A global perspective

survey of 800 senior HR directors in the UK, Europe and the US identifies a
consensus on the key issues facing the profession, including mergers and
acquisitions, leadership, talent and globalisation. It also sheds light on just
how global today’s organisations really are

The globalisation movement may be temporarily shaken by the events of 11
September, but the long-term trend is set to continue, and issues relating to
international business still dominate the agenda for HR directors in larger

Now a survey of 800 senior HR practitioners has identified the priorities
and challenges for the global HR director.

The survey highlights the differences in perspective between the UK, Europe
and the US. It also sheds light on just how "global" multinational
companies are in reality.

Global Perspective was commissioned by Richmond Events, organisers of
strategic business forums for senior directors. It is based on responses from
senior HR people attending the Human Resources Forums earlier this year in the
UK, Europe and US.

Focus groups were conducted "off the record" to get an open
exchange of views and ideas and identify key issues. These findings were
supplemented by quantitative data from a self-completion questionnaire.

There was an unexpected consensus on key issues from all participants in the
study – with change, mergers and acquisitions, leadership, talent and
globalisation all high on the agenda.

Continual organisational change, whether for development and growth, or to
compete successfully in today’s volatile markets, is now the norm. A
predominant theme was the need to engage people in the process.

As one US vice-president observed, "Change comes down to people. They
must trust in the process, or they will resist it happening. HR should explain
why things are changing, the consequences, the culture and the role and
responsibilities of employees."

The majority of delegates were heavily involved in change initiatives, with
86 per cent in the UK, 78 per cent in the US and 83 per cent in Europe claiming
to play a key role.

Likewise, many of the study participants have been involved in a merger or
acquisition during the past three years – 72 per cent in the UK, 67 per cent in
the US and 75 per cent in Europe.

Whether successful or not, the process remains fraught with problems. There
was a consensus that HR should be involved from the beginning and that the
contribution it could make is rarely recognised.

A delegate from a multinational manufacturer based in France told the group,
"We were brought in too late. HR should contribute to the acquisitive
process rather than dealing with the fallout.

"Once HR got involved, we identified problems no-one else had
considered – the cost of the social plan, labour laws, relations with unions
and insecurity among employees."

Given the enormous human implications of two organisations coming together,
HR must deal effectively with cultural, political and structural issues. Many
stressed the need, above all, for an effective communications strategy.

"Even if there’s nothing to tell, say so," said the European HR
director of a financial services institution. "How fast the news got to
people was as important as the content at times."

With mergers and acquisitions activity at an all-time high, there has also never
been a greater need for HR to highlight its potential contribution. This
particular group concluded, "We should not wait to be consulted. Ask
explicitly for a role".

Despite the recent economic downturn, companies are looking not just to
survive, but to grow for the future and are striving to attract and retain the
right talent. Many are still struggling to find out what skills they need in
today’s competitive world.

European delegates focused on identifying talent within the organisation and
developing international skills as fundamental to future growth.

Understanding global business, cultural differences, managing international
and remote or virtual teams was seen as necessary, but not always easy to

According to one HR director based in Brussels, "you must recruit for
an international mindset and flexibility from the start".

The UK and US groups focused more on balancing the skills requirements of
the business with the work-life aspirations of employees. Work-life balance was
seen as an increasingly important issue with implications for the values of the
business, although US delegates expressed concern about such initiatives in the
current economic and political climate.

Not surprisingly, only 5 per cent of UK delegates and 7 per cent of US
delegates felt that the skills needs of the business were in tune with
employees’ aspirations for work-life balance.

"The relationship of the two elements needs to be symbiotic – a trade
off between the needs of the corporation and the individual employee,"
advised the vice-president of a US telecoms business.

Common to all groups was the agreement that HR had a challenging role to
build a skills strategy that met the objectives of the organisation and also
engaged the aspirations and needs of the people working for it.

Discussion about skills led inevitably to the topic of globalisation.
"Difference" was the key word – admitting differences, understanding
difference and harnessing difference.

The theme ran through each group, referring to the challenge of driving
business success in countries with often radically different cultures and
business models. The term global was judged to be overused and frequently

"I haven’t yet found the company that resembles a true global company.
There are many international companies that work in many countries – but it’s
not actually the same thing," the HR director of a multinational IT
company concluded.

The general feeling was that even mature multinationals with sophisticated systems
were still struggling – moving from regional businesses to global strategic

It would appear that HR’s potential to contribute to future success was seen
as substantial by all groups, but only to those who accepted the challenge.

As one director from a FTSE 500 company commented, "As HR, you have to
earn respect and you have to earn your place at the top table. It is up to us
to sell HR – don’t be modest, show other functions the benefits we can

Looking ahead

The Human Resources Forums will take
place on the following dates in 2002. For further details of the forums and the
Global Perspective study findings, go to www.richmondevents.com or

The Human Resources Forum UK
9-12 May 2002, Oriana
+44 (0)20 8487 2265

The Human Resources Forum USA
9-12 May, QE2
+1 212 651 8751

The Human Resources Forum Europe
24-27 October, Costa Allegra, Genoa
+44 (0)20 8487 2264

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