As HR professionals gather for April’s SHRM Global Forum in
Chicago, Eddie HK Ng, president of the World Federation of Personnel
Management, considers how the challenges of globalisation vary in the developed
and developing world
Now that we are in the midst of globalisation, the Society
for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Global Forum this month will provide a
golden opportunity for hundreds of its members from over 25 countries to
network and discuss what this means for international HR.
Globalisation has already thrown up some interesting
challenges: the war for talent versus the lay-off culture; the few elite
winners versus the majority; the role of HR as passive supporter versus active
change agent; the struggle between managing change versus managing growth;
intellectual capital versus cost and burden; diversity versus homogeneity – the
list is endless. And we in HR have to help our organisations to deal with these
Of course, these challenges depend on which part of the world
we are in. While the more developed locations are focusing on the fundamentals
of human values and global workforce management, developing countries are still
catching up. Take Thailand, which is still struggling to restructure its
economy, or China with its big push on World Trade Organisation initiatives. In
fact, most emerging markets like these are at different stages of development.
And companies venturing into these countries have to be sensitive to them.
For example, during the Asian economic crisis of 1997 to
2000, most global organisations in the region had to reorganise their
infrastructure and standards in order to compete again internationally. This,
of course, had huge implications for HR. Companies in the region have had to
revolutionalise their people management systems and practices. For instance,
many firms have been forced to reassess their long-term liabilities such as
pension programmes, by setting pension limits and enforcing both employee and
employer contributions – something new for Asian companies.
Many organisations have also had to re-examine their
training and education systems and their ability to catch up with technological
advances. There was the question of whether existing workforces had the
competencies to adapt, especially in the light of lay-offs and the blame
culture. National governments did their bit: for example, Hong Kong, Singapore
and China relaunched the importance of lifelong learning; Taiwan and Malaysia
refocused their technological competencies to bridge the knowledge gaps. Korea,
too, is retuning the mind-set of its workforce.
Of course, the Asian crisis left millions of unemployed
workers feeling insecure. That, coupled with a dramatic drop in purchasing
power due to weakening currencies, created tremendous tensions, stress and
anxiety within the Asian economies, especially among the lower-skilled workers.
As a result, there is an increasing need for firms in the region to deal with
mental health problems, psychological disorders and violence – relatively new
phenomena in the Asian workplace.
The other region that is facing huge change is Africa –
especially South Africa. While recognising the need for globalisation, it
understands the need for self-help and self-enhancement. At last year’s annual
conference, the Institute of People Management South Africa highlighted the
need for globalisation, but it recognised that to do that it had to strengthen
the basic infrastructure as well as upgrade the general education standard of
As the South African economy has realised, globalisation
will only produce positive results when the basics of every economy are sound
Undoubtedly, it is HR’s job to help firms cope with the
challenges of globalisation. We have to find new ways of doing things. We need
a new perspective on employment relationships, a new meaning of trust and
loyalty at work, and we need to shift the definition of values in the
management of international workforces in the light of continued frustration resulting
from discrepancies among different standards, cultures and legal frameworks in
different locations. But most importantly, the HR profession must re-engineer
its role and function. We need to ask ourselves questions like who are we
really accountable to – management, employees, shareholders or the public?
There are so many questions that need answers. And although
there are no fixed formulas, they have to be brought to the discussion table.
The SHRM Global Forum conference is timely and carefully designed with these
issues in mind. And I am confident that it will provide the perfect platform
for collective thinking and for working out creative and pragmatic solutions
for the brave new world of tomorrow.