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When it comes to resourcing senior personnel in far-flung places, supply and demand dynamics and the supply of human capital for global companies are crucial components to success. Nigel Peters, Managing Director at Alium Partners, explains.

Managing personnel globally is an increasing requirement for companies particularly those still aiming at traditional double digit growth in a UK market that is at best demanding and at worst on the verge of a double dip recession. The trend continues that UK and European businesses are looking further afield in order to spread the risk, increase diversification and tap into the growth of economies such as those in Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC Countries). But operating with your senior workforce in far-flung places brings its own challenges and, like any change programme, a little careful thought and planning up front and aligning the demand to the supply, can ensure success; without it and your workforce will not achieve all that you would have hoped.

Demand for human capital in new geographic boundaries must be led by the business strategy and will be underpinned by market forces. The requirement could include a number of initiatives, including mergers and acquisitions and new market entry on the one hand to a response to high growth requiring additional capacity on the other, to the need for restructuring or reorganisation in a business already committed to a region. Given a demand, where do you look to find the answer? In the first instance, you must start by getting a clear understanding of the requirements.

A provider of high level executives will turn to its resourcing model in these circumstances and through this process will glean a thorough understanding of what ‘good’ looks like. By understanding the requirements fully, a well-considered placement can be made. The company will consider the skills and competencies required to deliver the project successfully by gaining a clear understanding of the outputs. Is this a growth requirement? Is it a transition and integration of a major acquisition in a complex environment? Is it driven by the need for more feet on the ground as the in-country resource is overstretched and lacking the capacity to drive success? Or could it be a burning platform which requires a unique skill set to drive forward a change or restructuring programme? All of these demands drive a very different type of human capital to deliver the desired outcomes.

One point in common though when using an interim resource in these circumstances is their ability to travel and live remotely. Most interims are used to the travel and living demands of operating in such circumstances and it is part of their DNA for undertaking such assignments. Whether they are operating in the UK at some distance from their home or an international flight away they are accustomed to managing the triangle of competing demands for their time with the client’s needs, the travel demands, and of course family and similar commitments – there is simply not enough hours in the week to meet all of these.

But before turning to a specialist provider of human capital, what about the in-house solution? First and foremost, always try to use an ‘in country’ resource wherever possible. It is by far the cheapest option in most cases and, importantly, locally based employees will understand the language, culture, structures and dynamics of the operating country. These cultural and language differences should not be underplayed. The approach needed to deliver success varies from geography to geography and there is no one size fits all. A lot of these dynamics are ‘soft factors’, and not easily represented on a CV where the tendency will be to see if the individual has experience of mergers and acquisitions under their belt or proven ability to deliver a change or transformation programme.

Whether the business uses an in-house capability or an external resource, still there is much to consider – it is not just the case of providing a one way ticket; some time spent in planning and preparation will always be well rewarded at this juncture. Hopefully, the selection of the individual has matched the requirement? They are used to the delivery required, but how can the HR team help to ensure the success of the project? Mostly by overcoming the challenges of the move so that individual can concentrate on the task in hand. The need for flights, accommodation and transport will all have to be considered. Visa requirements are not all as simple as a US ESTA and the queues of a foreign embassy visa department may well beckon. Have you considered the advice on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website? What about that really nasty outbreak of typhoid in the region? By taking away the stress of this phase it can allow the individual to operate quickly and effectively on arrival. Upon arrival in country, we take so much for granted nowadays, but sound planning can go a long way. How will the individual link back to the home headquarters? Is telephone, broadband and internet connectivity readily available? What happens in the event of an accident or other life threatening situation factor or a serious incident? Do your staff register their presence at the British Embassy; is it appropriate to do so? Can you repatriate them at short notice should the need arise? Again a professional services provider will implement a Quality Management Programme to regularly contact the individual and check on their welfare. It will ensure that they have the tools and resources to effectively complete the assignment for the client. Simple steps such as weekly conference calls and clear lines of reporting and governance will all add to the potential success of the venture. For a complex assignment an underpinning programme office may well be worthy of investment as part of the business case.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence is a major deliverer of personnel abroad, often to harsh and demanding regions. But the Ministry has been undertaking this remit for centuries and their planning systems are honed to ensure all of the factors above are met. They will ensure that personnel are correctly kitted for their new environment, health risk assessments are prepared that will then ensure that vaccinations and other medical challenges are considered. Families are briefed and wills are signed. Cascade systems are established so that contact with families and next of kin can be readily contacted at pace. Support systems are put in place for the families. Individuals will undertake specialist training and acclimatisation that will consider everything from language, to cultural demands and to climatic conditions. Of note, the same is also true upon their return and it is not assumed that their personnel can automatically and quickly adapt back into their operating environment, so decompression centres are established to ease personnel back into the demands of a UK society that could be very different.

In the private sector, best practice also breeds good results. Tate & Lyle, a recent re-entrant into the FTSE 100, a global ingredient provider to the food, beverage and other industries has now divested much of its portfolio under the leadership of Chief Executive Javed Ahmed, as part of their “focus, fix, grow” strategy. The company is currently undergoing a significant business transformation as it works towards the establishment of a global shared services centre in Eastern Europe and the implementation of a global Enterprise Resource Platform (ERP) platform with the concomitant re-engineering of its core processes.

This scale of change and transformation has brought with it the need to bring in affordable external resources that quickly staff up the change programmes. Working with us, they have quickly established a large team of highly experienced senior interim executives with the specialist skills to deliver change effectively and quickly. In this instance they had a clear vision of the requirements and an understanding of what good likes like but did not have the in-house expertise or capacity to cope with a change of this magnitude, complexity and geographic spread. However, by compiling a team of both Tate & Lyle employees and external senior change leaders in specialist areas such as supply chain management, shared service centre and ERP implementation, they have created the wherewithal to drive benefits on a global scale.

This unique mix of resources fully-integrated and carefully planned as part of a transformational programme is proving very effective. Rob Luijten, Executive Vice President, Human Resources said: “While the project is still on-going, we could not have compiled a team of this scale, complexity and talent without specialist external resources. The team has hit the ground running and brought us skills and capacity that we did not have in-house. The team is operating in diverse locations as far afield as Decatur in the USA’s corn belt region to Poland and the UK. An important part of the project team in Tate & Lyle has been the establishment of a dedicated organisational change management team with sufficient HR resources to consider many of the soft people factors above.”

In sum, when managing senior personnel globally, it is vital to always understand the task in hand, clearly identify the requirements and only then to match the supply of human capital to these requirements. When standing up a team to operate remotely always try to use in- house or in-country in the first instance to maximise the understanding of the operating environment. Prepare your people fully for the challenge – don’t just let it happen as good planning will always pay dividends in the long run. Finally, don’t skimp on the change but invest in your most important asset – your people.

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