By Simon Mitchell, European Marketing Director and UK General Manager, global talent management consultancy DDI


The debate over whether the UK should leave the European Union rumbles on. On one side we have warnings about huge job losses, reduction of investment and transfer of operations that the UK leaving the EU would result in and on the other hand there are those that argue that a satisfactory exit could be negotiated and the gain would outweigh the pain. Whatever your position, what is certain is that financial services organisations must continue to adapt to working in an increasingly changeable, far less certain world.

What does this mean in reality? Many FS organisations don’t only have the domestic market to contend with. In a borderless commercial world, many have decided to take advantage of operating with economies of scale and servicing markets that span the globe. Global operations must navigate complex political and regulatory environments. Critical to operating successfully in the challenging and ambiguous world of today is the talent – the people – that the organisation is able to deploy. However much the world of business changes, it’s comforting to remember that people are still the number one differentiator for successfully performing businesses.

The oft quoted war for talent may have been in ceasefire in some parts of the world, but it has never gone away. Even though the past five years have been tough for parts of the sector, the hunt for highly skilled people has continued. And for many companies, the war for talent is played out globally. The challenge is not simply finding and attracting the people you need; DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2011 revealed that not only is there a shortfall of talented executive leaders, but that the success rates of these leaders also remains a concern.

Managing talent globally is complex and naturally includes putting a legal, economic and political lens on people decisions. The different employment laws governing each country have an impact on moving talent. They determine, for example, how long an expatriate may legally be in the country without requiring a work permit. But there are other, far more subtle, factors to consider. Data protection and intellectual property laws can vary enormously between countries. If a business is setting up a new enterprise in a region where data gathered on employees during the performance management or selection process cannot legally be removed from the country, then this has far-reaching implications. The corporate centre would essentially be blind to an entire part of the workforce. It is issues such as these that need to be understood to allow global talent management to function smoothly.


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Another key step in taking talent management global is to prepare managers and senior leaders to work in overseas markets. Leaders that can operate in overseas markets don’t just emerge, organisations must plan and deliver dedicated development to provide leaders with the skills to help them succeed in new roles. It’s not simply a matter of transferring someone from a London trading floor to one in the US. One of the key areas in which managers can benefit from development is in leading diverse teams. Diversity covers a number of areas, from gender to culture, age to skills; workforces are becoming increasingly varied. This means managers will be managing groups of people with very different backgrounds, skills and experience to their own. This can be a huge challenge but there is a solution.

Leaders have a crucial role to play. In the diverse teams of today there should be a common way of operating and a fundamental expectation of leadership. This isn’t about processes and systems, but more about a shared way of interacting with each other. It’s said that people don’t leave a company, they leave a manager – and what the manager does, says and how they act is how the rest of the team will follow.

Organisations can help their employees find a common way of communicating, so whether they’re talking to a trader in Boston, or a manager in Beijing, the same leadership language will help foster effective communication. Leaders set the tone of communications, so it’s important that communications are consistent.

DDI has identified a core set of skills managers and leaders should master to help build effective and functional working relationships. Called the ‘Interaction Essentials’, they focus on what many believe are ‘soft skills’, but they can be some of the trickiest to master. While it may be easy to be positive in interactions with colleagues when everything is running smoothly, in times of stress – which many in the FS sector experience often – relationships can be the first things to go.

The Interaction Essentials are:

  • Maintaining self-esteem
  • Creating empathy
  • Encouraging involvement
  • Building trust
  • Encouraging ownership of objectives
  • Being skilled in the personal needs of the relationship between the manager and the team member

By mastering and using these skills in each interaction with all colleagues, leaders will help themselves have more positive interactions with people of any background, whether they are working in the Hong Kong office or the one in Dubai. These are business critical skills and research has shown that the most effective leaders are the ones who use them consistently. So there is much to be said for organisations ensuring that their people master these skills if they are looking to have a global operation.

And finally, when planning how to oversee their people globally, organisations will benefit from a healthy dose of realism about organisational culture; the distance from the head office is measured in more than mere miles. The parts of the business furthest away from the centre may have different priorities and different ways of working – no matter what diktats come down from above. The different parts of the business should be involved in creating a strategy for its people to ensure they buy into it, and have a part to play in it. The head office can work to decide what parts they are happy to let the remote offices take care of, and what parts of the people strategy they want to retain sight of. As FS companies continue to merge with, and acquire, other players in the industry, this is something that needs to be taken into account.

Planning a global strategy is not easy, but neither are the challenges insurmountable. By planning it while keeping one eye on legal, economic and political factors, by equipping leaders with the interaction skills necessary to manage diverse teams and by taking into account the different needs of the business in different parts of the world, organisations are already closer to making the most of their people. And in this global business world people make all the difference.