Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cross-border Learning and Talent in Europe


Whether it’s a talent strategy, management process or a solution, what does cross-European or global deployment really mean?

Does it mean responding to the diversity of peoples and cultures in different countries and businesses or the imposition on of a single overarching and mandated approach for all?  Does it mean single, homogenous processes or the provision of frameworks that allow local organisations to flourish?  And what is the fine line that separates them?  And makes them efficient and effective?

The sad fact for many strategic Learning and Talent initiatives is that they are focused on homogenised, mono cultures and standardised approaches rather than the realities and needs or different geographies and market maturities.  The common response to diversity is not differentiation – but to drive conformity.  The problem is that this conformity may not just be inappropriate, it may be illegal - for example if it breaks German Workers Council rules or French regulatory reporting requirements. 

Also, do you really need mature bureaucratic processes,  when part of the company you are servicing is effectively a “start-up”?  Whilst they might be right for a mature business, they could just be the thing that stifles growth for an embryonic new part of your business. This is one of the biggest challenges for the delivery of cross-organisational talent strategies.

How do you enable businesses in a way that is focussed on their operating realities, but get the efficiencies of a standardised approach?  How do you impose symmetry and consistency onto an inconsistent and asymmetrical world?  Even though HR often tries, is it even possible? 

A good example, of this is the instigation of a global, HR shared services operations as part of the Ulrich Model.  Many global HR operations use this model as their foundation and the creation of central, single processing model for HR transactions – serviced within a global HR shared services group. 

Whilst this may be all well and good for controlling the costs associated with managing HR, and be the dominant received wisdom for how HR operates; blindly following this approach, especially on a cross-European or global basis can drive some very dubious decisions.  Top of the tree for this is Performance Management.  HR frequently instigates annual appraisal processes that feed bonus payments and compensation and rewards.  A standardised approach, with one size fits all.  But the nature of those processes is often frequently at odds with the speed of business – you only have to look at sales targets and structures needed to support dynamic and fast moving sales cycles. 

So why wouldn’t you look to create differentiated approaches for other groups too? The answer has been partly because the service model and supporting systems are unable to support the necessary diversity of process and approach. 

In recent years things have changed significantly.  Solutions have become much more configurable and more flexible – without needing high costs of external consultants to set things up for you.  But the legacy view of ERP-style HR systems runs deep reinforcing the desire from some (often IT) for mono-answers to Talent and Learning questions, deployed globally. Whilst these stagnant approaches are deeply entrenched in the corporate psyche, we will continue to need to ask:

  • Why do pan-European projects fail to engage local audiences effectively?
  • Why do so few global companies really build effective cross-geography learning and talent deployment strategies that can deal with multiple languages, legal and cultural differences?
  • How can local business driven and the centralised learning and talent needs really be accommodated by philosophies and systems that champion cost efficiency at the cost of effectiveness.
  • Where the answers to these questions remain unsatisfactorily, the proliferation of local or departmental solutions rather than true cross-organisational solutions will continue to be a huge issue.

David Wilson, Elearnity’s founder and Managing Director, will be discussing Elearnity’s research on the realities and strategies for cross-European Talent and Learning at a webinar with NetDimensions on June 26th at 2pm BST. Click here for registration.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

David, an interesting observation that the rhetoric of international learning and talent programs does not always match the reality. As my colleague Tarik Taman recently observed, people see talent differently depending on where they are standing. At HQs they see the bigger picture, while at the local level, detail is all. Somewhere in between there is a solution, at least in part. As the extended enterprise continues to grow it will become more difficult for monolithic, centralized solutions to cover all employees. But it will also be increasingly important that at least some and probably most employees are touched by organizational learning and talent programs.