Don’t leave overseas HR to the last minute

The recent SHRM Global Forum conference in New York enjoyed an attendance of
more than 650 international HR practitioners, consultants and academics – with
23 countries represented.

I taught a four-hour workshop on managing overseas HR. It was targeted at HR
professionals who bear responsibility for managing populations of local
employees from afar. In most situations this means they are corporate HR
people, handling a number of countries, either for a region or in smaller
enterprises, for the world. The workshop is specifically designed not to
discuss expatriate issues.

In informal discussions with participants, I was struck by how many of them
were experienced HR professionals, but were new to the field of international
HR. In one case, a vice-president had died and the attendee was suddenly thrust
onto the global playing field. Another told me that she woke-up one morning and
learned that her company had acquired another company with an international

I was delighted by several attendees who indicated they did not have current
international responsibilities, but were either hoping to get some, or just
wanted to know about another discipline within HR. But in most cases, the
common theme was that these HR people knew there was a world out there, but had
not prepared, or been prepared, to assume a role carrying multi-country
responsibility. That is not fair to the individual or their employers.

As a profession, I believe it is essential we rethink how we pursue the
education and development of IHR professionals. Classes on compensation,
internet recruiting, pensions, etc, can be found as far afield as Adelaide,
Abidjan and Atlanta, and there are rigorous professional certifications in the
UK and the US.

Granted, these domestic-focused classes and seminars are supported by market
demand. I cannot change that, but I would argue that serving and advancing the
profession means we have an obligation to lead that market demand. As
globalisation works its magic, HR can ill afford to be floundering with
skillsets focused on only one country and culture.

I would like to see our HR institutions treat the issues of cross-border HR
management as a core part of a competent HR professional’s repertoire.

If your enterprise sends people to my workshop as pre-need training or
development, bless you. If your enterprise has to send an HR person to my class
because of an unexpected death, I will forgive you. But if your business has
been growing, and your internationalisation was a foregone conclusion, and you
have waited until the last minute, then shame on you.

By Lance Richards, Member of the board of directors SHRM Global Forum

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