Written by Meena Thuraisingham, Director & Principal, TalentInvest, Jan 2012 

There are too few Asian leaders in MNCs. Is this a simple issue of supply and demand or are there some complexities that underpin this issue and prevent us from finding solutions?

In fact many organisations operating in Asia have had localisation plans in place for some years now and yet these plans have not produced a strong pipeline of Asian leaders.  Why is this so?

This short essay challenges the approach taken to date with localisation strategies and reframes the issue in a way that gets us on the path to generating sustainable solutions to best resource our Asian businesses in a globalised world.

The challenge

Close to 30% of professionals below the age of 30 now work in a country other than their country of birth. These career mobile Gen Ys are not on expatriate packages, going simply where the best job opportunities are, even when these opportunities are cross-border – in fact increasingly because the opportunities are cross border. This level of globalisation of talent pools suggests that the notion of an Asian talent pool vs. non Asian talent may in fact be outdated and merely reflect the binary thinking trap we fall into when thinking about such challenges.

Driven by commercial purpose organisations will gravitate to talent and talent pools that generate the best performance outcomes and return, wherever they may be located. But globalisation of the talent market has an unintended consequence – in that those not willing to work globally, (including promising Asian talent who do not wish to leave their home countries) will effectively be severely limiting their career options in a globalised world. The localisation plans of MNCs must therefore be grounded in this new reality for real progress to occur. Rather than focusing on localisation plans we should be focused on strategies that will best help us build a generation of diverse and globally skilled leaders to run our Asian businesses.

The strategies for change

There are 3 challenges that MNCs will have to address in their search for a more integrated solution for a healthier pipeline of Asian leaders:

  1. The all too narrow home country driven definition of what successful leadership looks like is clearly not ‘fit for purpose’ for a changed globalised world, and will continue to result in the appointment of  home country look alikes
  2. Local talent in countries that are emerging with growing economic confidence are not learning rapidly enough to operate more skilfully in global settings, including getting more comfortable taking assignments outside their local markets to prove their adaptiveness
  3. Leaders running  MNCs in Asia are not engaging and building a new generation of diverse talent better suited for a globally connected world because their skills in working with difference are largely under-developed

Until these issues are addressed in an integrated way, and targeted strategies put in place in operating units in Asia, we will continue to see a pipeline of promising but under-developed successors to key leadership roles in MNCs operating in Asia.

These strategies will need to challenge some of the paradigms that we continue to use in host countries that were built for a world that has already passed. These strategies will need to better prepare both promising leaders and successful leaders in both home country and host country to learn to lead, grow and perform in a profoundly different world.

Written by Meena Thuraisingham
Director and Principal, Talent Invest

Meena Thuraisingham is a consultant, author, executive coach and thought leader in the area of People and Culture. An organisational psychologist by training, she founded TalentInvest, a niche consulting practice, advising global clients in the UK, Asia and Australia in Capability and Culture. Meena is also a regular speaker internationally on leadership effectiveness and culture change.

Her published books are The Secret Life of Decisions, Careers Unplugged and Derailed!. Get Your Copy Today