Talent Management in the Nordics: Globalization on the Front Burner

This week I had the opportunity to speak about next-generation talent management at two events in Stockholm.  In this post I’d like to highlight some of the big talent challenges facing global businesses in the Nordic countries.

The Nordics are home to some of the world’s greatest businesses. We had Ericsson, Electrolux, Logica, A.P. Moeller Maersk, TeliaSonera, Statoil, UniCredit Group, Grundfos, IKEA, Volvo, UniCredit, as well as BT, Bertelsman, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers join us.

My presentation previewed our 2012 predictions (which will be released in a few weeks), so I covered a broad range of topics from talent markets to data science within HR, under the concept of “Building the Borderless Workplace”. What most of these leaders wanted to discuss is globalization, how they manage leadership, and how they are dealing with younger workers and the influx of technology in their organizations.

Three big themes:

1.  Glocalization (what we call “Global Localization”).  

These businesses are working very hard to build world-class globalization strategies.  Nordic and Scandinavian companies are global by nature:  they are headquartered in a small country and they build their businesses around the world.  So they have been dealing with the challenges and potential competitive advantage of building a “globally local” talent strategy around the world.  We are going to have a whole track on Glocalization at IMPACT 2012 – but for those of you in US-based companies this is one of the most important trends for the coming 3-5 years.  The way we hire, manage, lead, and retain people varies widely from country to country, but companies need to leverage global tools and best-practices.  The answer is a globally federated talent strategy – where corporate practices and tools are standardized, but many decisions are delegated locally. The key is defining that balance.

Note a “global business” is different from a “multi-national” business – the latter is simply a number of independent subsidiaries, each with their own business practices;  the former is an integrated global organization with a common culture but lots of local control.

AP Moeller Maersk, which is one of the world’s largest conglomerates, 40 businesses around the world, each of which is quite independent (shipping, oil, retailing, financial services).  But across these businesses there is a talent team which develops leaders, creates common performance management philosophies, and keeps compensation and rewards in alignment.  This is all tied together through a global culture and global mission statement, and the application of the Norwegian culture of “Jante Law.”  Jante Law states that the organization is greater than the individual, and people should act on behalf of the greater good.  Excellent values in a highly diverse global organization.

2.  Building Leadership.

These companies understand that leadership is their greatest asset.  And in complex global organizations it takes many years for leaders to develop. We had quite a number of debates about how to build great leaders – including the topic of when and whether you should bring in new leadership from the outside. Ericsson, for example, is trying to dramatically change its culture – drive a much higher level of innovation and market focus into the company. So the execs I spoke with were very focused on bringing in outside leadership. But most of the other companies we met with believe that they have lots of emerging leaders internally, and their focus is on building a strong common culture and set of values from which to find the high-potentials.

These organizations also understand that top leaders learn by having a wide variety of developmental experiences.  Bertelsman (which is a German company) asks all its high-potential leaders to take functional leadership roles in vastly different businesses as part of their general management development. They have a set of common business competencies they expect across all general managers, and underlying this are the values of creativity, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility. They set very high standards for leaders, and this has helped this company transform itself into a powerhouse in the new world of publishing and music.

3.  Informal and Continuous Learning and the Millenials.

The third theme which I found refreshing was a holistic understanding of the principles of informal and continuous learning. These companies are old organizations and many still have their original founders involved. In general most of the talent leaders I spoke clearly understand that “training” is only a small fraction of the total learning experience in their company. Most were very interested in our new Learning Culture tools and our new research on coaching as one of the most important elements of performance management. In Europe the role of Chief Learning Officer is alive and well, and most of these companies have high-level executives who focus exclusively on organizational development and capabilities – so it was refreshing to be able to move well beyond the “70-20-10” discussion and talk about how these companies develop people.

As part of that theme, we had many discussions about the emerging role of Millenials in the workforce.  As most of you know, worldwide demographics show that Generation X people (in their 30s) will rapidly be replaced by a huge number of millenials in the workforce.  These younger workers are more self-centered, focused on their own careers, and expect their organizations to develop them, challenge them, and meet them on their own terms. I had a wonderful conversation with a strong young leader at Electrolux who reminded me how important it is to be culturally open to a wide variety of working styles in the next-generation workforce around us.  We laughed about the fact that most millenial workers will use Facebook and text messaging instead of email, and that todays email culture will likely fade to be replaced by short text-based abbreviations in the coming years.

Some of these older organizations feel stymied by the values of younger people – but most agree that it is time to simply open our minds and create what we call the “borderless workplace” where people can work how and where they want – with coaching and guidance to succeed.

I left the week quite inspired by the level of professionalism, passion, and focus among talent and HR leaders in the companies we met with.  Europe may have economic and debt problems to overcome, but the focus on people and organizations is as strong as ever.