Keeping consistent when HR goes global

Written by
Alan Ovens

18 Sep 2015

18 Sep 2015 • by Alan Ovens

Today’s business takes place on a global stage, says Alan Ovens, director of CIPD International. Being agile used to mean simply enabling your employees to work easily between the office and home and having the means to access email on the go. Today, it means operating in a 24/7 borderless world with employees working in different territories, different time-zones and different cultures.

The global HR challenge

This inevitably brings diversity and innovation to an organisation, it can create a challenge for HR professionals who need to balance cultural considerations with consistent talent management practices.
So how can HR stay agile and consistent within international organisations? And how can HR professionals support both business objectives and the workforce as their organisation’s global footprint spreads?
As people are the driving force behind knowledge-intensive industries, it’s never been more important to ensure that organisations’ HR strategies can easily adapt to the changing world of work and international expansion. 

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

However, a global workforce, and increased mobility between territories, can create significant challenges for HR. A key area is culture. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It’s crucial to organisational performance but keeping culture unified in multiple sites across the world has its challenges. At the heart, there needs to be a set principles, values and behaviours that effectively guide ‘how things get done around here’. It’s bedrock of a business but that doesn’t mean that it should be static. Instead, culture should evolve over time and HR professionals should seek ways to assist the evolution process it based on best practice from across international territories to ensure that a strong, unified culture resonates throughout the global workforce.
Reward forms an essential part of culture but local territories will approach it in different ways and ‘perks’ don’t always translate easily across borders. This can be a significant challenge when moving employees across borders. 

And it’s not just about the numbers. In some countries for instance, it may be standard to give employees housing or a company car but when they shift territory, that perk could be lost. To combat this, some organisations offer a Cost of Living Adjustment, to ensure the individuals’ purchasing power remains the same, while others offer a ‘location premium’ for places which are remote or where the conditions are difficult.

Utilise your teams

There’s a lot to think about, and it’s likely that employees will be anxious about what the changes will mean for them financially. To help combat any confusion and anxiety amongst employees during the relocation process, HR professionals will need to work closely with their finance and reward teams to anticipate these differences, communicate them to employees and ensure that the new rewards package is clearly communicated, relevant and fair.

Fairness and consistency is a key consideration when managing HR on an international scale, and this is particularly true when considered through a talent management lens. Identifying, recruiting, selecting, deploying and developing talent globally is a key role of the HR practitioner working in a global environment. A successful people strategy will improve employee engagement and commitment, encourage high performance, improve retention rates and help staff to develop an international mind-set. Fairness is key though. There has to be consistency in pay scales, performance review processes, expectations for particular roles and opportunities to advance. Similarly, L&D interventions need to be aligned across the organisation. There’s a fine balance between global and local needs here – the key is to be flexible while ensuring that any initiatives support the overall objectives of the business.

Who will lead your global workforce?

When organisations expand overseas, the people needed to launch and staff the new offices are a key consideration. The most effective way to source the right staff for new international positions is usually to recruit from within. Using global IT systems to create databases of internal talent pools can help to identify relevant talent from across the global business. These people will already be committed, have a deep understanding of the products and services and understand the values and vision of their employer. Plus, an international placement can be highly motivating, and can play a big role in the development of staff and their long-term commitment to the business. 

However, inside knowledge is just one half of the story. Of equal value is an understanding of local culture and how this affects the way that business is done, and a network of contacts that can help to get the new territory up and running. It’s therefore important to work with resourcing partners to find the right people locally as well. 
A further challenge is communication. If staff are being moved to new locations, and their line manager stays behind, what does this mean for personal development? How can their manager get an accurate picture of the team’s wellbeing and development if they are separated by time-zones and thousands of miles? Scheduling regular catch ups by Skype and phone can help to bridge the gap posed by international working but HR clearly plays a crucial role in supporting both managers and their team in this new way of working. 

These effective people management practices are essential when delivering HR in multiple territories, to ensure consistency and efficiency and to help individuals easily settle into their role. HR practitioners in international organisations are becoming increasingly critical to business strategies and ensuring that people have the skills and support to perform well, wherever they are in a global operation. Creating HR practices which work equally well on the global and local scale has never been more important.