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Well-planned global talent management today will drive business advantage tomorrow

Meeting continually evolving talent management needs in an increasingly uncertain economic environment is a critical challenge for HR leaders today. For companies with global operations the challenge is even more acute given demographic and economic trends that differ in various regions of the world. These often competing local-market demands make it challenging to plan accurately for talent needs across global operations - yet this is one of the most critical HR functions that will set great companies apart over the next five years.

Effective talent management practices provide a roadmap for addressing pivotal global resourcing issues, and at the same time, can establish HR as a key driver of compelling business advantage tomorrow - but only if HR leaders make the right moves today.

A key first step is performing a rational, thorough analysis to make sure that your talent management planning process clearly aligns with the strategic and geographic needs of your business. For example, building a sales force to launch new products in India requires different HR solutions from succession planning in the UK or Japan.

Aligning the HR organisation with the business is critical to ensure that HR's initiatives drive the right business outcomes. Your CEO and top leaders need to see a clear and direct connection between the company's growth drivers and HR's strategy.

Second, corporate HR functions need to establish the right HR governance practices to allow strategic talent management planning at both a global and local level. Key governance issues include determining those decisions and practices that will be handled globally, because they are core to the overall corporate identity; those handled locally, due to unique in-country factors; and those that will be shared to leverage benefits across divisions, areas or functions.

This crucial step results in clearly outlined roles and responsibilities for your worldwide HR team, and ensures accountability for the results. It also helps empower local-country business leaders to make decisions on local HR matters, just like they do with other aspects of the business. 

Locally, there are many ways to put this approach into practice, and maintain alignment with the business. For example, Abbott has a diverse portfolio of global businesses that operate independently in countries around the world. To drive HR decisions at the country level, we established business advisory councils (BACs) in 70 markets around the world, each consisting of local business leaders from the different operating divisions in the country. Similar to the process of deciding which governance practices would be global vs local, the BACs decide which practices will be consistent across all of the businesses in a country, and which will be unique to each individual business. 

Finally, companies need to develop tools and resources that allow corporate and local HR to work together on the deployment and development of the company's global workforce, both short and long term. For example, Abbott invested in the development of a proprietary tool called Global Human Capital Planning. This web-based technology analyses internal HR data, along with local/regional employment and demographic trend data, to help Abbott understand where the current and future talent gaps are around the world. This allows Abbott's global HR team to effectively collaborate with our local-country colleagues to prioritize, plan and be more efficient in our hiring. It also helps identify programmes and policies that impact retention, development, etc. Before this tool was available, talent forecasting was decentralised; now we look across borders, and more effectively plan for talent migration between countries, in alignment with both short and long-term business plans. 

This approach is already paying dividends in helping address key workforce needs in many markets. In one of our businesses in China with high turnover, the affiliate's previous organisation structure did not fit the growing needs of the business. We used the Global Human Capital Planning process to better understand what our people needs were going to be, now and in the future, to achieve Abbott's aggressive growth plans.  With an understanding of our current and future talent requirements, we looked at our HR programmes and policies, and the way we delivered them, and created a compelling and competitive employment offering to fit the needs of Abbott employees. Initial results are promising: turnover decreased dramatically in 2009, and our internal culture survey scores improved considerably.

With continued economic uncertainty and significant demographic and geographic shifts under way, it's more important than ever for HR leaders to prepare to address the unprecedented global workforce changes on the horizon. By implementing strategic global talent management practices today, HR leaders can begin to develop an effective, disciplined framework that will help address the key issues impacting the workplace - and help them win the battle for top talent.

Stephen Fussell is senior vice president, human resources for the global health care company, Abbott.

Keys to managing global talent needs

  • Ensure that HR strategy clearly aligns with the strategic and geographic needs of the business
  • Establish global HR governance practices that support global employment brand priorities while allowing flexibility at the local level
  • Invest in technology and processes that allow for more efficient global demand planning and collaboration