Employers Need To Improve Long-Term Management of Global Talent

By J.J. Smith Jun 24, 2008

​CHICAGO—Employers need to do a better job of long-term talent management of expatriate employees if the companies expect to retain repatriated workers, according to HR professionals participating in a special discussion of global HR trends at SHRM’s 60th Annual Conference & Exposition held here June 21.

About 50 percent of companies do not discuss what an expat’s assignment will be upon return until six months before the assignment is scheduled to end, said Scott Sullivan, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for GMAC Global Relocation Services, at the discussion—“Ask the [Global] Experts”—held in the conference Global Lounge. About 30 percent of employers do not even have that discussion, he added.

Not surprisingly, employers that plan in advance what the employee’s next step is after the expat assignment, and that talk to assignees about what the company has planned “are more successful in retaining those expats,” said Sullivan, whose company surveys employers on global HR trends.

Lance Richards, SPHR, GPHR, senior director, international HR, Kelly Services, moderated the discussion. He cited research by The Boston Consulting Group and the World Federation of Personnel Management, which identified the top priorities among HR professionals globally. The top priorities are:

  • Managing talent.
  • Developing leaders.
  • Managing corporate social responsibility and sustainability.
  • Managing work life/balance.
  • Managing globalization.
  • Managing diversity.

Richards kept the focus of the discussion on talent management, global leadership and sustainability because “the talent wars” are now global.

The war for talent is constant, and it is becoming more difficult to retain employees once they have been trained, said Kenneth Somers, himself a U.S. expat; he’s vice president for Vanguard working in Japan and a SHRM Global Special Expertise Panel member.

Manjushree Badlani, SPHR and also a Global Panel member, agrees, saying there is a real need for strategies that “get people to stay with the organization and not to go off and sell their talent.”

International assignments can definitely be used as a career booster, and thereby motivate an employee to stay with a company, said Thomas Belker, SPHR, GPHR, and a Global Panel member and vice president for OBI Franchise Center, a German home improvement retailer. “For men or women, if they want to increase their chances of boosting their careers, you should go [on an] international experience, he said. However, while “it’s a good step [for an employee] to ‘go global,’ it’s not a sure thing,” he adds.

An audience member said women have to be more open to travel to other countries to advance their careers, especially those HR professionals who “want to be global practitioners,” she said. The opportunity to live in another country “was hands down the best thing I ever did,” she said. “If I did not have that [overseas] experience, for me to achieve a global-level condition would not be effective,” she said.

However, it might be difficult for some women to be offered an overseas assignment, said Miguel Olivas-Lujan, an educator at Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a Global Panel member. Research has shown there is a lot of resistance from a large amount of companies to sending women overseas, because the companies that are not offering women overseas assignments “are well meaning” and believe themselves to be acting paternalistically, he said. In addition, research shows “a lack of assertiveness by some of the women,” he said. Olivas-Lujan added that it was a female researcher who revealed that data, and it encourages women who want to go into this area to not “be shy” and not to be “afraid to going to a different countries.”

J.J. Smith is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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