27 Apr Learning to swim in the global talent pool
Global trade has been around since the days of Marco Polo, if not well before. It started with goods – at first raw materials and then progressed to finished products. Next came financial capital. In more recent times, trade in services and increasingly labor and knowledge work have gone global. What’s different today from the past is the immense scale, scope and dynamism of global business. The perceived opportunities are vast but there are downsides as well, in particular the fear of many knowledge workers of losing their jobs to lower-paid counterparts in other countries.
Factory workers have faced this dilemma for many years, and now it’s the turn of knowledge workers. Advances in technology and dynamic business practices ensure that the movement of capital, goods, services and now knowledge work will only intensify in the years to come. The key issue is not whether to stop these forces, but how to best adjust to them to reap their advantages and minimize the downsides.
How’s the water?
There is no doubt that some are prospering in the global labor pool but others are struggling. A key attribute of the global market for knowledge workers is mobility – whether its workers moving to where the jobs are or the jobs migrating to where the workers are located. There are three key drivers of this phenomenon:
Commodization – Standardized components and processes have been well-established in the computer industry and many other manufacturing businesses. As standards and common components and processes spread it enabled manufacturing to move quickly and cheaply around the world. The same thing has been happening with all manner of services and knowledge work from the back-office to call centers and now technical and scientific work.
Componentization – Whether its products or services, many businesses are increasingly organized around well-defined sets of activities that can be pulled apart and reconfigured. This has helped to accelerate the movement of work around the world via outsourcing and captive operations. In theory, componentization means work will move to those parts of the world where talent is located that can do the job best at the most competitive cost.
Connection – With processes and activities spread around the world, connecting the dots becomes a critical activity. Much knowledge work is electronically enabled. Global communications are increasingly ubiquitous and cheap. Air travel makes it easier for workers and managers to physically move across national boundaries and time zones. These developments make it easier than ever to hire people in other countries, outsource work, and import workers. It also means having the ability to connect all these groups together and coordinate their activities on a global scale.
How to stay afloat
For better or worse, globalization of business and knowledge work is here to stay. A key challenge for many is how to avoid being stranded without a life preserver in the deep end of the global talent pool. I certainly don’t have the complete answer to this question, but in my view there are at least three things on which individual knowledge workers (and governments and companies as well) need to focus to survive and thrive in the world of global business.
Customers – Know those you serve
Everyone talks about this – so much so that it’s a cliché. But the hard truth is that anyone can be supplanted if they don’t develop and maintain deep knowledge about their customers and strong relationships with them. In the dynamic global market, customer knowledge becomes a key asset for standing out from the rest of the pack. This ‘customer intimacy’ requires making a commitment to continuous learning, relentless experimentation, unflinching risk taking, and rock- solid focus on the values, goals and interests of customers. None of this will be built easily or quickly. But for those who can develop in-depth understanding of their customers, the pay-off will come in the ability to always stay ahead of the competition in anticipating and responding to opportunities.
Competence – Know what you can do best
What can I really be good at? Sounds like a simple question but companies and knowledge workers often find it difficult to answer in a pragmatic way. It must however be addressed and understood in order to effectively compete in the global talent marketplace. The right mix of skills and the ability to deliver higher quality results is the only sure way to stay viable. This requires investment in learning and the development of skills and knowledge. Building experience and developing expertise and acumen is no mean feat. None of this is quick, easy or inexpensive. Companies, government, and individuals must work together to ensure that learning is not only a priority, but a reality, whether in our schools or in our workplaces. Governments and companies have a responsibility to provide ample learning opportunities, however individuals must be accountable for their own learning.
Collaboration – know how to work well with others
To be effective, knowledge workers must be open not closed to new ideas, new influences, and new people. Not exactly an easy thing to do when individuals, organizations and indeed entire countries feel overrun by outside forces. But success hinges on being able to work across geographies, cultures, businesses and organizations. Interestingly, many companies have cultures and management practices that inhibit collaboration both among internal staff and with outside parties. This must change. In the future, collaborative networks will become the norm of how companies operate. Knowledge workers with deep collaborative skills will have an edge whether as employees or service providers.
Staying in the swim
Customer intimacy, deep competence, and collaborative capability are key assets in competitive global markets. Individuals should strive to develop all three capabilities. If globalization delivers the growth that economists predict then it’s in the interests of governments and even companies to help them as much as possible. Because they are going to need all the talent they can get.
How is the growing global market affecting your job and the work that you do? Do you see it as a threat or opportunity? Please e-mail Tony DiRomualdo at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experiences and perspectives.
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