that more and more companies are becoming global in their HR practices. According to PricewaterhouseCopper’s Annual Global CEO Survey, one of the top strategies CEOs are using to meet talent challenges is deploying more staff on international assignments (59% of executives surveyed cited this strategy).

Boeing is certainly one of these, says Timothy Lynch, Regional HR Director – Asia Pacific, The Boeing Company. “Globally, our supply chain is robust; more than one-third of the 787 Dreamliner aircraft structures are built in Asia,” he points out. “So we look to hire top talent from the region first to create a greater local presence.”

While Asia will continue to have a huge demand for talent, there is a scarcity of good ones and the challenge is to attract, retain and engage, says Achal Agarwal, President, Asia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark Corporation.

“We ideally want both quick and effective development of talent. However, the reality is that this tends to be difficult to achieve in practice,” he says.

Successful companies typically have their talent management strategies deeply anchored with business reality, where talent management is focused strategically on value-creation and not only transactional in nature.

“They skew towards creating opportunities with relevant experiences for their talent to accelerate their development,” says Agarwal. “Moreover, while talent development and management will be driven at all levels, there is likely to be increased focus on expedited and holistic leadership development at the lower and middle management levels, especially as baby boomers prepare to retire.”

Grooming leaders from within

While there is an increasing demand to recruit skilled and experienced management level employees, one of Boeing’s key philosophies where international talent management is concerned is grooming its own leaders from within.

The Boeing Leadership Centre brings together employees from across the world to learn best practices, network, and gain skills that they can then bring back and implement in their home countries.

“Boeing has been investing tremendous resources in the Boeing Leadership Centre in St Louis in the US, where we have leaders teach other leaders,” says Lynch. “At the Leadership Centre, senior Boeing executives teach at least two classes so that class attendees and future leaders model the behaviour expected of leaders.”

Kimberly-Clark also emphasises the importance of real-life experience and on-the-job learning. “We have a leadership development programme anchored around providing experience, exposure, and education with a 70:20:10 ratio respectively,” says Agarwal. “Our development programme mainly focuses on giving people the opportunity to work on stretch assignments.”

These assignments are actually real-live business situations outside employees’ normal operating environment. These talented individuals also get to interact with leaders who are not necessarily from their country, business unit or function.

“We believe that such diverse exposure amplifies their learning and expands their perspective,” says Agarwal. “In addition, it also provides our leaders an opportunity to work closely with key talent from across the organisation and become mentors.”

Creating a sustainable talent pipeline

If HR directors are to create robust global pipelines in new markets, they need to have strategies that are far more sustainable than merely mobilising new expats.

One key method is through internal employee development. Boeing fosters employee development by providing many avenues for employees to learn and develop. “We have also implemented an employee high potential programme to identify future leaders,” says Lynch. “Employees can take advantage of the Learning Together Programme, mentoring, on-the-job training, rotational assignments and technical excellence programmes.”

Boeing’s Learning Together Programme is an industry-leading tuition assistance programme for employees interested in pursuing learning opportunities and critical skills development. Participants are encouraged to choose education programmes and courses that enhance job performance, career growth and skills improvement.

Agarwal says that while mobility helps in meeting short-term demands and specific needs, for sustainable long-term solutions, the organisation requires a more local focus on talent supply.

“A successful approach is when mobile expats are entrusted to develop and groom talent wherever they go, and inculcate the company values and culture, which make it easier for local talents to adapt faster and contribute more effectively,” he says.

Kimberly-Clark boasts a healthy mix of expats and local talent and judiciously leverages people with tenured experience with the company. “In addition, we have had our high potentials work in different markets to lead the local teams while grooming their in-country successors,” says Agarwal.

The company also works to be more strategic in its choice of expats, assignments, and locations. Staff expectations, including questions of ‘what next’ and ‘what would the focus be after this assignment?’ are duly managed, as frustrations tend to arise from mismatched expectations.

“This happens when we have expats just to fill vacancies and then struggle to create opportunities for their career. Also, by focussing on key capabilities that are critical for success and having ways to measure and recognise them, potential pipeline-building becomes much easier and the supply constraint is lifted, Agarwal adds.

Kimberly-Clark has a regional leadership development program that looks for high potentials from all the countries in the region and gives them cross-border development opportunities such as talent swaps.

“We groom them for roles located anywhere in the region,” says Agarwal. “Needless to say, this also translates to developing them for global roles.”

For example, some marketers have recently been swapped between India and Peru and Chinese sales leaders have been sent to the US and UK.

The most important thing in attracting, retaining and engaging talent is to have a winning culture. “Our employees have already seen our strategies working and our employer brand is getting stronger as word spreads about our wins,” Agarwal explains.

Challenges of a mobile workforce

With a more mobile labour market comes a whole host of different challenges. Like many other multinational companies, one of the HR challenges that Boeing faces is the growing scarcity of skilled talent.

“The aerospace sector, like many other technology-based industries, faces a skills shortage here but we try and overcome this challenge through workforce planning,” says Lynch.

“Boeing has a robust workforce planning process that allows us to understand business requirements and forecast near- and long-term skill needs.” By doing so, the multinational aerospace and defence corporation develops employees in the right areas and also maintains focus on hiring and retaining diverse talent that matches its innovation and growth strategies.

For Agarwal, the definitions of ‘global’ and ‘local’ are getting much more intertwined in today’s flat world. Kimberly-Clark is faced with Asian talent moving to the West to be educated and then wanting to come home because of the dynamic economies here, and also local talent aspiring to go to more developed businesses to develop skills which can help them achieve their full potential.

He adds that how companies leverage these aspirations and the flexibility they show will determine their overall success.

“At Kimberly-Clark, we are getting not only expat talent from the West but also from markets in Latin America. In turn, we are exporting Asian talent to the US and other markets,” says Agarwal. “This introduces diversity of thought and also provides a developmental experience which is sought by our high potential talent.”




Moninder N. Jain, Senior Director – Marketing (Asia Pacific & Japan), Logitech started his career with Logitech in India and progressed through a variety of roles before he moved to Singapore. Having joined Logitech as a country manager for India in August 2004, Jain moved on to progressively handle Southeast Asia and then the North Asia market.

“These two assignments were for countries I did not know but for a company I knew well as the years went by,” said Jain. “I finally started to handle all aspects of Marketing for Asia Pacific and Japan as I had gained adequate knowledge and understanding of multiple markets through my moves within the company.”

“Being willing to move enables the company to think about investing in your career development – provided performance is good of course,” Jain added. “For some people, getting ‘thrown into the unknown’ maybe a high risk strategy but then that is the only way you can prove that you can be successful in different environments.”

In each country he worked in, Jain was on a local compensation and benefits package in each country you worked at. “Being ‘local’ forced me to fully adapt quicker than if I were on a full expat package,” he said.

“You learn more about how the locals live, how and where they shop, the tax and investment climate, etc... The less insulated you are, the better your chances of understanding the local market landscape and hence the better your chances of success,” he added.

Logitech’s stance on internal development of staff through mobility helps it build an international talent pipeline. “At any point of time, instead of looking ‘outwards’, it is more motivating for the entire workforce for the company to promote internally,” said Jain.





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