Organisations operating in a global environment need to consider how they will identify, recruit, deploy and develop talent on an international basis as part of their overall people management strategy. A consistent approach is important while taking into account regional differences.

The factsheet examines the reasons underpinning the need for effective talent management and offers guidance on creating a talent management strategy using different strategic approaches: Headquarters-based strategy, separate operating units, a regionally-oriented or globally-oriented strategy. The factsheet outlines useful methods to identify talent and examines different types of developmental opportunities, including international assignments and specific development programmes.

CIPD viewpoint

Talent management is crucial to an organisation, to maintain competitive edge and to increase the talent and potential within an organisation. When operating on an international basis an organisation faces additional challenges and needs to determine the best way to develop and maintain the talent base. It is important that the needs of both the employee and the organisation are considered, and that the full potential of all employees is realised.

Whilst acknowledging that it is important to have a consistent brand and approach within an organisation it is important that the skills and abilities of local employees in countries where the organisation is operating are not ignored. A good talent management programme will draw on the skills and abilities of all employees, wherever they are based.

Identifying, recruiting, deploying and developing talent globally is a key role of the HR practitioner working in a global environment. Talent management is therefore a key element in a successful people strategy, focusing on improving employee engagement and commitment and encouraging high performance and retention rates. Global talent management strategies focus on ensuring global consistency among various managerial pools and the foreign subsidiaries, including advanced development for key roles and high potentials, whilst putting in place learning interventions for employees at all levels to develop an international mindset. Read our talent management and employee engagement factsheets.

HR professionals should consider the following issues when looking at international talent management:

  • Managing the talent pipeline – employers are trying to recruit ‘ahead of the curve’ to engage individuals with particular skills and aptitudes, bearing future business needs in mind.
  • Understanding the economic, social, legal and political infrastructures which impact on different talent flows.
  • Developing relationships with universities and business schools to secure future talent from a known resource.
  • Using global IT systems to create databases of internal talent pools.
  • Creating skilled and competent teams of recruiters in different geographies.
  • Managing recruitment suppliers on a global basis, introducing speed, cost and quality controls, the use of preferred partners, branding messages and ensuring audit trails to protect against legal issues associated with global diversity.

See our international resourcing and selection factsheet for more information about the resourcing process within talent management.

Organisations working internationally need to develop employees to be effective in their roles, taking into account the added complexities an international role involves. Issues to consider are:

  • The organisation’s business needs for developing employees with skills to work on an international basis.
  • The particular demands of an international assignment, and the need to be able to adapt to the culture of the country where the employee is placed.
  • The balance between developing generic skills, and specific skills required in the specific placement or country where the employee will be working.
  • The need for employability, developing skills that will be transferrable to future placements.

The type of development opportunities available to employees will depend on the business context, individual learning needs and the organisational resources available.

Many employees working internationally will be doing so at a management level. Read to our management development factsheet.

There are a number of strategic approaches to the development of talent. The most commonly used are:

Headquarters based strategy

Organisations with strong control systems, centralised business strategy and strong leadership from headquarters often adopt a centralised approach to their talent management strategy and make a decision to develop talent pipelines from their home country.

However, this approach doesn’t benefit from the diversity of ideas and approaches that can be gained by recruiting talent from outside the organisation, or by recruiting local nationals. If a headquarters-based strategy is used it is important that employees are made aware of the need to adapt their approach to fit with the nature of the location, and are taught the skills necessary to adapt in this way.

Business unit level strategy

Organisations adopting this strategic approach rarely have global policies and prefer to manage potential within individual country operations. This strategy focuses on the ‘home grown’ approach, identifying talent in individual operating units and developing this so that local employees have the skills and abilities to take senior management positions in the unit in their country.

The benefits of this approach are that the local employees have knowledge of the culture and situation in which they are operating, and can apply their skills and knowledge to this. However, taking this approach does mean that there is the danger that the way in which the organisation operates in different locations is more likely to differ and there is a need to keep some level of synergy to maintain a clear organisation mission and brand.

Regionally-oriented strategy

In this approach senior regional managers will work with country-level management teams to identify high-potential employees who can be moved around the region. This strategy addresses some of the difficulties of separate operating units, whilst still focusing on the need to develop talent in locally-based employees. Rather than just focusing on the individual countries this strategy looks at talent management on a regional basis. This does allow for consistency of approach across a region in which the organisation operates. Although there is still the danger that the organisation mission and brand could vary across regions, there is likely to be less variation than when a business unit level strategy is adopted.

Globally-oriented strategy

In a truly integrated global operation, responsibility for identifying and nurturing high potential employees is usually a joint task for senior managers from all parts of the organisation’s global operations. One organisational goal will be to use the international assignment process to foster an international mindset in the employees being developed and also by developing employees from different countries to bring diversity to the future senior teams.

This approach doesn’t presume that talent should primarily be developed from headquarters, but does acknowledge that there is a richness of innovation and creativity resulting from the movement of talent between locations. By having a global talent management programme, consistency of approach and ensuring a consistent understanding and application of the organisation’s mission and brand is more likely. However, the cost and time involved in operating such an approach can be prohibitive.

There are a number of perspectives here. The first adopts an inclusive approach under which everyone is seen as having talents. Another approach is to focuses on key positions within the organisation, which although identified as a having a key impact on the organisation’s success, are not necessarily confined to the higher level of employees. Finally some organisations still prefer to focus on what they see to be their top performers or those heading for most senior roles, and this group might constitute a global talent pool. All of these approaches are important to succession planning within an organisation.

Methods of identifying talent can include:

  • submission of names of high-potential employees to the corporate centre
  • centralised monitoring of performance review data
  • 360-degree feedback
  • assessment and development centres
  • evaluation from development programmes.

However, for international working these methods do require some sort of common framework to effectively identify talent internationally. At the same time there is a requirement that these tools are culturally sensitive in order to be acceptable and robust within a range of contexts. Most organisations see the talent management strategy as a critical component of succession planning in providing people who will be ready to take on key roles in global organisations when they are needed. Often management review boards meet to look at development decisions and performance ratings and to ensure against bias in the context of the people dimensions of strategic corporate reviews. Read our succession planning factsheet.

Most international organisations have formalised development planning systems and look at how individuals need to be developed as well as looking at the formal requirements for the post. The approach will usually be an integrated one, with a range of programmes linking into broader organisational and career objectives for employees at all levels. This is part of the shift from training to learning, with a move away from traditional, instructor-led, content-based interventions to learning as a self-directed, work-based process leading to increasing the capability of people to deliver high performance. Increasingly it is common for employees who are identified as having a high level of potential to be assigned mentors and coaches and take part in learning sets and project-based learning as part of their development.

There are a wide range of potential approaches to talent development. Some suggestions are:

International assignments

One way in which organisations develop the talent of employees is to send them on an international assignment. This builds individual employability, and also gives employees an opportunity to put into practice some of what they have learnt on an international talent development programme.

Even though the number of people on international assignments overall is increasing, long term assignments which involve an employee relocating to a new location are decreasing for a number of reasons, including:

  • the high cost of assignments
  • availability and desirability of posts being held by highly educated and skilled locals
  • limited mobility of managers due to dual career and family issues.

There has been a shift towards other types of international working for business reasons and also to provide developmental opportunities for individuals. Some of these are:

  • Short-term assignments - assignments with a specified duration, usually less than one year. Families might go too.
  • International commuting - the manager commutes from home country to place of work in another country, mostly weekly or bi weekly, not accompanied by families.
  • Frequent flying - where an employee goes on frequent business trips overseas but doesn’t relocate.

These types of assignments are often seen as a key way to develop employees with high potential for senior roles, indeed international experience is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for a senior management role. Even though international costs are high, organisations perceive that the benefits to the individual and organisation outweigh these. When the assignment is predominantly for development purposes, HR will be looking to assess the development of competencies and the level of knowledge transfer, amongst other value indicators, to determine the success of the development. Possible outcomes will include increased adaptability, cultural empathy and the ability to deal with complex international business issues. Read to our factsheet on international mobility.

Specific development programmes

Along with strategic workforce planning (see more in our International resourcing and selection factsheet) talent management is one of most important strands of international HRM in terms of ensuring the success of global organisations. Organisations are likely invest considerably in developing (and retaining) these important human resources. Formal development programmes are likely to be a component of this, often at leading business schools in the UK or indeed worldwide.

There is a wide range of different types of programmes and it is the role of the HRD team, in consultation with line managers, to select an appropriate course for international staff. Organisations are very involved in decisions around the design and delivery of executive programmes and usually opt for a modular and multi-site approach, with inter-modular projects and designated facilitator to integrate learning into the organisation. Effective development approaches are likely to include, a range of formal programmes, action learning, international assignments, coaching and mentoring and knowledge sharing all linking into broader organisational and career objectives for employees. See our coaching and mentoring factsheet.

Books and reports

BREWSTER, C., HOULDSWORTH, E., SPARROW, P. and VERNON, G. (2016) International human resource management. 4th ed. London: Charted Institute of Personnel and Development. Chapter 16: Integrating global HRM practices.

MITCHELL, S. Talent beyond borders: an organisational guide to delivering the promise of global talent management [online]. DDI.

RENNIE, A. and McGEE, R. (2012) International human resource management. CIPD Toolkit. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

SHUZA, A., SCULLION, H. and COLLINGS, D. (2016) Talent management in Europe, In DICKMANN, M., BREWSTER, C. and SPARROW, P. (eds,) Contemporary HR issues in Europe. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

SPARROW, P., BREWSTER, C. and CHUNG, C. (2016) Globalizing human resource management. 2nd ed. London: Routledge. Chapter 6: Global talent management.

Visit the CIPD and Kogan Page Bookshop to see all our priced publications currently in print.

Journal articles

BURMAN, R. (2010) Best practices for integrating talent across cultures and geographies. Workspan. Vol 53, No 2, February. pp14-16,18-21.

COLLINGS, D.G. and MINBAEVA, D.B. (2013) Seven myths of global talent management. International Journal of Human Resource Management. Vol 24, No 9, May. pp1762-1776.

CREELMAN, D. (2014) Globalization and talent strategies. People & Strategy. Vol 37, No 3, Fall. pp36-39.

KRELL, E. (2011) The global talent mismatch. HR Magazine. Vol 56, No 6, June. pp68-73.

SEJEN, L. (2013) How to effectively manage a global workforce. Workspan. Vol 56, No 1, January. pp27-30.

WOODS, D, (2011) Global talent management: how do you build an international talent pipeline? [online]HR Magazine. 23 June.

CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.

Members and People Management subscribers can see articles on the People Management website.

This factsheet was last updated by CIPD staff.

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