Successful companies are realizing that having the right people in place is essential to their international competitive position. Business today moves at a frenetic pace. Companies need skilled people to innovate, lead and execute on business strategy. Those that put talent at the forefront are poised to adapt to the ever-changing environment around them and grow globally.
Your firm can improve its competitive position by considering talent management as part of your growth strategy. Paul Vallée, the chief executive officer and founder of data firm Pythian, offers up his five top ways to make sure you have the skilled talent to grow internationally.
1. Make talent a central part of your growth strategy
As you’re looking ahead to the next six months or a year, preparing to target new markets or find new customers, consider who will implement your growth strategy.
What kind of technological skills are required to execute on a digital strategy, for example? Do you have the right brand managers to sell your product in other countries? With Canada’s jobless rate at a record low, finding and keeping people with the right skills is harder than ever. This means you have to make talent your top priority if you want to attract and keep the best executives, while your competitors seek to do the same.
When Vallée founded Pythian in Ottawa more than 20 years ago, access to talent was a number one consideration.
“In New York, at the time, media companies didn’t have tech teams,” says Vallée. “In the ‘90s they had creative talent, content producers, lawyers and specialists in things like global licensing. But there was really no enterprise technology in play.”
“But Ottawa was ripe with top tech talent.”
Early innovators like Nortel and JDS Uniphase had done a lot of the heavy work in the early part of the decade, recruiting programmers and specialists from across North America.
“Pythian, right from the beginning, was designed as an export business,” says Vallée. “We never tried to sell locally. But the people we needed to sell to our clients in the U.S. and elsewhere were here, in Canada. That was a key part of our vision to go global.”
2. Hire people with international experience
Employees with experience living and working outside of Canada bring with them a unique set of skills and qualities. They have language and cultural knowledge, helping them to understand diverse values in other countries. They understand nuances of international business transactions and niche market demands. People who’ve worked abroad often bring with them well-established international networks, which can help your firm at times of expansion.
In 2002, five years after Vallée first launched Pythian, a young employee in his company helped the firm expand its international reach.
“Marc Fielding had a versatile skill set,” says Vallée. “He knew India, having worked there for more than a year before he joined us.”
Following a quick online search, Vallée made contact with a local accounting firm in India. He and his colleague then flew over to meet them. Within a few weeks, they had secured the accountant, a contractor, a realtor, and recruited their first employee. Pythian India was established, which allowed the company to offer previously-unavailable 24/7 service delivery. Vallée dispatched his colleague from Ottawa to oversee the growth.
“I think it’s really important to have a delegate on secondment from your headquarters to establish a new location,” says Vallée. “We needed someone to anchor our technical resources in India.”
“Marc had a good mix of business and technical skills and was at a stage in his life with a certain fearlessness and was excited to go. He’d lived in India as an exchange student, so he knew the culture, he had some networks, and wasn’t intimidated.”
3. Understand what employees want
In such a competitive job market, Canadian firms are finding they have to stand out to recruit the top talent they want. Listening to what employees or potential employees are seeking goes a long way to establishing yourself as an employer of choice. More often than not, employers think money is the primary motivator. Today, however, employees are demanding much more than that – autonomy, flexibility and opportunities for career progression.
The onus is on employers to get creative around how they can create an environment that attracts the best talent.
Vallée has always been determined to position Pythian as top employer. An important element of that is listening to employees. An employee survey in 2005 helped him to recognize that his team were looking for more control over their work schedules.
“We were early adopters of offering remote work opportunities as part of talent acquisition,” says Vallée, who notes Pythian hired its first full-time work-from-home employee in 2005. “Now approximately three-quarters of our total delivery capability are individuals working from home.”
4. Search the globe for talent
Although the local talent pool may be shrinking, there is a wealth of opportunity to make great hires if you look outside of Canada. Digitization, free trade agreements and global trade generally have made talent recruitment borderless.
“I believe there is a shortage of talent in Ottawa, but there is not a shortage of talent globally if you can afford to pay Ottawa salaries,” says Vallée.
Vallée has been recruiting internationally since 2002, before professional websites like LinkedIn made it easy for firms to source specialized employees outside of Canada. With the right infrastructure in place, your international hires may never have to set foot in the country.
“When we first started recruiting globally, we spent a lot of time figuring out how to get people to relocate to Ottawa,” says Vallée. “That worked okay for a while. But the reality is, it’s a very difficult exercise to get people to move here.”
It wasn’t long before Vallée and his human resources team realized that, with advances in technology, geographical boundaries no longer needed to limit them in their search for top talent.
“We decided that the best way to get the talent we want is to let people continue to live where they’re already living. They’ve put down roots and don’t want to move. But they can still unlock the power of their talent, using Pythian as a vehicle for their careers,” says Vallée. “It’s a win-win.”
Mexico has long been a source of talent for Vallée’s company.
“The North American Free Trade Agreement allows a lot of people mobility that makes it easy to recruit there,” says Vallée.
But as the company, which has offices and clients globally, continues to expand internationally, Vallée is recruiting from some of the top English-speaking countries in the world, like Nigeria, Brazil, Jamaica and Pakistan.
“You have to look elsewhere for talent,” says Vallée. “Your Ottawa dollar – the $100K you think you have to spend – will go a lot further in other places and the globe is full of untapped talent.”
5. Create infrastructure to allow for flexible work arrangements
Hiring internationally and allowing people to work from wherever they have an internet connection sounds great in theory. But it does require some planning up front. To allow people to work autonomously requires having the infrastructure and processes in place that enable communication and accountability. Instant messaging, video conferencing and shared calendar capabilities are foundational communications tools. Establishing deadlines, work flow charts and frequent status meetings ensure employees are working toward a common goal.
“When everyone’s in the same office, there’s all kinds of little short cuts people adopt that make it harder for you to fully adopt and enforce an inclusive global communications strategy,” says Vallée, noting that even big decisions can get made by the water cooler when everyone’s in the same geographic space.
“If you want people to be effective off premises, you must have cultural practices in place to do that and the processes in place that allow people to work independently,” he says.
In its own push toward digitization, Pythian is developing a software platform that it hopes to implement and then put to market.
“In PythOS, we’re focused on the digital operating system of a business,” says Vallée. “We want to make sure we know what’s going on with all our employees, that they’re working together toward the right goals.”