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How to best leverage expats for a competitive advantage

Global Trends Event

David Collings gives insight on the interconnection of talent management and global mobility at the International Executive Roundtable.

Have you ever thought about taking an international assignment with your organization? It may not be as beneficial as you think. Between 20-30 percent of people who take international assignments leave the company within two years of returning back to the US.

David Collings, PhD, Professor of Human Resource Management and Associate Dean for Research at Dublin City University Business School shared how organizations must improve and integrate their talent management strategy with their global mobility strategy.

Collings spoke at the last International Executive Roundtable, which is a series hosted by the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), where top international executives and government officials share international components of their field with faculty from various Colorado institutions.

Named one of the 25 Most Influential Thinkers in Human Resource Management globally by HR Magazine for the past four years, Collings is known as an expert in all things global mobility, talent management, and the interconnection of the two.

What is talent management?

The majority of employees of an organization would say that talent management is important, but only 30-50 percent could tell you how their company implements it. Most CEOs define talent management as leadership succession. However, Collings argues this is too narrow of a view.

Collings noted that organizations realize the importance of talent management, but “80 percent of organizations say that their talent management programs and policies need an overhaul.”

 “80 percent of organizations say that their talent management programs and policies need an overhaul.”

 Collings defined strategic talent management in three steps:

  1. Continuously identify the key positions that contribute to the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage
  2. Develop a talent pool to fill these key positions
  3. Create an HR architecture in charge of filling these positions and ensuring employees’ continued commitment to the organization

How to build a talent pool

Building a strategy around talent management means organizations need to focus on building a talent pool. But how exactly?

  1. Identify your talent
  2. Create a leadership succession plan
  3. Invest in a training program for top talent

First, organizations need to identify employees with two qualities: high performing and leadership potential.

Companies have to work harder than ever to retain talent, since the norm is for people to move from job to job. Along the same vein, it’s more important than ever to have a fluid leadership succession plan in place. This plan ensures the organization will operate efficiently even with a high turnover rate. It also contributes to employee loyalty, if employees believe their efforts are likely to be rewarded with a promotion.

To combat turnover, Collings stresses how important it is that companies do whatever they can to keep their employees. One way to accomplish this goal is by providing high performing individuals with better training. Collings stated, “It pays to invest in people. This is fundamental to the success of your organization.”

 “It pays to invest in people. This is fundamental to the success of your organization.”

Connecting talent management to global mobility

Creating a talent pool is vital to successfully integrating global mobility into an organization. Organizations aren’t successfully placing the right people in the right global positions.

Collings’ research shows that in most organizations, there are two reasons why global mobility isn’t giving them the competitive advantage it should:

  1. Choosing the wrong people for placements
  2. Not properly reintegrating those returning from international assignments

When selecting talent for these overseas assignments, companies are tasking tax professionals with these decisions. However, tax professionals make placement decisions based on regulations and legislation, instead of choosing the best person for the role.

The second issue arises when these expats come back from their assignments. Collings argues that the majority of people sent on international assignments are the best performing employees. However, once these individuals return home, they often are forgotten about and have little to no work. Sometimes their colleagues are promoted while they are away, and they come back to a position of little importance, especially when you compare it to their leadership roles overseas.

Collings recommends that when organizations send employees overseas, they need to create a plan for the return of the individual, whether that be a promotion or having more responsibilities compared to their current position.

By connecting talent management and global mobility strategies, companies will be able to leverage their talent in these overseas positions and gain the benefits associated with global mobility.

 The benefits of global mobility

These international assignments have a strong advantage, and placing people in the right positions is very important. For example, organizations with management teams with international experience are more likely to diversify their operations internationally to form alliances. And research shows that firms with CEOs that have had international experience perform better.

Firms with CEOs that have had international experience perform better.

From a global mindset, international experience is hugely valuable to an organization. Having that experience develops employee skillsets to lead in a global context.

In his talk, Collings identified the tangible and intangible ways in why an international experience is so important:

  • Facilitates global integration and local responsiveness
  • Positively affects executives’ cognitive structures, skills, knowledge and competencies
  • Facilitates knowledge of international markets and reduces uncertainty
  • Increases exposure to different value systems, languages, and institutional environments
  • Gives access to a broader external network and relational capital with foreign stakeholders

As the world continues to become more connected, international experience continues to add value to organizations. In fact, 43 percent of organizations plan to increase international assignments in the near future. Shorter international assignments and rotational assignments are trending.

43 percent of organizations plan to increase international assignments in the near future.

The benefits of aligning talent management needs with global mobility are becoming too strong for companies to ignore much longer. The key is to create a plan that makes sense for both the initial selection process and the reintegration process.

Home to the Center of International Business Education and Research (CIBER), the CU Denver Business School advances the knowledge of international business through events, partnerships, and programming for faculty, staff, and the business community.