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Michael Dickmann

Cranfield University

Professor of International Human Resource Management, Director of the Masters in Management

Read more about Michael Dickmann

Winning the war for global talent: how to improve your employee value proposition


A recent survey of global mobility (GM) professionals around the world has revealed that most multinationals are struggling to attract the right candidates.

For all sorts of reasons, employees are unwilling to relocate, which can cause skills shortages and other problems for organisations.

The RES Forum’s latest report, Working Towards Top Class Global Mobility explains that getting the employee value proposition right is key to solving this issue.

In this article, we’ll offer some key insights and tips to achieve this.

Creating an attractive global employee value proposition

For employees to choose to work in an organisation, the EVP must be meaningful and attractive. It must be unique, non-substitutable and difficult to copy.

Global organisations that want to win the war for talent need a compelling global EVP.

Generally, a global EVP should be part of the overall EVP of an organisation and should attract the wide population groups that firms want to expatriate.

Most of the firms that we surveyed indicated a shortage of assignment candidates, demonstrating that most multinationals need to improve the attractiveness of their global mobility programmes.

Individuals must find the global employee value proposition compelling

We’re all aware of the psychological contract, which captures the exchange relationship between organisations and individuals – i.e. the mutual promises and expectations on either side.

Candidates for international work assess their work in the same way, balancing their inputs (i.e. their efforts at work, flexibility in terms of life disruptions, family issues, risks, etc.) against the expected outputs (remuneration, development, career, cultural and other experiences, etc.).

Organisations must be mindful of this and ensure that their EVP addresses these things in order to make them attractive to candidates.

Focus on all four areas of SAFE global mobility

The SAFE model (smart, agile, flawless and efficient) illustrated above was developed by Michael Dickmann.

Organisations need to think about their global mobility holistically, which makes the SAFE model so powerful, as it captures the key strategic and operational aspects of GM work.

It covers the wide aspects of the inputs, mechanisms and results of GM as individuals experience them.

Within the SAFE model there are four areas: strategic advisor, global talent manager, GM programme designer and global people effectiveness expert.

These provide touch points for global assignees and those who consider international work in any shape.

Within each of these four areas the EVP has four segments: organisational and individual as well as tangible and intangible elements.

Incorporating intangible aspects shows the complexity of the GM challenges and a systematic analysis allows a variety of potential strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to emerge.

Here, we’ll discuss the organisational perspective followed by individual insights.

Managing tangible organisational aspects of the employee value proposition

Tangible global talent management (GTM) is influenced by both talent management specialists and GM professionals in an organisation.

GTM strategies, policies and practices need to be formulated so that they are appealing to GM candidates and assignees. They also need to be perceived as fair across different employee categories and consistent over time.

Global mobility strategies to manage global talent management:

  • Devise/coordinate a GTM approach that ensures sufficient international talent for the organisation to thrive in the highly competitive global market. This means that mechanisms are built into GTM that allow individuals to acquire learning agility, global business acumen and cultural understanding.
  • Construct meaningful global careers that satisfy the talent pipeline and succession demands of the organisation.  

Global mobility policies and practices to manage global talent management:

  • Integrate GTM and careers into overall talent and career planning: devising integrated systems with talent mentors, as well as shadow or global career planning in combination with career sponsors, is associated with superior career, succession and performance data.
  • Plan repatriation a long time before the move and engage in long-term developmental planning for high potential candidates. Structured policies and practices can be implemented to reduce repatriate turnover and to increase the motivation of returnees.

Managing intangible, organisational aspects of the employee value proposition

Managing less tangible aspects of EVPs is highly important, as assignment candidates are likely to observe these aspects within organisations before they commit to work abroad.

Akin to organisational culture, these aspects can have a high influence on employees.

Global talent management reputation and successes:

  • Engineer rapid career success for global talent: a compelling global EVP clearly shows how internationally mobile staff benefit. One part of this is that GM is seen to be associated with career success. This is especially important for early and early-mid career professionals and can be a stronger global driver than money.
  • Retain repatriates: having invested substantially in GM it is critical to retain global workers over the long term, especially where assignments are geared to developmental or knowledge acquisition/transfer purposes.

Global talent management leadership:

  • Build learning-orientated home and host leaders: to strengthen GTM, it is important that support structures and supportive leaders aid assignees in their talent journeys and support the overall talent culture in the organisation.
  • Ensure flexible and focused cooperation between GM professionals, talent specialists and global (unit) leaders.

Managing tangible, individual aspects of the employee value proposition

There is a strong interplay between individual and organisational perspectives in the EVP. Where individuals desire things to happen, it is the organisation that may enable them.

At the same time, it is the firm that ‘offers’ individual assignees a specific deal that hopefully is attractive to them.

Individual global mobility purpose:

  • Develop professional and global capabilities: strongly linked to the reputation of organisational GTM, this is of paramount importance for company-sent assignees. Professional development is often the most important factor for individuals when deciding to accept an assignment.
  • Advance global careers: global assignments are associated with stronger career progression in many companies. This ‘pay off’ is extremely important to assignees.

Global mobility opportunities:

  • Master specific job/tasks abroad: the specific shape and demands of a job abroad are highly important for the perceived attractiveness of accepting the role. While some people seek big challenges, it has been argued that a job that is relatively similar to the one that the candidate has ‘at home’ often seems more manageable to them and is good for adjustment and performance.
  • Use learning on the job in diverse contexts: making clear exactly how cultural learning and increased global business understanding is beneficial for individuals and their ongoing careers would increase the attractiveness of assignments.

Managing intangible, individual aspects of the employee value proposition

Intangible individual elements have become much more important for individuals as the war for talent has intensified and as the expectations of younger professionals have changed towards self-fulfillment, self-actualisation and a purpose at work.

Valued global mobility experience:

  • Enable authenticity within a clear role: millennials and early/mid-career professionals increasingly seek authenticity in order to value their GM experience more highly.
  • Increase the feeling of purpose: where employees identify with the vision and purpose of the organisation, this is beneficial for their engagement and commitment. Younger workers are seen to be more purpose-driven and identifying a positive individual or organisational purpose associated with the work abroad will strengthen the case for the assignment.

Social system embeddedness:

  • Support valued family experiences abroad: amongst the intangible factors are those that relate to how an assignee’s family lives and interacts abroad and how these experiences are evaluated. Drawing up lists of cultural, natural or learning experiences in a location and giving opportunities to engage in these can help.
  • Encourage international and local friendships: encouraging host teams and their families to interact in an open, friendly and supportive way with assignees and their families is likely to increase positive outcomes. Enabling assignees to meet with locals, e.g. by sponsoring membership of local clubs, may increase the chance of contact, mutual understanding and friendships.

Winning the war for talent

Given that most organisations indicate a significant shortage of candidates willing to take international assignments, global organisations that want to win the war for talent need a compelling global EVP to improve the attractiveness of their global mobility programmes.

Only then will they start to see their GM programmes as a differentiator, compelling candidates to choose their organisation over those of their competitors.

This article was co-authored by Michael Dickmann, Professor of International HRM at Cranfield University School of Management and strategic adviser to the RES Forum, and David Enser, co-founder and Head of Cross-Border Employment and Reward Innovation at the RES Forum.

Author Profile Picture
Michael Dickmann

Professor of International Human Resource Management, Director of the Masters in Management

Read more from Michael Dickmann

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