Universal battle for talent

Is there a strategic potential of global mobility?

3 key takeaways from this blog:

  • Talents need to be capable to be not only skilled but able to understand social and cultural changes to be a part of global Talent Management processes.
  •  The strategic potential of global mobility confirms the movement from the focus on administrative work regarding relocation to a more strategic focus on delivering the best fit of expats-locals relation. 
  • The global talent management faces considerable challenges in implementing their strategies, while giving career development to the locals and the expats as well.       

The topic of global mobility and talent management has gained increasing attention in the last decade. Workforces around the world have become larger, increasingly diverse, more educated, and more mobile. (Briscoe, Schuler, & Claus, 2009). Local workers as such sometimes couldn’t provide a competitive weapon, and seeking expatriates as a precious resource appears to be the only choice. 

Local workers, as an extremely volatile category in the global context, dictate new challenges in the global mobility and talent management sector. The reality of the twenty-first century is that global mobility and talent management have become – and are likely to remain, more important than before.

We all are victims of the seismic shifts in the economy with the planned and deliberate movement of talent around the world through expatriate assignments. Consequently, the global talent management faces considerable challenges in implementing their strategies, while giving career development to the locals and the expats as well. 

Theoretical and empirical reviews

In the global economy, there is still a huge scarcity of theoretical and empirical literature. Global talent management is seen as a young field. There is still a debate in the literature about who the talents are, what HR needs to do to have a strategic approach to talented individuals etc.  

In general, we can recognize four perspectives in the literature on Talent Management:

The first perspective sees Talent Management as a modern concept of managing human resources. This perspective stated that all employees have talent. This is identified as an old wine in a new bottle. Work delivered only by local workers was not sustainable.

The second approach is more realistic. It establishes “talent pipelines” which will guarantee the present and upcoming amount of employee proficiency. This approach can be seen as planning for the future. 

The third approach is only focused on talented employees – high-performing workers. This approach also had its shortcomings. If talent management puts a huge focus on an individual or a small group of workers, it can cause negative consequences for the health of an organization. That may create a kind of environment that discourages teamwork and cooperative spirit (Mellahi & Collings, 2010). 

The fourth perspective changed the focus from people to those who need to learn. It views talent management as the strategic management of pivotal positions rather than pivotal people (Collings & Mellahi, 2009). The aim is to develop HR systems and processes and fulfill them with the right employees using integrated approaches that unify systems, processes and people (expats and locals) altogether.

In literature, a misalignment is also noticed between talent and business strategy (Cooke, Debi, & Wang, 2014), which needs to be more investigated. Early research shows that companies have three major purposes for using expatriates: first, to fill international positions when qualified locals are not available; second, for management development; and third, to help control, coordinate, and assist in the transfer of a firm’s culture (McNulty & De Cieri, 2016). 

There is the main question: will hiring expats improve domestic supplies of specialized talents? 


Before mentioning talent management, it is important to define who the talents are.  Definitions of talent are rapidly increasing. Ulrich suggested that it relates to the coalescence of capability, responsibility and augmentation. It also includes his or her ability to learn and grow (Schiemann, 2014). 

Most of the research in the area of talent management so far has been based on the idea of talent shortages (Collings & Mellahi, 2009). Talents need to be capable to be not only skilled but able to understand social and cultural changes to be a part of global Talent Management processes. They need to provide a unique source of competitive advantage. 

One talent or expatriate has to have superior performances so they could inquire about emulous benefits in the universal battle for talent. Some authors stated talent as a competitive weapon and a precious resource

There is a question: is fighting the war for talent dangerous for company’s health? 

Authors stated that the war for talent has reached negative consequences. Some of the negative consequences can be negative internal competition or demotivation of local workers. There is also a dilemma about who are talents in an organization.

Some scholars believe that only a few employees are talented (Becker, Huselid, & Beatty, 2009); others propose that every employee has specific talents that can be productively applied in an organization. Each worker has its own distinctive characteristics; also, the locals can be efficaciously engaged if expats provide adequate skill transfer and adequate global management support to the locals.

There has been evidence that some workers are perceived as companies’ assets and are more significant than others. 

According to all the above, all employees need to be considered potential talents. They all deserve to get equal professional development opportunities

Global mobility

Global mobility serves as a connection between global talent management and talent management. It is significant for the field of global staffing. It refers to international business traveling, rotational assignments, long-term assignments and short-term assignments (longer than a business trip, but less than a year). 

Over 35 years ago, Edstrom & Galbraith (1977) outlined three objectives of international assignments: 

(1) as a position filing where suitably qualified local talent was unavailable; 

(2) to facilitate the development of individual employees; 

(3) as a means of organizational development with a focus on the transfer of knowledge between subsidiaries and to sustain and modify the organizational structure and decision process. 

What can be the most effective talent management approach in the global relocation process according to the needs of local industry? Theories, in general, have encouraged debate on talent management, but without a particular view on local benefits. Much of the current debate revolves around global talent management without an introspective of local industry needs. 

In global mobility literature, the main focus is on expatriates. Locals are counted on to acquire new requests for global mobility. Then, the focus needs to be on the locals in the form of transferring the knowledge, as well. This is also highly important because of the international assignment purpose and the return on investment (ROI) in such types of relation/assignments.

According to all mentioned, today, the use of global mobility has become more strategic. Expatriation assignments and global talent strategies started to be more in focus in the global mobility literature. 

In less mature organizations, global mobility cannot be recognized as a strategic point. Mainly global mobility can be perceived as an operational department that is focused on managing relocated employees.

The academic field of global mobility has a key role in talent retention, recruitment strategy and the company’s global relations. In terms of a well-performing global mobility system, a company should have well-developed talent strategies and a clear view of what they want to achieve and where they want to go.

The connection between the global mobility system and HR is highly important. It will help to decide whether candidate selection should be based on the need to retain top talent or to help certain individuals develop additional skills (FIDI Accredited International Mover, 2018). 

This all points to the strategic potential of global mobility and confirms the movement from the focus on administrative work regarding relocation to a more strategic focus on delivering the best fit of expats-locals relations

All things concerned, there is no doubt that the relation between global mobility, locals and expats will continue to develop, asking the organizations to find the most effective way to face strategic challenges when working across the borders. 

Author: Tanja Miladinov, HR Business Partner, Mercata VT

About company: 

Mercata VT is one of the leading distributors in the country and plays a significant role in the development of trade in the domestic market. A large number of prestigious global, regional and local brands from our offer make up a wide range that is our strength. 

The company’s main goal is to achieve sustainable growth and create added value for its business partners and principals. We provide full coverage of the domestic market and support all brand related marketing activities.

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