Despite the growing threat posed by the rising economic powers of China and India, Europe remains one of the wealthiest regions on the planet and, consequently, a key target for international businesses of all sizes. But any organisation seeking to build and maintain continent-wide operations faces significant human resource challenges.
Because of the sheer diversity of the nations that make up Europe, its cultural, legal and political bases are highly fragmented. Which means that, despite the advantages it would bring to any ambitious company, implementing a genuinely pan-European approach to talent management is proving a very daunting challenge.
Talent management at Telef??nica O2
One company that is taking the bull by the proverbial horns is the telecommunications giant, Telefónica O2, which has committed itself to a more consistent approach to talent management across several key European territories, namely the UK, Ireland, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Paul Peplow, head of talent management, Telefónica Europe:
“All of our markets across the continent are at different stages of development in terms of scale, complexity and customer loyalty, which means that we need to build as much flexibility into the workforce as possible so we can deploy skills and capabilities as they are needed. At the same time we believe that one of the key ways to attract and retain the very best people is to be able to offer them the widest range of opportunities. Which means being able to offer them opportunities right across the business rather than just in their local markets. However, the company’s history is one of individual national markets with their own attitudes to talent management. We believe we need to break this down and adopt a coherent approach to sourcing and developing people if we are to achieve our aim."
Cultivating international talent
Telefónica O2 has also been acutely aware that to achieve the goal of consistency, it will need to create new pools of talent that are inherently international in their outlook while providing the skills and capabilities necessary for the future and has consequently launched two major initiatives to make this happen.
The first is the European accelerated management career programme aimed at leaders just below the organisation’s executive level and one of the key criteria for inclusion in the programme will be a commitment to building an international career. The second is a new European graduate programme which commenced in the summer of 2010. Geared to graduates with an international outlook and strong language ability, it began with a relatively small intake of just 20 hires, but is set to expand significantly in 2011.
Aligning talent strategy to business objectives
Although Peplow is convinced that the project is a feasible one, he's quite open about the size of the challenge and the amount of time it will take to complete: “An undertaking of this size and complexity is never simple and it’s going to take time to get it right” he says. “I’m working on the basis that we’ve still got another three years of hard work in front of us and even after that we won’t be able to put our feet up and relax. The talent management perspective never stays the same and we will always need to be reviewing it to make sure it fits in with what’s happening in our commercial markets. However I’ve been very encouraged by the amount of buy-in we’ve had from line management which I think is due to the huge efforts we’ve made to understand what the business strategy is, both in terms of the big picture and the detail, and then align the talent management strategy to it. By doing this we’ve been able to show how essential it is that we achieve what we’ve set out to do.”
“We’ve also been able to win ‘hearts and minds’ by trying to create tools and processes that are enabling and guiding rather than prescriptive. We don’t lose sight of the fact that, while we might be looking for certain common qualities right across our operations, such as linguistic ability, geographical flexibility, international outlook and the like, we also understand the need for diversity and, perhaps most important of all that the best person for the task in hand should get the job.”