The American Dream is Alive and Well, Outside America

As companies expand globally, it's even more crucial to understand the differences between professionals in different markets. New research by Thomson Reuters demonstrates that emerging market professionals are increasingly driven by entrepreneurial values and optimism, leaving their Western counterparts in the dust when it comes to putting innovation and rewarding work before salary.

For more about why this is happening, I interviewed Peter Warwick, the Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer for Thomson Reuters, and Eileen Lynch, the Senior Vice President, Global Brand Marketing, about their findings. This is an edited version of our conversation.

Why is researching workforce motivation in different markets important?

Peter Warwick: For organizations to be really successful in the future, they've got to think in terms of talent and workforce, as well as capabilities and culture. People do think about global customers, they do think about global supply chains, but they really don't think about global talent. And you can't really be successful unless you're thinking about all three of those things.

Did anything in your survey results really surprise you?

Peter Warwick: The very positive, "can-do" mindset of professionals in developing markets was very striking, things like 68% of respondents saying doing important work is critical. And twice as many emerging market professionals than in the West believe that there will be gender equality in the boardroom in a generation. I thought that was wonderful in many ways, the tremendous sense of positive thinking and optimism for the future — 58% wanted to be entrepreneurial in their jobs, for example, or 91% saying that even if they won the lottery, they wouldn't retire.

A quarter of the responses from developed markets were perhaps a little bit less forward-looking and a little bit more negative than I might have expected. Only 17% believe that hard work will always be rewarded, and less than half of those interviewed in developed countries believe that the business environment is mostly or always ethical.

Values and Responsibility Chart

Why do you think that professionals in emerging markets are more optimistic and more likely to believe in values similar to those of the "American Dream"?

Peter Warwick: There has been so much economic growth and change in the past 25 years in places like China, Latin America, India, and so on. I think it's that extensive change — and the speed of change — that has made people become much more optimistic. People are much more confident about managing the change and not simply being the victims of it.

If you take professionals in the developed world, chances are that many of them will not create more wealth than their parents, and many of them may be less well-off than their parents because of the way the economic cycles have gone. But if you look at developing countries and emerging markets, there are going to be many young professionals who are probably going to generate 100 times the wealth of their parents. So it's a very different social environment, and I think, intrinsically, it makes it more positive and optimistic, more embracing and accepting of change.

Emerging Markets and the American Dream Graphic

How big of a problem is a lack of worker optimism for employers? Are places like the UK and U.S. less engaged and efficient? If so, what do you think can be done about it?

Peter Warwick: I think it could continue to interfere in economies like those in the U.S., the UK, and Western Europe, unless organizations really embrace the fact that they need to understand the professionals who work for them and be able to adjust the ways they look at talent.

There are some really important clues in the survey itself about how, by creating a more purposeful, collaborative, ethical, and diverse company with a clear mission and purpose, it's actually possible to recruit, engage, motivate, and retain the very best talent. It's really incumbent on organizations that are based in, say, North America or Western Europe, to be really conscious of what professionals in the workforce are thinking about.

It's also important for international companies and organizations like Thomson Reuters, for example, to bring professionals from emerging markets to developed countries so the opportunities and energy can rub off. One of the key things here is for companies to think about their talent and workforce in a global context.

Innovation often happens away from the centers of organizations in emerging countries. So this idea that innovation can begin at the periphery, at the outside of an organization, and then that helps to transform the society or the organization as a whole — that's something international organizations should embrace. It's something companies can use more effectively than their competitors in order to transform themselves into more global, innovative, positive, and purposeful organizations.

Eileen Lynch: The more engaged the workforce, the more productive employees are and the better the retention is. There's an enormous cost-benefit for companies to be sensitive to these kinds of issues and actually create a culture where people can truly succeed. The more we understand it, the more valuable we will be as a partner to the employee and the customer.

Your study indicates that emerging market professionals are more likely to stay in their line of work and less likely to retire if financially set. Why?

Peter Warwick: There is a stronger sense of optimism and energy that, even if you won the lottery, you can still go on to achieve even more. There are so many professionals in emerging markets that have extended families they're helping to support. Remember: It's really the first generation that's really doing reasonably well-paid work that's integrated into the world economy. And I think that they have this sort of sense of wanting to go on to provide for their futures, for their own offspring and children.

And it's not just families; it's actually wanting to create an even better financial platform for their communities and countries.

Staying in Their Line of Work Chart

What should organizations take away from your study?

Peter Warwick: The main point is how important it is to professionals nowadays, in both developed and developing countries, to work for organizations that have a strong sense of value-driven purpose. People want to work towards a purpose that is capable of being articulated, that people can share, and that is about creating a better society, a more effective economy, a legal system, whatever it happens to be. There is a sense of value, a sense of a stronger purpose in why we all practice our professional lives that I take great heart from. And organizations should really embrace that as effectively as possible and go for the people who do retain and attract the best talent, and who are going to make the greatest contribution towards the collective good.

Eileen Lynch: This is a group of professionals who want to have a voice at the table. They want to be recognized for the contributions they make which is, on some level, more important than the financial aspect of their jobs. And understanding that as part of the mindset of professionals both inside our own companies and the professional market in general is important.

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