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Think global, act local: The challenges of expanding internationally

Jon Phillips, head of resourcing solutions at Talentmark

Globalisation continues to be a natural step for growing companies. However, businesses looking to recruit internationally face cross-border competition for leading talent that makes speedy, seamless, and informed approaches to talent acquisition more vital than ever.

The most crucial element of any kind of expansion is ensuring that you have the right team in place to drive the business forward. Regardless of the industry you operate in, it’s your people that will either make or break an organisation during any period of growth or transformation. In the words of Jim Collins: “Get the right people on the bus, in the right seats, then decide together where to go”. “Who” first, then “Where”.

Talentmark has worked with a number of businesses, from big pharma through to biotech start-ups. Regardless of scale, the challenges these organisations face when opening new offices overseas are very much the same.

Take external advice

There are so many factors at play in globalising a business, such as legal and regulatory issues and local employment laws. Any good recruitment partner will have been through this kind of exercise many times, so businesses should fully take advantage of that experience. While some organisations take the costly move of hiring external management consultants, there is a lot of expertise within talent acquisition partners which can be tapped into.

I recently worked with a US-based biopharmaceutical business; a relatively small team of 10, and they were gearing up for a key product launch in Europe. However, they did not have a European base. It was down to Talentmark to ensure they had the right talent in place, at the right time. More than that, we guided them on frameworks – from both a regulatory and practical perspective – that would enable a successful move into Europe.

Our first hires were four country medical directors who focused on their specific country requirements and, working together, we enabled them to build a team that had the right skills and cultural fit.

It took us around eight months to complete the full team build and at the end of that period, once the company had successfully set up in Europe, the share price had risen by 400%: Proof that installing a team efficiently and quickly can reap considerable rewards – coupled with a fantastic product, of course!

Be decisive

Delays in decision making can be highly detrimental. The most successful expansions happen when the teams driving it forwards are decisive. With a recruitment partner in situ, businesses should establish an internal working group that can take autonomy for the project. Empower them to take immediate actions, without the inevitable delay of a secondary reporting line. Include senior leadership people from different functions (e.g. HR, finance, IT, legal) to ensure all perspectives are included; this will ensure greater confidence in making key decisions.

Some of the trickier decisions which companies face include whether to relocate existing employees or hire locally; most end up doing a combination of both: It’s helpful to have someone heavily involved who knows the company intimately and can ensure continuity of business practices and values, but at the same time, local market knowledge is invaluable and bringing in a fresh perspective is always helpful in times of change.

Flexibility is key

Firms looking to establish themselves overseas need to be mindful of the variations in approach that successful talent acquisition necessitates. Each country has its unique set of requirements when it comes to leadership qualities, skill sets and the overall working environment. A ‘one size fits all’ approach simply won’t work.

We have established partnerships with a number of companies who operate highly successful internal recruitment models within the UK, who have discovered that these models simply don’t translate overseas. Each country needs its own plan. That said, it’s equally important to ensure that the people you hire do have a shared set of values and priorities when it comes to building up the business: A fine balance to strike.

Avoiding culture shock

Just as operations differ from country to country, business cultures are equally diverse. For example, Japanese businesses are culturally worlds apart from, for example, the UK and without a thorough understanding of how things work in Japan, a British organisation would undoubtedly struggle. The Japanese tend to focus on building long-term relationships than one-off business opportunities, and this can be frustrating for ex-pats who are used to working in a more agile environment.

Businesses which are expanding need to spend time in their target countries, not only speaking to local experts but ideally networking with other organisations who have already been through a similar process. The more case studies and knowledge they can tap into, the better. Having this intelligence can mean the difference between succeeding and failing in a foreign market.

Local complexities

We are currently working with a UK pharma business, which is planning to launch a new product in Q3 this year. They identified that Germany was a key growth market for their particular type of drug. We advised on where their key sites should be and on where the various team components should be based. We also helped by walking them through some of the legal aspects; for example, in Germany, you need to establish a separate legal entity in order to operate lawfully. There are myriad of considerations from an operational perspective, from legal to taxation to payroll.

The current uncertainty around Brexit is adding an extra dimension of complexity at present. We are advising some expanding businesses to set up affiliates in either the Netherlands or Belgium, as a safety net. Of course, there may well be another political or economic tidal wave on the horizon, which brings me back to my initial point: taking external advice from an expert is essential; an expert who is fully tapped into market conditions. As soon as the idea of expansion is mooted, seek out your talent partner and build your internal team. With the right people behind the project in a timely manner, the chances of success are almost guaranteed…almost!

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