If I say expansion into emerging markets is one of the most critical business strategies for life sciences companies, I’m confident all industry leaders would agree with me. Medicines Outlook Through 2016 Report predicts that by next year Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) will all be in the top 10 global pharmaceutical markets.

Within the sector, some companies have already firmly established a footprint in those booming markets; while others are just getting started. As business extends its global reach further into emerging markets, talent management strategies are also being reshaped. However, as we all know, no matter how well you prepare to immerse yourself in a new country, it’s almost inevitable to experience culture shock to some extent. The same can be said about talent management.

talent challenges across emerging economies

Talent landscapes across emerging economies have shown some common characteristics. For example, competition for highly-skilled talent is intensifying in all BRIC nations. Notably, young, high-caliber candidates have no intention of following in the footsteps of their parents who stayed at one company for decades. Instead, they’re recognizing their own value and embracing a free-agent mindset like their western counterparts – looking for jobs that can add to their personal repertoire of experiences, skills, and knowledge. As the economic outlook of these countries continues to strengthen, I’m fairly sure talent mobility will further increase.

Next to these cross-border similarities, it’s interesting to note that each country also poses different challenges for HR executives to tackle. In China, for instance, many multinational life sciences companies have come to realize their popularity among local employees is waning, and find themselves competing with Chinese state-owned enterprises and domestic firms that are snapping up a greater share of the top talent pool. For companies set to roll out business in India, it’s a different story there. High on their agenda is attracting international talent with critical skills to India’s biotech clusters in Bangalore and Mumbai, a task that many businesses have been struggling for years. Lack of infrastructure, environmental challenges and safety concerns have made it difficult to draw top-level talent from overseas.

Compared to those two BRIC countries, Brazil’s Achilles' heel is its severe shortage of computer science and engineering talent. Moreover, the country’s dominant mining and oil industries – which are able to offer more lucrative compensation – manage to absorb the majority of the limited supply, leaving other sectors constantly hampered by a talent shortage. Even a talent magnet like Google is no exception. The Internet giant is having a tough time filling 100 engineering positions for its R&D center in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s leading tech hub.

create a global employer brand with local relevance

For companies that aspire to become the world’s most attractive employers, adopting a “glocal” approach when mapping out talent management strategies is imperative: develop a global framework to ensure brand consistency across geographies; while remaining flexible enough to allow adaptation to reflect various needs and attributes of local markets.

When businesses expand from west to east, it’s become a common practice to adapt talent management strategies – effective in established markets – to emerging markets. However, differences within emerging countries are often overlooked. As a result, many companies treat emerging markets as a homogeneous group. I strongly advise HR executives to take a step further: when navigating the talent landscape across emerging economies, consider local nuances. Attempts to fit Chinese and Brazilian labors into one single mold are bound to fail.

3 tips for putting a “glocal” approach into action

tip 1: accommodate different career aspirations across countries

According to the 2015 Randstad Award, the world’s largest independent employer branding research, career progression opportunities are the No. 1 career goal of high-demand talent in China while their Indian counterparts consider a good work-life balance critical.

You should gain a good understanding of what candidates in local markets seek to achieve in their careers and show how your organization can meet such needs.

tip 2: tailor employer brand messaging to various audience

Although a competitive salary & employee benefits are still the No. 1 sought-after attribute of an employer, its luster among Millennials globally is significantly declining. The Randstad Award found that a company's financial strength is one of the most desirable attributes Indian candidates seek in an employer; while in China companies offering professional training and development appear most appealing to the local talent.

Avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach and highlight messages that resonate well with your audience in each market. Let a brand ambassador carry your tailored message in each of your markets.

tip 3: shatter the “glass ceiling” with proactive leadership development

The Randstad Award identified a lack of career prospects as the top reason professionals in emerging economies decide to leave their companies. In China, many multinational life sciences companies appointed expatriates for a large portion of their senior positions when they initially entered the market. Even after years of operations there, the same practice still accounts for the majority of senior positions appointment while efforts to promote locals are relatively ad hoc. Many home-grown high-achievers choose to leave multinationals because they feel they’ve reached a “ceiling” that restricts their career opportunities. On the contrary, fast-growing Chinese companies are generously empowering their mid to senior-level managers with great leadership development opportunities.

Nurturing home-grown future leaders requires proactive management from the HR function. High-potentials talent need to be identified for critical positions, and we need to provide them with a leadership development program tailored to individual needs with their progress well-tracked.

In short, if the future of Life Sciences largely depends on thriving in emerging markets, then how well companies can react and adapt to the local talent market will determine the sector’s success. Following the BRIC nations, a new tier of emerging economies – Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam, Mexico, Turkey and Argentina – are establishing themselves on business leaders’ radar and presenting a wealth of untapped opportunities.

My final note to business leaders: in an era of international expansion and talent competition, the key to unlocking the full potential of emerging markets is mastering the art of being “glocal” with your talent management. You need to take a global perspective and a local approach and build in a brand ambassador. ; ; ; ; ;