Going global

first_img Comments are closed. Today’ssuccessful global HR manager must boast many special skills. He or she must behighly organised and absorb copious knowledge on a country’s local culture. Ina seven-point guide to the necessary skills, Sally O’Reilly outlines thedemands of keeping on top of business demands across different time zonesBecominga globetrotting, jet-hopping HR manager, responsible for implementing corporatepersonnel policy across the world is a tempting prospect. Instead of dealingwith staff in, say, Milton Keynes and Slough, you could be liaising with peoplein, for example, Tokyo and New York. It’s HR management writ large, achallenging role that will give you the chance to use your experience andskills on a wider canvas. But to pull it off, you must combine functionalexpertise with the ability to relate your knowledge to unfamiliar cultures andworking styles.Therole is further complicated by the fact that many companies are now trying topull off a delicate balancing act. While all are agreed that a clear andcoherent HR strategy is essential, such a strategy needs to be highly flexibleand even negotiable at local level.”HRmanagers have to take a very strong leadership position and establish an agreedway of defining jobs, skills and staff turnover throughout the company,”says Vance Kearney, European HR director, Oracle Corporation. “But thesystem does need to be flexible and accommodate differences across theworld.”Incentivestrategies are a case in point. There has to be clarity about which members ofstaff are being rewarded, and whether the rewards on offer are appropriate.”In the US, performance measurement is very much about individualachievement – but in countries like Malaysia, there is more emphasis onrewarding the whole team,” says Terence Brake, president of TMA America.”Staff aren’t comfortable with rewards going to individual people.”LindaHolbeche, director of research at Roffey Park business school, sees the role ofglobal HR staff as falling into one of two categories – either they arefollowing a broadly US model, and rolling out corporate HR strategy across theworld, or they have a more flexible, hands-off role, and are overseeing thework of HR directors scattered throughout the world who may be operating verydifferently within the overall framework of the company.”Typically,the level of understanding you need in a transnational HR role is greater thanin the model in which company culture is given priority over regionaldifference,” she says.”This is because you are not expecting yourculture to dominate everywhere else.”Sohow should you go about landing a job in international personnel? We havehighlighted seven essential skills which will help you get your first global HRjob, and ensure you carry out the role effectively.1.  Multicultural awareness”Whenyou look in the mirror and begin to understand why you behave as you do, it’sthe first step towards understanding someone else’s culture,” says MichaelMcCallum, vice-president of production and business development at CendantIntercultural, a US firm specialising in cross-cultural training. “Anda good understanding of cultural difference can help you deal with some of theethical dilemmas of working internationally – for instance, if you are workingin a country in which “bribes” are so much part of the culture thatthey aren’t really bribes at all, but a legitimate way for money to passthrough the system.”Livingabroad helps, so if you have never worked overseas, try for a secondment orapply for a post overseas, even if it’s not your dream job. Meanwhile, take agood look at your own cultural assumptions.2.  Global business knowledge Gettingyour head around international business issues can be a time consumingbusiness. However, it’s worth the effort. Brian J Glade, vice- president,international programmes with the US-based Society for Human ResourceManagement, points out that global HR staff need to know about the politicaleconomies of the countries in which their firm is operating, both in terms oftrading conditions and employment law.”Knowledgeof local and regional economic conditions, required government benefits,employment laws such as minimum wage and termination procedures is necessary ifyour company is taking on local nationals,” he says.Thelack of such knowledge can lead to problems such as that experienced by Marks& Spencer, which tried to close down an operation in France without goingthrough a 30-day consolation period. If this isn’t your strong point, initiateyour own business education. Read the financial press, subscribe toprofessional journals that cover this sector and keep up to date with bothinternational business affairs and employment law outside Europe.3.  Communication – from near and far Workingglobally means communicating with people all over the planet. Time differences,telecommunication and long distance consultation can all be problem areas. Agood global HR manager needs to be able to plan his or her time, assess whetherhe needs to get on a plane to be at a meeting, or whether a conference callwill do.””It’svery Western to draw up action plans, send them out to everyone and expect themto be put into practice,” says Brake. “But global organisations don’twork like that – in places like France, Latin America and Asia, things get donebecause of relationships. So you have to put time into showing your face andgetting to know people.” And when you get there, remember to listen andsoak up as much information as you can.Long-distancecommunication means managing information across multi-time zones andboundaries. “Sometimes you will have to set up a conference call at 4amyour time because that is the only time that all the relevant people areavailable,” says Cendant’s McCallum.4.  Speaking other languages Havinga thorough knowledge of any foreign language can help you understand othercultures – because you’ve been able to get inside the mindset of anothernationality. And learning even a smattering of the language of colleagueswithin your company shows you respect them, and are taking time to get to knowsomething about their lives.”Oneof the stereotypes of the UK and the US is that we don’t care about othercultures,” says Brake of TMA America. “If you learn another language,it shows your international colleagues that you aren’t expecting them to do allthe adapting.”Knowingonly your own language could hold you back in the employment stakes, too.”Increasingly, we are seeing senior people in global HR roles who speakfour or five different languages,” says Roffey Park’s Holbeche. “Atypical example would be a Romanian who speaks Serbo-Croat, French, German andis used to dealing with people in English.”Ifyou don’t have a foreign language, taking a class is a good idea. An MBAqualification will also help – particularly if you can arrange to do it at aforeign business school.5.  Stamina and resolve Rewardingthis line of work may be – relaxing it certainly is not. Anyone who wants toraise their game and go into global HR needs to have boundless energy. Kearneyof Oracle is dealing with 14,000 employees in 32 different countries spreadacross Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and heads up an HR department of 140people. And Geoff Rogers of finance company Standard Chartered has toco-ordinate more than 40 HR services – without dictating the company line. Hisrole is to integrate the various operations into the corporate line using hisnegotiating skills.”TransnationalHR leaders need to challenge practices which don’t work in some areas,”says Holbeche. “For instance, there could be regional HR managers on theground who are very good at oiling the wheels of local business, but who arestill a problem from the corporate point of view. If that’s the case, you mayneed to fire them and bring in a replacement.”Askyourself how you would cope with the stress. If you find working within a UKfirm exhausting, how would you cope with the pressures of an internationalpost?6.  Flexibility”Therole of a global HR manager as distinct from a general HR manager is likemoving from a game of chess on a board to a 3D game of chess – and one in whichthe pieces are conscious and have a different perception of the game toyou,” says TMA America’s Brake. “Complexity takes the whole thing toanother dimension.”Forinstance, the HR department at Coca-Cola doesn’t try to command and control allthe local operations, but tries to be the philosophy maker, and to diffusethese HR philosophies locally. And diffusing corporate HR thinking effectivelymeans being flexible about how this is done. “In the US performance isvery much about individuals but in Malaysia, for example, staff aren’tcomfortable with rewards going to individual people – there is more emphasis onthe whole team,” says Brake.7.  Leadership Ifyou are going to be an effective global HR manager, you need to inspireconfidence and have vision and imagination. “You have to take a verystrong leadership position, and be very strategic about your role,” saysOracle’s Kearney. “Developing your thinking skills can help prepare youfor this role, according to Brake. “You need to be able to thinkconceptually, to look at the world around you, see patterns and create concepts,”he says. “And you are likely to have to work on this yourself – mostorganisations aren’t good on teaching staff how to think.”Anatomyof a global HR manager–Has a good knowledge of other cultures – including her own. Doesn’t make valuejudgements about social norms in other countries.–Speaks at least one other language and makes it her business to know a fewphrases of the host language of any country she visits.–Is happy dealing with ambiguous, fast-changing situations.–Has lived abroad for a year, having initiated a secondment to her firm’sCalcutta office, for example, once she decided to work in global HR.–Is a good strategic thinker and has developed her conceptual thinking byreading and networking with senior staff within her organisation.–Understands how global business works. Never travels anywhere without TheEconomist and the FT in her briefcase.–Is energetic and determined. Doesn’t shrink from making tough decisions, andhas won the respect of her team by showing her unflagging commitment to thejob. Related posts:No related photos. Going globalOn 12 Jun 2001 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Articlelast_img read more