How an HR director can achieve alignment within a diverse team

Q I took on a corporate HR director role in an international organisation 18 months ago and have worked hard to establish a more global outlook. We’re making good progress, but it’s hard to ensure consistent delivery with such a diverse team. We have agreed a clear central HR strategy, but the ability of colleagues to implement this at regional levels is patchy. How can I get the group aligned?

A This is a common challenge for organisations as they become increasingly global. The best way to achieve alignment within a diverse team is to understand and make the most of the cultural differences.

Avoid falling into the trap of ‘cultural imperialism’, where the head office team makes assumptions about the way the rest of the organisation should work and tries to impose its cultural values and working practices on the regions. The key to a successful global operation is recognising that significantly different approaches are often required within differing cultural contexts.

Success as an international manager requires considerable adaptability. Highly effective global leaders are those who can comprehend cultural diversity and are able to adjust their leadership style accordingly. Realise that part of your role is to act as a mediator between team members and that cultural differences demand unique ways of working with each group.

It’s also critical to engage with the wider team by demonstrating high levels of inquisitiveness and a genuine desire to understand the dynamics of different cultures. This will help you develop an appreciation of the implications of cultural variations and how they impact on the business environment.

Collaborate with everyone closely to develop a clear vision and mission statement that the entire global HR community can own.

While it is important to have a core strategy, limit central control to what is necessary. In this way members across the regions will have a clear sense of guiding principles and mandatory requirements, but will be best placed to think globally while being able to act locally. By empowering them to do this, you will not only reduce frustrations within the team, but probably achieve a situation where all parties can learn from each other.

Finally, it is essential that you demonstrate integrity in your approach. Recognise that what is considered to be acceptable business practice varies between cultures.

As the global leader and mediator, you must demonstrate the highest level of integrity and adaptability. Don’t forget to draw on your international network for advice and support.

By Adrian Starkey, head of executive coaching, DDI

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