I recently attended an organisational meeting for a Global HR Special
Interest Group in the Detroit area. One of the discussion points was
topicality, and I was delighted to see that most of the attendees had concerns
and needs that focused on local and national HR issues, rather than expats.
As recently as a year or two ago, a roomful of people discussing non-US HR
issues would have zeroed in on the pains and issues revolving around expatriate
staff. Today, the focus is more on how we manage HR locally.
Over the last few years, many companies have seen a fall in either the
number of assignees, or the length of their assignments. This has moved three
areas of global HR into the spotlight: effective localisation strategies,
robust repatriation mechanisms, and dynamic talent management.
The localisation of an expatriate role is a terrific opportunity for the
company to demonstrate good global business practices. It’s also a terrific
opportunity to torpedo employee goodwill if it isn’t handled carefully.
When you set about localising an expatriate role, it is essential that you
first understand what is being done. Do you and the country manager have a good
understanding of the history? Why was an expat sent out? What remit was given
to the expat? Was the role made to fit the expat, or did you select an expat to
fit the role?
Your localisation strategy should be a core component of your people
strategy in any given country. Local staff are vividly aware of the costs
associated with expats, and they also know if the people you send over are
truly the ‘best and brightest’, or just ‘placeholders’. Have you communicated
the strategy to your locals? If so, you should have at least one person primed
and ready to step into the role – hopefully more. Has that person been enabled
to succeed once the expat departs?
Invariably, I hear the question: ‘What if my locals aren’t ready to take
over?’ This of course comes back to the specific mission that your expat was
given. If their original remit did not include the development of a successor,
you may have an assignment failure on your hands, even if the expatriate was
effective in all other respects.
Your local staff want you to prove there is no ‘glass ceiling’ for them,
that it isn’t just the ‘headquarters’ people who get the large jobs and
responsibilities. If you fail to provide visible means of growth, you risk
alienating your best people – who are also the ones that will have the easiest
time finding a new role, should they choose to.
As the HR manager handling overseas locations, it is your responsibility to
ensure that localisation is not an afterthought, but a core part of your work
to build a strong global workforce. We’ll talk about repatriation later…
By Lance J Richards, Senior director, international HR, Kelly Services