In part two of Moravia’s webinar Global Staffing: Finding and Managing In-country SMEs, we talk about the challenges of global staffing in five critical areas: finding, vetting, contracting, managing and paying SMEs.
External Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) help global businesses enter new, foreign markets by providing them with both industry- and locale-specific knowledge that can shape how these businesses enter the market, interact with their consumers, and position their brands for success.
Recruiting SMEs and other human resources for international businesses is one of Moravia’s core competencies. But even we get briefs that are so specific that it’s hard to believe such resources exist. We term these mythic beings “Rainbow Unicorns.” Here’s one of our favorite examples:
An energy-sector company based in the U.S. was expanding beyond their base of American clients to serve energy companies around the world. One of their requirements briefs was uniquely specific. For six countries, they needed experts who met the following criteria:
- They had to be bilingual.
- They had to be experts in energy efficiency.
- They had to have university degrees in behavioral science.
- They had to be capable of authoring content.
- And they had to be available for a full-time, short-term contract of just six to nine months.
You simply cannot get more specialized than that!
We at Moravia are constantly working for “bench depth,” a term borrowed from baseball that means that you have enough players to satisfy your immediate needs but also enough people to step into play when primary people get sick, are drawn away, or face other unforeseeable challenges. You need resources with the required skills in the right numbers for the right places and times. Achieving bench depth for SMEs, then, means being able to meet the five challenges of human resources: finding, vetting, contracting, managing, and paying.
1. Finding SMEs
Finding SMEs is the most important and most challenging of your tasks. A comprehensive job description translated for the target market is just the beginning: you also need to know where your potential resources live and work and where to find them.
With more than 250 million users, LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network. It’s great and works wonderfully for some countries. But Viadeo might be the better choice in France, where it was founded. Xing is the dominant player in German-speaking countries, although data points to differences based on company size (i.e., larger international players focus on LinkedIn). Zhaopin, the Chinese job-market portal, might now have competition from LinkedIn China.
So know your resources, know your tools, and know your recruitment channels. And brace yourself for the wave of interest. Because a lot of people want to work for Western companies, you will have to vet a vast number of applicants for jobs. Obviously, the less expertise required the more you are going to get. Let that guide your job descriptions and recruitment schedules accordingly.
2. Vetting SMEs
So, you took a job description, you posted it on websites, you went headhunting, and you have a great pool of potential candidates for the job. Now, of course, you need to find out who is the right person for the job.
Unfortunately, many people will misrepresent themselves. That means that applicants will still need to be verified for their skills in the target language, the product, and the industry. If there are only a few pounds, euros, dollars, etc., at stake, there is a high chance in some of the locales that you will need to make not only a first but second and third verification as well.
When you are looking for a specific skill set that is hard to find, say for a niche market or for a truly innovative product or service, you will have a host of additional considerations.
- Who will evaluate your candidate tests?
- Who will conduct the interviews in the target in-country language?
- How will you ensure for soft skills, so that the hired SME can best represent your message and brand to both internal and external stakeholders?
We recommend, of course, that you meet these considerations with competent reviewers and procedures for reference checks. Even trick questions that are very related to the specifics of your engagement should be used, if you need to ensure that the candidate is right for your task in highly confidential situations.
3. Contracting SMEs
In contracting you need to look at the different types of engagement you may have.
- Are you looking to fulfill an immediate, one-off need, whatever the project’s duration?
- Will this be a recurring engagement to meet, say, a monthly reporting requirement on local market developments?
- Is this a permanent engagement, full-time or not, to meet daily delivery needs?
What you select may be based on a host of diverse other factors, such as time zone differences for availability, compensation schedules, and country labor laws regarding contract workers.
The latter is a critically important matter for contract labor. In Thailand and France, for example, you’re not adhering to the labor law if your SME resource does not have the opportunity to decline a specific task or project, or if you are setting the schedule for the resource, or it’s a full time, long term engagement. Not understanding country labor laws can place your company in considerable legal and financial peril, so it is a wise investment to work with staffing experts with deep experience and knowledge in local market requirements.
4. Managing SMEs
The host of typical personnel management issues aside, managing SMEs in far-flung target markets brings with it specific challenges that will demand attention to detail and appropriate planning.
Time zone differences
You are suddenly going to be dealing with people who are in time zones far away from you. If you don’t plan for this, a simple interaction could take 24-36 hours — that’s enough to throw off any delivery schedule. So be prepared to spend some late nights or early morning hours if you have resources in distant time zones.
Is the subject matter expert in need of specific stuff, specific hardware or tools? If they are, can you get these things to them in the time needed, can you get them to them legally, can they access the sites that you need to have them access?
It is time-consuming but it is critical to your success. You have to have a responsible manager looking after your SME resources on a day-to-day basis. This person would be responsible for monitoring their work, tracking deliveries, filing reports or following up with those who need to report. Importantly, this manager is the person to whom your SME will turn to with project- and task-specific questions, whether those questions are also specific to the locale or its languages.
5. Paying SMEs
As you might guess, payroll can be just as complex as labor law. Is overtime allowed? If your SMEs do not fulfill their contract requirements, can you stop paying them? How are other compensation disputes resolved? What about payroll and invoicing reporting requirements?
Again these and other matters will be largely determined by the labor laws of the country.
Two important tips:
- One, while some countries do not require written agreements, always have a written agreement in place nevertheless. It is the only hope you can turn to if you are going to prove or disprove a disputed claim.
- Two, avoid the “tall poppy syndrome.” We heard about this concept in Australia. The saying goes that the tallest poppy in the field is always the one that gets cut first. So, avoid being the tall poppy: know your labor laws, have good relationships with your workers, and keep your head down by abiding by the rules!
What can a company like Moravia offer you to enable the success of your international efforts? If you have an in-country SME requirement or need to retain resources for on-site work in your local branches, these — and more! — are things Moravia can do for you.
Want to hear more? Click here for the full recording on Global Staffing: Finding and Managing In-country SMEs.