Thought Leaders Focus on Managing a Global Workforce

By Kathy Gurchiek and Nancy Davis Oct 4, 2012
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PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.—The global competition for talent, and how organizations can find, support and build on that talent, was the focus of the 2012 SHRM Foundation Thought Leaders Retreat here Oct. 2.

The invitation-only, one-day event brought together more than 100 top-level HR executives and CEOs to hear insights from David Arkless, president, corporate & government affairs, at Manpower Group; Paula Caligiuri, Ph.D., professor of HR management at Rutgers University; and Rohit Bhargava, senior vice president, global strategy & planning, at Ogilvy.

With a projected dramatic increase in the global movement of talent, “no one is more prepared to lead this revolution than HR professionals,” said Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, CPA, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

“Global migration is a concept we take for granted today, but one of the hardest lessons for corporate America to embrace,” he told attendees in opening remarks.

“Insights can come from anywhere and any person at any time, and the global competition for talent is the result.”

He pointed to recent findings from PricewaterhouseCoopers showing that the global movement of talent increased 25 percent in the last decade. The consulting firm projects that proportion will increase dramatically in the future, Jackson noted, adding that global competition for skilled talent, education gaps and the struggle to keep workers engaged present challenges and opportunities.

Jackson said a survey of attendees by SHRM Foundation leaders found that their most vital human capital issues are workforce planning/developing a workforce model, leadership development, and securing needed talent.

The policies of politicians closing their countries’ borders to skilled workers at a time when millions of jobs go unfilled must end, Arkless said during his remarks.

Just as employers lose skilled workers to retirement, “Stupid European politicians are closing their borders to skilled workers. Sound familiar?” he asked. “Please get your politicians to stop closing borders to skilled workers, really smart people who can help make the future of your economy.”

Change Is Coming

Arkless also spoke of “an era of transformation.”

Despite the tolls on HR professionals from threats ranging from cybersecurity to an aging workforce to global social unrest, “we’re now facing an era of transformation with business models redesigned, value propositions redesigned and social systems redesigned,” he said.

Among the drivers of change Arkless identified:

  • The increasing global life spans that extend careers.
  • Smart machines that alleviate the burden of rote tasks.
  • Super-structured organizations that must compete with entities of all sizes in a globally connected world.
  • The increasing importance of values in work and society.

He also lauded the growing roles for women, particularly in Arab and Islamic countries.

To operate in a global economy, he told HR professionals, “You have to understand geopolitics and the dysfunction of the labor markets. Then you stand half a chance of putting together a global strategy for your organization.”

Every country and company has to have access to sufficient finance, an infrastructure, energy, communication, a favorable business climate and a workforce with relevant skills. Rating the U.S. on those factors today, Arkless said he would give it a “C-minus-minus.”

Working with Cultural Agility

Caligiuri, author of Cultural Agility: Building a Pipeline of Successful Global Professionals (Jossey-Bass, 2012), defined cultural agility as a person’s ability to work quickly, comfortably and effectively in different cultures and with people from different cultures.

Building a pipeline of that talent is an HR team effort, she noted, and includes recruitment, talent assessment, talent development and global mobility. One way to fill that pipeline, she said, is “to source talent a little more creatively.”

Consider people who have international experience, such as Peace Corps volunteers or Brigham Young University graduates. The latter tend to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who typically go on overseas missions.

Other suggestions:

  • Use recruitment materials that emphasize your organization’s interest in global work. An ad Apple used included a line that “changing the world was part of the job description.”
  • Select for foreign language skills—even if the languages are not ones the organization needs—because it shows a facility for language.
  • Select for self-initiated cross-cultural experiences. It illustrates the ability for divergent thinking.
  • Look at a job candidate’s life decisions—personal travel, college majors, clubs—and if they point to an international orientation.

Additionally, an organization can develop cross-cultural competence among its employees in a variety of ways, such as working on global teams, cross-national mentoring, enhanced business travel that builds in additional time in-country and international volunteerism programs.

Likeability Can Lead to Success

The retreat ended with dinner and remarks from Bhargava. He is author of Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action (Wiley, 2012), which he explained is about “bringing more humanity back to business.”

He said he first realized the advantage of likeability when he was an intern at an Atlanta public relations firm, where a publicist who liked him made him a “runner.” The job required him to have a car nearby, which led to possessing a coveted parking space.

He credited this perk, and many types of business results, with the ability to forge personal relationships.

As in the advertising business, “We win and lose pitches not based on the idea but on team chemistry,” he said. “Likeability is the real secret of being more trusted. It’s the reason why some ideas succeed and some don’t, and it’s not about counting ‘likes’ on Facebook.

“The simple truth is that we build relationships and do business based on who we like,” he said. Likeability, he added, improves with TRUST—truth, relevance, unselfishness, simplicity and timing.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. Nancy Davis is editor of HR Magazine.

Related Articles:

Aaron Dignan: Games Can Engage, Educate Employees, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Connect with Employees: Tell Your Story, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Here’s What You, Too, Can Do with a Floppy Chicken, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Thought Leaders Forecast 2020 Workplace, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Corporate Leaders Urged to Be ‘Intrapreneurs,’ Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

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