The Chapman Consulting Group’s Global Series of HR Leaders Meetings have moved on to the Central Europe sub-region, with two meetings in Germany and one in Switzerland. Our first meeting in Germany was hosted by DHL Supply Chain at their landmark headquarters in Bonn. Our second group met in Munich at the Linde Group’s global headquarter building in the centre of the city. The Switzerland HR Leaders group switched from our usual meeting venue of Zurich to the beautiful city of Lucerne, where Merck (MSD) have their international headquarters.

Attendees at these small groups included Global HR decision-makers from companies such as Bayer, Commerzbank, LSG, UCB, Adidas, Allianz, Nokia Siemens Networks, SAP, Siemens, T-Systems, ABB, Bombardier, COFRA, Endress+Hauser, LGT, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Roche, Straumann, UBS and Zurich Insurance to name just a few.

In order to preserve the anonymity of the information shared from these sessions, we will not be reporting on all the findings discussed. However, below is a short summary of some of the most interesting points raised:

1) One healthcare company have started to create ‘Communities’ of people from different business functions and business groups to increase collaboration across the company. The initiative has worked well, and the company have expanded this concept globally so that communities can be created in different markets around the world, and even virtually across geographical boundaries.

2) A very well established industrial company shared the fact that even though they have very well established talent systems, they still find it challenging to perfectly measure the success or failure of their talent development programmes. In its latest system, the company has tried to incorporate more detail about the reason behind talent movements, so that they can try to find metrics about whether promotions are mainly due to talent development reasons, or whether the predominant reasons were actually something else. People often change jobs for negative reasons (such as unhappiness in their current position, or corporate structural changes), so a greater level of detail is required in measuring success.

3) One German chemicals company recently appointed a new board member to be based in Asia. The reason for placing this role in Asia is not just a geographical anomaly, it was designed to help the business in the region react more quickly to the needs of clients in Asia rather than need to wait many days or weeks for global approvals from Europe. But in essence, the other reason for this initiative was to create more reasons for further Asia-based functions to support this Asia-based global leader, and to signify a great ‘power shift’ within the company away from Europe and towards the East.

4) One global CHRO of a medium-sized organisation who used to work for a much larger organisation shared her experiences of global leadership in her new environment when compared with her previous corporate life. In the past, a prospective employee would almost need to be over-qualified to get a promotion, particularly if it involved an overseas assignment. But there was always a mismatch in supply of talent versus where the demand was most needed – not many of these so-called ‘global top talent’ were putting their hands up for demanding roles in Sulawesi and Bucharest. However in her new environment, perhaps also because of the limited bench strength of internal talent, they have adopted a much more flexible approach to talent, where in some cases people are promoted when they only have five out of the ten of the competencies required for the role.

This approach involves a little more risk for the sponsors of these talent movements, but the company has been very successful, with a 90% success rate in these promotions. And the example of sending these on-paper ‘under-qualified yet hungry’ employees on stretch assignments has also been a great example to other talented people in the organisation, who perhaps would think twice about turning down the next hardship assignment that they were offered.

5) A technology company has moved away from moving people internationally, and now favours moving the position to where the employee is located instead. This has the upside of assigning positions to people who are the best qualified, no matter where they happen to be. There were some teething problems in working in this way, particularly where it involves global teams who are scattered and may not have ever met in person. However most employees adapted very well, and the company believes that the new generation of talent coming through the organisation will be all the more adept at working in this way. For this new generation of talent, it’s not such an alien concept to create human connection remotely across technology platforms rather than with a physical handshake.

6) More than one company in these groups mentioned that their company has a 3-year timeline for talent development and promotions. The first year is to settle in, the second year is to perform, and the third year is to innovate. (Or to fix the mistakes that they made in the first two years!).

7) And finally, in one Swiss healthcare company, there was a concerted effort to have a separate HR and talent strategy for growth markets such as China and Brazil. So when the company introduced a global HR system into Europe, they specified a focus on creating synergies in order to streamline processes and cut costs. However when the same global HR system was rolled out into China, they didn’t even mention cost efficiencies as part of the ethos of the HR transformation. They also gave the China HR team the flexibility to custom make some of the processes to specifically help with the growth of business in the market. And in their general dealings with China, the Global HR team does not just think of what they can do more of, they also think about what they can do less of. Sometimes it’s best not to overload either HR or the business in China with too many global mandates so that they can focus on capitalising on the business opportunities in their local market.

Germany and Switzerland are home to some of our longest and strongest relationships at the Global HR level, so it’s always a pleasure to hold meetings here. While there’s no substitute to attending one of these meetings in person, we look forward to sharing similar findings with our Global HR network from the rest of the series as it continues across Europe and North America in the weeks ahead.