Every senior executive will experience it: that moment that you start talking seriously about that next move internally. We all know that once you get to the C-suite, moving up or around gets a lot harder. There is, by definition, not a lot of space to move at the top of the pyramid.
So while the move being contemplated is most likely not up, or at least not up – right away, it is more likely to be a sideways move. The executive mobility people like to call it professional development and it comes in many forms.
Some companies have this down to an art form. They create career paths for their top talent and move them around their organisations, enabling them to develop new competencies, new networks and most importantly, for international organisations, that global mindset so key to doing business today. Then when the upper echelon roles come open, these companies have a pool of mobile talent that are ready to make the move with the skill set to do the job.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t work in those kind of organisations.
Most companies, even the global ones, are centered on a geographical location. These companies tend to have a great product and usually have the mindset of “if you build it, they will come,” to take a phrase from an old Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams. Let’s look at what characterizes these type of companies:
- Senior management tend to be from that home geographical location and have rarely ventured out into the international locations.
- International assignments are considered risky.
- Those that venture out are handled with silk gloves and often return with haste.
- International talent are treated very differently when it comes to mobility and mobility in that group is sparse.
- The brand is often spoken of like the holy grail.
- Growth and returns in the international locations tend to be weaker than the “home” location.
- The top roles in any international location are almost always expats, with limited experience in the international location.
Anything seem wrong in the above? With international trade boundaries crumbling at an ever faster speed, this doesn’t seem like a wise approach, does it; yet it is followed more often than you would believe.
This begs the question: Why?
Why would successful companies not see the power of international talent diversity in the global world?
I think it often boils down to company culture, how strong the brand is and accepting mediocre international returns.
Company culture often dictates who we hire and who stays in an organisation. A strong French corporate culture will naturally mean that those people who reach into upper management need to be comfortable with the French culture. Those who aren’t, just won’t fit in. Often the local culture exerts a strong influence on the corporate one.
A strong brand means a deep pool of talent to draw from. People are naturally drawn to top brands. They make people aspire. A deep talent pool to draw from means you have to spend less time nurturing internal talent.
International returns can be mediocre if local returns are staggering. Strong brands in France usually have enough depth of penetration to keep producing strong returns and while the brand may be strong internationally, often poor international return is accepted because the international location is “complex to work in”, “difficult to penetrate”, “not mature enough”, etc. This is understandable as if nobody in the head office has really understood the international locations, these adjectives will always apply and nothing will ever really change, as things aren’t set up for them to change.
I believe companies in this situation can change. It just starts with a small step to invest in the future to change. And the rewards can be staggering.
Let’s come back now to the subject of this article and place our senior executive in an international location at a company we have just explained. We are asking that senior executive to come to France. To uproot her life and pack up her family to come here, to a country that she has worked with for years, but one with which she is not familiar. We say we appreciate that aspect. We tell her if she wants to keep growing in the organisation, she needs to resign from the international subsidiary and we will hire her here in France. We will pay for her move costs. That’s it. She is very reluctant as she has just invested in her primary residence and will have to keep paying money to keep it. I understand her point of view, but I can’t get my company to understand it.
They tell me she should be grateful for the offer to move to France. They tell me her taking a loss on her primary residence is a small price to pay to come to the head office and the opportunities it creates.
They tell me she has been performing in an outstanding manner so there should be no problem coming to France and continuing to perform in the same way. She has never lived in France and while she speaks the language she doesn’t really know the culture. Will she actually succeed? I’m not certain, unless we really help her.
If we create the right circumstances, both financially and psychologically and then admit to ourselves it will still be hard, then maybe she would have a better shot. If we give her a return ticket in 3 years, that takes the pressure of failure away.
Then maybe that way we start on the road to becoming a global organisation. It all starts with one step but we need to accept what we are and what we are not. Great journeys are accomplished by lots of little steps and it takes bold, visionary leaders to start the first step, no matter how inconsequential they might at first seem. I’m afraid my company isn’t ready to take that journey and I fear our international executive will ultimately leave the group. We haven’t yet accepted the power of global.
So if you are evaluating moving a senior executive, where does your company fit in? And if you are that senior executive asking himself/herself the question about a move, are you sure you know which way your company is walking?