Key employees lead nomadic existences

On the global stage, multi-skilled professionals who are not tied to a single base are valued greatly. But their restless nature makes them hard to pin down.

A new cadre of global professionals is appearing that will drive both the recovery and future growth of international organisations.

This group focuses on a multi-cultural, people-centred way of doing business in emerging and developing countries. But they are not the traditional expatriates. This new group are the Global Nomads.

These multi-cultural, global professionals can accelerate growth for multinationals and aspiring international firms. For many organisations, this group may be only 10 to 15 per cent of their total workforce, but they are hugely impactful; they are predominately younger professionals who will drive results, growth and the next wave of profitability from the emerging markets.

A major influence creating the sea change is world demographics. Overall, the world's population is predicted to grow by almost 400 million (5.68 per cent) in five years. The pattern of growth has changed, as has the age profile within countries. While there is declining population growth in the mature markets of western Europe and the US, combining with a rapidly ageing population, many of the emerging countries are showing not only strong growth but also a remarkably youthful shift. Within 10 years, India is forecast to be the most populous country in the world, overtaking China. Turkey, bidding to become the fourth-largest country by land mass and population in an expanded EU, would be the first to have 50 per cent of its population aged under 25. The UAE and Qatar show similar trends.

The impact of these changes is that new talent hubs are being created. The Global Nomads are no longer seeking out cities such as Paris, Madrid or Berlin. Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha are vying for the single or young married professionals; Singapore is positioning itself as a talent centre for young families, while London and New York remain popular for second or third job moves. Lifestyle is very much at the heart of the Nomads' choice of location.

These professionals move from assignment A to assignment B, C and D over a given period of 10 to 12 years and as such they are not expats who fly out from a home base then fly back again. They do not have a "home location". This group is comfortable with change and considers each assignment as the source of challenge and new experience.

As many are Generational X and Y professionals who were brought up in families already travelling around the world and have tasted and yearn after more experiences, they are incredibly mobile. They were internationally-schooled; have a global mindset and are highly qualified (a majority with Masters or MBAs); speak multiple languages, but all with fluent English. They have a real spirit of adventure; high energy, "can-do" attitudes; team-orientated and are outcome-focused. They display "restlessness", with many openly stating that they are unlikely to stay with a given employer more than three to five years, depending on the overseas opportunities presented.

Even though they openly admit to be globally mobile, they remain highly sought-after. They are computer-savvy and highly numerate, have outstanding communication skills, network strongly internally and externally and are at ease with change - in fact they relish the opportunity.

Their key business skills are in advanced research and analysis; brand marketing; customer-facing communication - advising, consulting and negotiation; diligent in process methodologies and result measurement. The big issue is that these skills are highly transferable, and the Nomads know their value. Yet leading chief executives all agree this group is gold dust.

The previous mantra of globalisation is being replaced by regionalisation, in which more culturally diverse consumer trends demand customisation. Business and employment are more people-centric, based on networking and longer-term relationships rather than pure profitability, integrity and trust rather than commercial greed.

New organisational models are appearing that build on lateral rather than vertical leadership, in which sharing and collaboration are more highly valued than hierarchical power. Some of these are beginning to look like a commercial Facebook, rather than traditional organisation charts.

The traditional notion of the expat flown out from a home base for a foreign tour of duty has now been replaced by a business-focused set of assignments, segmenting the global workforce into different categories. Traditional "longitudinal talent flows" are being replaced by "latitudinal flows", playing well to the drivers and motivators of the Global Nomads.

It is estimated that the current global mobile workforce is 1 billion, and that it will rise by a further 20 per cent in the next two years. We know that the Global Nomads are highly engaged employees willing to go the extra mile for customers; keen to be innovative and creative in their work; they are motivated to the highest standards and have a sense of mutual purpose and energy.

Managing this group will be more challenging. This has significant implications for current management, as that will require more face-to-face time (not e-mails); more transparency and genuine dialogue. Given that both managers and the Nomads will be on the move, this will present an even greater challenge.

* Jim Matthewman is the Middle East head of talent for Mercer Consulting and the author of The Rise of the Global Nomad, recently published by Kogan Page