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The Challenge of Balancing Local Expertise with Best Fit

Nick Greenston

To review the original article click here 4th Jan 2018

The digitalisation of organisations and interconnectivity of the global market has led to more companies than ever working internationally. Crucial to the success of these enterprises is locating the correct talent to drive business forward in new markets. But are selections being marred by an over-reliance on local knowledge? Could assumptions that this a key attribute to success mean that organisations are falling behind in the war for talent? And the war is raging as noted in my previous blogs here.

Years ago, the first real wave of international companies did not tend to acknowledge local culture as overtly influential to business success, but nowadays this is a completely different conversation. In fact, I would even argue that there can be a tendency towards placing those with local expertise in top roles, regardless of whether they are the absolute best fit for the job. We know that local knowledge is essential, but also that it can be taught – possibly more easily than core competencies. So should we not also be focusing on other attributes when selecting these key leaders?

Although, at first glance, it may seem that businesses may be at a disadvantage in a new market if not headed by someone with strong knowledge of the local community, this is not necessarily the case. It is true that every country and culture carries different mannerisms, traditions, preferences and customs – and that this is reflected in many global companies’ international branding. For example, both the cuisine and ambiance of McDonald’s restaurants varies between countries – think wine and table service in France and local spices in India – making it a spectacularly popular and successful enterprise across the globe. Yet one thing it definitely does not lose, despite incorporating local culture, is the distinct spirit McDonald’s embodies.

A candidate who is the best fit will live and breathe a company culture, whether or not they are a local. In this way, it is only logical that someone with fitting credentials for a leadership position should be able to prove themselves, taking on the extra burden of operating in a new market with enthusiasm – almost like a way of internationally growing one’s own talent. Opting for a local candidate can be just as successful, but they must also display upfront all of the necessary business knowledge and company culture-related characteristics otherwise they will arguably not be the best fit and could hold the organisation back from future successes.

So what does this mean for talent acquisition, and business as a whole? It is crucial that the candidate fits both the role and company, and can then either be placed or found in the local market. Accepting a candidate merely because they are brimming with local expertise can even mean that organisations run the risk of being perceived as simply “ticking boxes” – much like some have suffered in cases of diversity. And with the damage this can inflict on both success and talent attraction, can businesses afford to do anything but get it right?

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