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Global Talent Management in the Not-for-Profit Sector

Chris Brewster, Jean-Luc Cerdin and Kushal Sharma


This chapter examines talent management (TM) in not-for-profit organisations (NFPs), with a focus on mission-driven organisations (see [1]). To begin, we first need to define what we mean by talent management and explain the characteristics of mission-driven organisations.

Talent management has become a widely used term among human resource management (HRM) practitioners, consulting firms and professional associations. There is, however, no consensus about the exact definition of the term [2]. Broadly speaking, there are ‘exclusive’ and ‘inclusive’ approaches [3]. The exclusive, or elitist, definition proposes that TM is a set of policies and practices aimed at

C. Brewster (H)

Henley Business School, University of Reading, Reading, UK e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

J.-L. Cerdin • K. Sharma

ESSEC Business School, Cergy, France

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 1

C. Machado (ed.), Competencies and (Global) Talent Management,

Management and Industrial Engineering, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-53400-8_1

managing a relatively small group of employees whom the organisation considers as essential for its superior performance. It is argued that the ‘talents’ are only a small proportion of the workforce who exert a significant impact on the performance of the organisation—these are usually key technical specialists, senior management and other individuals with high potential [4]. The inclusive approach, on the other hand, assumes that all, or at least most, of the employees have talent and that the task is to manage them all in ways that will bring out and develop those talents: this brings the definition very close to that of previous definitions of HRM. Regardless of the approach, TM focuses on the attraction, identification, development, retention and deployment of talent [2, 5, 6]. It looks to the future as well as being concerned about the present, aiming to groom potential future leaders [7]. The notion that organisations need to invest extra time and energy to retain employees who ‘rank at the top in terms of capability and performance’ [8] is not new but has become increasingly popular since organisations increasingly believe that individuals who are disproportionately more productive than their co-workers [9] can help them to gain competitive advantage [10]. Multinational enterprises (MNEs) in particular have realised that they have to ‘spread their net’ beyond locally available talent, thus connecting TM with the additional complexity of global HRM [11].

By far, the majority of TM work has focused on those businesses whose raison d’etre is profit. Mission-driven organisations are different. NFPs do operate within the capitalist system and though they are not beholden to shareholders, they must operate efficiently enough to make sure that their outgoings do not exceed their incoming financial resources. But for NFPs, money is just a means to an end. They hope to be able to use their money for other purposes, and critical questions are raised if they have too much surplus of income over expenditure: they have what has been called a ‘distribution constraint’ [12]. They are judged, by themselves and others, on how far they are able to make progress towards their mission. The missions can be very varied. Some of these organisations have huge and highly laudable missions (the United Nations [UN] aims for ‘world peace’; the European Union [EU] aims to bring the states of Europe together into an ever closer union; the Save the Children Fund aims to ‘save children’s lives. We fight for their rights. We help them fulfil their potential’). Other NFPs have more modest missions (‘to make sure no one in our area is alone at Christmas’). Some NFPs are part of the public sector, charged with carrying out the administration of the public systems and with meeting certain objectives aimed to ameliorate or improve citizens’ health, welfare or well-being. Others are deliberately non-governmental, they may be supported by government grant aid, by wealthy individuals or the public in general, and their objectives may range from encouraging musical appreciation to the preservation of a language, to running local sports competitions. Some are controversial: organisations trying to preserve the privileges of particular ethnic groups, or to advance particular religions, or to change drug legislation, for example.

TM in NFPs will differ from TM in profit-driven organisations. In the relatively new TM field, this is one of the many areas of inquiry that have been insufficiently explored. In this chapter, we address this gap and analyse TM in mission-driven organisations. Our aim is to identify the main features of TM in NFPs with the intention of opening up new avenues for future research. We restrict ourselves to TM in NFPs that organise across national borders. Such organisations might recruit someone in one country, train them in another, allocate them to work in a duty station in another country, and then promote or reassign them to yet another geographic location. TM with an international component has been labelled global talent management (GTM), which has been defined as a set of activities falling within International human resource management concerned with aligning HRM with the organisation’s strategic direction and attracting, developing, retaining and mobilising talent [13]. The definition is taken from profit-focused MNEs but fits the context of NFPs too and realistically captures their TM activities. Managing talent globally includes expatriation [14] and other forms of global mobility management [15]. Through our case studies, we explore how far NFPs make use of talent spread across different geographical locations.

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