International HR strategy: How I made a difference Paul Herrick, head of HR for Europe, Burson Marsteller

When PR company Burson-Marsteller’s new chief executive came on board last July, he wanted to create a single business strategy across all our European practices. This became our ‘One Europe’ strategy and I was responsible for developing the HR strategy to support it.

The ‘One Europe’ HR strategy has included a number of elements, such as cross-border mentoring, a pan-European referral programme and Europe-wide web conferences.

It’s all part of making people feel they’re part of something bigger. A lot of people join us because we’re an international agency with markets in many of the European capitals.

One of the key elements of the strategy was the introduction of an international assignment programme.

Previously, we had offered employees the chance to work in our international offices but it had been pretty opportunistic.

This was a way of offering people these opportunities in a more systematic way – even if they don’t take up the chance to work abroad, they feel they’re part of something bigger.

In the first year of the programme (last year), we sent eight people to ‘host offices’ in our international markets for three months, and next year we’ll send 12.

Everyone that goes on assignment has a development plan in their local office, and a sponsor in the host office that ensures they get involved in client work while they’re there.

Staff have to do a presentation to their host office about how their home office works, and when they return, they present to their home colleagues about their time abroad. This means there is a huge amount of knowledge transferred between offices.

There is a short-term cost involved in terms of paying for employees’ accommodation and travel, but there’s a return on that investment. In return the person is more developed, has acquired language skills and has developed broader relationships and understanding.

Building our ‘One Europe’ HR strategy has helped to demonstrate that HR really does what it says it will do – that we are action-oriented.

Why it worked…

  • We followed the wider business strategy.
  • We made people feel they were part of an international business.
  • We built skills and shared knowledge across our organisation.

Paul Herrick, head of HR for Europe, Burson Marsteller

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