Going global

successful global HR manager must boast many special skills. He or she must be
highly organised and absorb copious knowledge on a country’s local culture. In
a seven-point guide to the necessary skills, Sally O’Reilly outlines the
demands of keeping on top of business demands across different time zones

a globetrotting, jet-hopping HR manager, responsible for implementing corporate
personnel policy across the world is a tempting prospect. Instead of dealing
with staff in, say, Milton Keynes and Slough, you could be liaising with people
in, for example, Tokyo and New York. It’s HR management writ large, a
challenging role that will give you the chance to use your experience and
skills on a wider canvas. But to pull it off, you must combine functional
expertise with the ability to relate your knowledge to unfamiliar cultures and
working styles.

role is further complicated by the fact that many companies are now trying to
pull off a delicate balancing act. While all are agreed that a clear and
coherent HR strategy is essential, such a strategy needs to be highly flexible
and even negotiable at local level.

managers have to take a very strong leadership position and establish an agreed
way of defining jobs, skills and staff turnover throughout the company,"
says Vance Kearney, European HR director, Oracle Corporation. "But the
system does need to be flexible and accommodate differences across the

strategies are a case in point. There has to be clarity about which members of
staff are being rewarded, and whether the rewards on offer are appropriate.
"In the US, performance measurement is very much about individual
achievement – but in countries like Malaysia, there is more emphasis on
rewarding the whole team," says Terence Brake, president of TMA America.
"Staff aren’t comfortable with rewards going to individual people."

Holbeche, director of research at Roffey Park business school, sees the role of
global HR staff as falling into one of two categories – either they are
following a broadly US model, and rolling out corporate HR strategy across the
world, or they have a more flexible, hands-off role, and are overseeing the
work of HR directors scattered throughout the world who may be operating very
differently within the overall framework of the company.

the level of understanding you need in a transnational HR role is greater than
in the model in which company culture is given priority over regional
difference," she says."This is because you are not expecting your
culture to dominate everywhere else."

how should you go about landing a job in international personnel? We have
highlighted seven essential skills which will help you get your first global HR
job, and ensure you carry out the role effectively.

1.  Multicultural awareness

you look in the mirror and begin to understand why you behave as you do, it’s
the first step towards understanding someone else’s culture," says Michael
McCallum, vice-president of production and business development at Cendant
Intercultural, a US firm specialising in cross-cultural training.

a good understanding of cultural difference can help you deal with some of the
ethical dilemmas of working internationally – for instance, if you are working
in a country in which "bribes" are so much part of the culture that
they aren’t really bribes at all, but a legitimate way for money to pass
through the system."

abroad helps, so if you have never worked overseas, try for a secondment or
apply for a post overseas, even if it’s not your dream job. Meanwhile, take a
good look at your own cultural assumptions.

2.  Global business knowledge

your head around international business issues can be a time consuming
business. However, it’s worth the effort. Brian J Glade, vice- president,
international programmes with the US-based Society for Human Resource
Management, points out that global HR staff need to know about the political
economies of the countries in which their firm is operating, both in terms of
trading conditions and employment law.

of local and regional economic conditions, required government benefits,
employment laws such as minimum wage and termination procedures is necessary if
your company is taking on local nationals," he says.

lack of such knowledge can lead to problems such as that experienced by Marks
& Spencer, which tried to close down an operation in France without going
through a 30-day consolation period. If this isn’t your strong point, initiate
your own business education. Read the financial press, subscribe to
professional journals that cover this sector and keep up to date with both
international business affairs and 
employment law outside Europe.

3.  Communication – from near and far

globally means communicating with people all over the planet. Time differences,
telecommunication and long distance consultation can all be problem areas. A
good global HR manager needs to be able to plan his or her time, assess whether
he needs to get on a plane to be at a meeting, or whether a conference call
will do.

very Western to draw up action plans, send them out to everyone and expect them
to be put into practice," says Brake. "But global organisations don’t
work like that – in places like France, Latin America and Asia, things get done
because of relationships. So you have to put time into showing your face and
getting to know people." And when you get there, remember to listen and
soak up as much information as you can.

communication means managing information across multi-time zones and
boundaries. "Sometimes you will have to set up a conference call at 4am
your time because that is the only time that all the relevant people are
available," says Cendant’s McCallum.

4.  Speaking other languages

a thorough knowledge of any foreign language can help you understand other
cultures – because you’ve been able to get inside the mindset of another
nationality. And learning even a smattering of the language of colleagues
within your company shows you respect them, and are taking time to get to know
something about their lives.

of the stereotypes of the UK and the US is that we don’t care about other
cultures," says Brake of TMA America. "If you learn another language,
it shows your international colleagues that you aren’t expecting them to do all
the adapting."

only your own language could hold you back in the employment stakes, too.
"Increasingly, we are seeing senior people in global HR roles who speak
four or five different languages," says Roffey Park’s Holbeche. "A
typical example would be a Romanian who speaks Serbo-Croat, French, German and
is used to dealing with people in English.

you don’t have a foreign language, taking a class is a good idea. An MBA
qualification will also help – particularly if you can arrange to do it at a
foreign business school.

5.  Stamina and resolve

this line of work may be – relaxing it certainly is not. Anyone who wants to
raise their game and go into global HR needs to have boundless energy. Kearney
of Oracle is dealing with 14,000 employees in 32 different countries spread
across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and heads up an HR department of 140
people. And Geoff Rogers of finance company Standard Chartered has to
co-ordinate more than 40 HR services – without dictating the company line. His
role is to integrate the various operations into the corporate line using his
negotiating skills.

HR leaders need to challenge practices which don’t work in some areas,"
says Holbeche. "For instance, there could be regional HR managers on the
ground who are very good at oiling the wheels of local business, but who are
still a problem from the corporate point of view. If that’s the case, you may
need to fire them and bring in a replacement."

yourself how you would cope with the stress. If you find working within a UK
firm exhausting, how would you cope with the pressures of an international

6.  Flexibility

role of a global HR manager as distinct from a general HR manager is like
moving from a game of chess on a board to a 3D game of chess – and one in which
the pieces are conscious and have a different perception of the game to
you," says TMA America’s Brake. "Complexity takes the whole thing to
another dimension."

instance, the HR department at Coca-Cola doesn’t try to command and control all
the local operations, but tries to be the philosophy maker, and to diffuse
these HR philosophies locally. And diffusing corporate HR thinking effectively
means being flexible about how this is done. "In the US performance is
very much about individuals but in Malaysia, for example, staff aren’t
comfortable with rewards going to individual people – there is more emphasis on
the whole team," says Brake.

7.  Leadership

you are going to be an effective global HR manager, you need to inspire
confidence and have vision and imagination. "You have to take a very
strong leadership position, and be very strategic about your role," says
Oracle’s Kearney. "Developing your thinking skills can help prepare you
for this role, according to Brake. "You need to be able to think
conceptually, 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 – most
organisations aren’t good on teaching staff how to think."

of a global HR manager

Has a good knowledge of other cultures – including her own. Doesn’t make value
judgements about social norms in other countries.

Speaks at least one other language and makes it her business to know a few
phrases 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’s
Calcutta office, for example, once she decided to work in global HR.

Is a good strategic thinker and has developed her conceptual thinking by
reading and networking with senior staff within her organisation.

Understands how global business works. Never travels anywhere without The
Economist and the FT in her briefcase.

Is energetic and determined. Doesn’t shrink from making tough decisions, and
has won the respect of her team by showing her unflagging commitment to the

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