was called the other day by an HR colleague who had been summoned in by her
chief executive officer at her medium-sized company. "It’s time to open
shop in Japan," he had said. "We’ll need to move Steve, in business
development, there to start it up. He’s projecting that we’ll need two local
people now, but probably 10 to 12 by the end of the year. Can you get busy on
I e-mailed over a list of my Japan contacts, but, nevertheless, she is
venturing into a vast unknown for her company. And, unfortunately, the company
probably knew it was heading in this direction but wasn’t ready.
The Fortune Global 500 companies already have armies of HR managers, usually
with a good contingent of people with international responsibilities. The next
tier – the Fortune Global 1,500-501 – are heavy players in their own country or
region, but suddenly going global raises a totally new set of issues demanding
a complete rethink.
Companies involved in a globalising effort are faced with a myriad of
challenges, and some terrific opportunities to create a global people culture
from scratch. By this I don’t mean turning the clock back and sending a sales
manager to London or Hong Kong for two years. I mean looking at the firm’s
ability to set the stage for change from an export model to a multinational
model, or from a multinational to a global model. The HR questions must be: has
my company, or have I, thought ahead? Have we prepared for this inevitable turn
There are a variety of things to be looked at. What is our current culture?
Is it exportable? Do we even want to export it? Do we want to be a British
company with a series of off-shore offices, or do we want to be many local
businesses that share a common British parent?
Other questions include: what is our leadership style and is it sustainable
outside our home country? Do we have an articulated compensation and benefits
strategy? Do we have a transportable brand? Will it help or hinder us in our
recruitment? Do we have legal and financial counsel?
I would challenge my HR colleagues to develop forward-thinking strategies
based on the potential or perhaps inevitable globalisation of their business.
Look at your business model. Are you visiting your business development
people on a weekly or daily basis? Have you involved yourself in their
exploratory talks and initial due diligence discussions? Have you been able to
show a world view beyond your home borders? When your CEO announces a joint
venture in Country X, is your HR function ready with possible models and
As the world gets smaller, and business moves faster, I believe that HR is
fully accountable for anticipating changes in scope. HR functions that are
focused on merely delivering transactional excellence will not be able to
manage, much less lead, their companies as these exciting times unfold. Are you
By Lance Richards
Vice president HR, Teleglobe and sits on the board of directors for SHRM Global
Forum and the editorial board of Global HR