The world in their hands

What challenges do global HR professionalsface in theirday-to-day roles?

Meet two women and two men who head up their organisations’ global HR offices. Also meet a woman with a regional HR remit (although this region incorporates 13 wildly diverse countries stretching from the UK to India). Four work with commercial companies, and one works for a non-profit organisation. Three are based in the UK, one hot-desks between Brussels, London and other points around the globe, and the fifth is based in Amsterdam. What are the issues they face?

Conny Kalcher, vice-president for people, culture and communications, Lego. Based in Slough, UK

New to her job as vice-president for people, culture and communications in 2004, Kalcher has taken on her global position at the 72-year-old toy company at a time when it is undergoing a major culture change. “We’ve had a very strong culture based on being a market leader, used to setting the agenda for quality levels, among other things. But now we’re experiencing other challenges in the marketplace which suddenly influences the culture. So we need to adjust our culture more towards that reality,” says Karcher.

The new reality involves three newly defined points of strategic focus – ‘rightsizing’ the company; customer focus, people and culture; and moving to a performance-driven culture worldwide.

Arguably, Kalcher has the perfect CV to introduce a more strategic business emphasis to HR. Her previous roles at Lego include heading its global marketing and innovation department, founding the company’s former TV and film division and serving as business affairs director for Lego software. Before joining Lego, she taught primary and secondary school for eight years.

“Based on the other jobs I’ve had at Lego, I have a huge network in the company. I know a lot of people and I understand different departments and how they work,” she says.

Lego’s philosophy is to encourage people to learn and develop in a variety of different areas, an approach which Kalcher exemplifies.

“As part of our values, it’s learning throughout whatever we do,” she says. “Sometimes our way of learning is different because we have a playful perspective on many things.” For example, bowls of Lego building blocks are omnipresent in the company’s meeting rooms for those attending meetings to play with during discussions. “You will often see people building structures while they work in meetings,” Kalcher says. “We use it as a way of expressing ourselves or solving a problem in a group.”

Any company meeting or seminar involves some element of play – and will continue to do, she says. “Playing for us is learning, and that’s why it’s so integral to what we do.”

Stephen Kelly, senior vice-president for HR, BT Global Services. Based in Brussels, Belgium

‘Who do I work for? What do we stand for?’ Those were the questions that thousands of BT employees around the world had been asking themselves during the early part of the new millennium.

“The people we employed internationally had had five or six different brands in two years,” says Kelly, who has been senior vice president for HR for two-and-a-half years. “They had three different sets of values, they were confused, our customers were confused, the market was confused.”

The announcement last year that BT would join up its international arm under one brand, one logo and one set of values has helped Kelly in his mission to “put people at the heart of everything we do” and drive ahead the company’s HR vision of ‘people growth for business growth’.

So far, the results look promising. A recent employee survey showed a 15 to 18 per cent improvement in how employees felt about how they were being line-managed, a 10 per cent improvement in terms of satisfaction in their work and even a higher percentage in survey participation.

“It’s early days yet, but we’re beginning to see a very positive momentum,” says Kelly.

Among the HR changes under way are the clustering of more than 320 roles into 18 job ‘families’ and a consistent framework for market-driven pay around the world as the company builds a high-performance culture. HR ‘interventions’, as Kelly calls them, are developed using the same kind of process that would be used to launch a new pair of jeans.

“We put it through a product development cycle, and we go through a campaign in terms of, ‘how would you launch that?’. We work out who’s the target audience, here’s what we’re trying to do, what messages are we sending? How are different consumers in different markets going to receive it?”

The organisational transformation means a busy time ahead for Kelly, but that’s part of why he prefers working in international HR.

“The door has been opened, in terms of getting people back on the agenda,” he says. “Because the door’s been opened, we have two choices. Either we go through the door, or the door will close and we’ll never get through it. We decided to go through the door.”

Shirley Spencer, regional director, HR, Atlantic region, Delta Air Lines. Based in London

“In terms of international work,” says Spencer, who’s six months into her position at the US company Delta Air Lines, “I think it can be summed up with the expression, ‘the devil is in the details’.”

Spencer is only partly joking. Committed to international HR work for the variety and challenges it offers, she understands the complexities of managing across borders that such work throws up.

At the moment, one of the key issues facing her has to do with the kind of important point that those inexperienced in the international arena might well overlook.

A new incentive programme that was initially rolled out in the US is in the design phase for launch in the 13-country Atlantic region, which Spencer oversees. Employees will receive points for “demonstrating behaviours that we believe are important”, and the points will go towards a gift of the employees’ choice. However, adopting the same gift programme as Delta’s US arm isn’t practical because of import duties that would have to be paid.

“So we either need to find different suppliers for different countries or we need to find another way for employees to translate their points into a gift,” Spencer says. “It’s so mundane, but these are the things that make a programme work or not work.”

Bob Stack, chief HR officer, Cadbury Schweppes. Based in London

When you head a global HR operation, “everything is a priority”, says Stack, an American who is chief HR officer and also in charge of corporate communications and external affairs for the chocolate and beverages giant. “You have to be willing to live with greater ambiguity.”

With 55,000 employees in 60 countries, Cadbury Schweppes spreads a wide net around the world. But from recruitment to refining performance management plans, Stack says the key lesson to understand is, “one size doesn’t fit all. You need a framework for policies. There’s no single ‘cookbook’ for answers that works around the world”.

Take recruitment. While Cadbury’s chocolate products and Schweppes are household names in the UK, the names aren’t well enough known in the US to recruit under the Cadbury Schweppes banner. Instead, the company must drive its regional recruitment under brand names such as as Dr Pepper and Snapple.

“We need to tailor our recruitment efforts to their local identity,” Stack says. Once on board, he adds, recruits become more involved in the corporate brand, as well as the local one. The company’s values, however, are the same worldwide.

Stack trained as an engineer then went into general management before entering the field of HR. Before Cadbury Schweppes, he had worked for several multinational corporations, including pharmaceuticals giant Bristol-Meyers Squibb.

Currently, a major theme at Cadbury Schweppes is “building capability, both for individuals and for the organisation”, he says. And his organisation, along with most other multinational operations, has had to make adjustments in a variety of areas, from business development to greater reliance on video-conferencing, because of the threat of terrorism.

Tascha Tinneveld, international HR director, Greenpeace. Based in Amsterdam

At first, Tinneveld might seem an unlikely candidate to work for Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy organisation perhaps best known for its ardent campaigns at sea.

Tinneveld comes from a distinctly corporate background. She worked for Arthur Andersen and previously as a business consultant, advising such clients as Dutch airline KLM and electrical giant Philips. But that background brings a professional perspective to the Amsterdam-headquartered organisation where her major projects this year include launching a salary benchmark across the operation, and developing a global training programme.

“We’ve asked an outside firm to develop a tailor-made global training programme,” says Tinneveld. “We have to have a tailor-made approach to every region in the world.”

In South America, for instance, induction efforts must take into account the region’s fascination with legends and mythology. In the UK, for example, the audience’s expectations are a lot more straight-forward.

“In South America, they build orientation around stories, like the big failures and wins of Greenpeace. That’s their way of engaging people,” she explains.

“What we’re trying to do is come up with a mixture approach that works for all participants, and has something for everybody.”

Not only is offering cultural diversity at induction crucial to engage new employees, it is essential to build on to grow the organisation’s global campaigns.

“We are trying to recruit more diversely, to bring in people from more regions of the world and bring them together in Amsterdam so they learn to work together,” Tinneveld says.

Even in locations where Greenpeace now has no offices, the organisation is eager to recruit, such as from Africa because many issues it is working with involve the daily lives of people from those areas.

Fortunately for Greenpeace, Tinneveld says, “a lot of people try to get recruited from those areas because they want to get their points across. And for our work, it’s extremely important that we get people from those regions”.

The salary benchmark being launched poses several challenges for the organisation. The unusual blend of jobs it offers means that its salaries must be compared against those of different types of organisations. Plus, Greenpeace takes a more idealistic approach toward its salary structure.

“Our current salary system is built on a real belief system,” Tinneveld says. “People in the lower-end jobs are a little overpaid, and management is quite underpaid, compared to other non-profit organisations.”

Tinneveld’s role does not currently have a seat on Greenpeace’s senior management team, but she hopes, and believes, that will change.

“Fortunately, it’s an environment where they listen and come to me for advice, so that’s good, but I think it would be even better if I were on the senior management team,” she says. “I would like HR to be part of that because then, it becomes much more strategic.”

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