The tough world of international talent

Sciences Po is one of France’s leading educational establishments with several faculties placed in the world’s top ten. Its alumni bears testament to the prestige on the institution – the last four French presidents having studied within its four walls.

Last week York Associates Director Bob Dignen was invited to present on the topic of international leadership within ones of its Masters programmes, with the theme focused firmly on talent development. The war for talent has been much spoken about. Large corporates are well aware that they need to compete hard to attract the ever-diminishing number of smart talents out there. Yet the landscape of global corporate life is not an easy sell. Since 2008 and the financial crisis, the package on offer may still be attractive financially, but existentially, the corporate environment offered has settled into a paradigm characterised by four highly challenging dimensions, none of which can easily be marketed as attractive.

#1 Uncertainty

Few organisations today can be certain of very much. The volatility of the business environment means that few can be certain that what is done today will be done in quite the same way, if at all, tomorrow – and this from financial services to retail, from manufacturing to tourism etc. The constant upheaval and re-modelling which characterises so much of organisational life today is not the most obvious challenge with which to attract new talent.

#2 Complexity

For global organisations, working across economic, legal, political, cultural and time boundaries produces high levels of complexity, which only those who are both highly analytically excellent and emotionally excellent can bear. Why emotional intelligence? Complexity undermines planning; it slows down decision-making; it forces compromise etc. For young talents used to dominion over their worlds and achieving the best in as little time as possible, the risk of frustration and opt out is very real indeed. Yet young talents are schooled in analytical excellence and often lack the emotional tools to hang in with an environment in which they cannot easily thrive and shine.

#3 Paradox

I think the experience of most professionals I meet working in large corporates is one which can be termed ‘dysfunctional’. Most large organisations are underfunded and under-resourced to do what they want to do. Most large organisations are highly siloed entities with a lack of alignment of metrics and roles / responsibilities across global and local organisations. Most organisations want to be international but are led by individuals without the insight and commitment to drive internationality. Put simply, many large organisations don’t make sense, either to the existing staff or to the talents thinking to join them.

#4 Diversity

Diversity and inclusion specialists may try to tell you that diversity is an advantage. For most global corporates, it is a nightmare. Diversity of attitudes and beliefs about how to do business, combined with uneven levels of competences across international operations, to take just two key areas, make the ability to align efforts in a single direction a near impossibility much of the time. The global perspective of harmonisation and standardisation constantly battles with local view of customisation to specific markets. And which is right? Faced with high levels of diversity, the hope of empirical rightness diminishes in favour of belief; and we know what happens when beliefs collide – conflict, politics, people pulling in different directions … Does this sound familiar in your organisation? And does that sound like a place young talents want to work?

Charles Dickens wrote the novel ‘Bleak House’ over one hundred and fifty years ago to describe the state of society in Victorian Britain. It’s a sign which could easily hang in the entrance halls of many large corporates today as a warning to those young, idealistic and passionate looking for a place to unleash their talent on the world.

Stay informed