are the pivotal issues facing HR over the coming years? How can global HR
professionals evolve in this changing climate? asks Lance Richards
Last autumn, about 50 senior HR practitioners, consultants and academics, meeting
at the SHRM Foundation’s Thought Leaders Conference in Washington DC, set out
to determine the pivotal issues facing HR professionals in the coming years. We
agreed on five essentials: speed of change and entrepreneurial mindset, the
changing role of the HR professional, measuring human capital, the impact of
technology and globalisation.
I will gladly accept these factors as key to the profession over the next
decade. But what do they mean for the global HR professional, the HR person
whose work already crosses time zones and borders, cultures and languages?
Speed of change
Global HR professionals live with business operating around the clock and
around the world. The velocity of change in our global enterprises demands it. It
is essential, though, we recognise that sometimes nimbleness is better than
In an HR arena, speed of change means HR is in the thick of change – and
leading it. We must be constantly mindful of our company’s talent, and how that
asset is managed. The ability to retool a global workforce on the fly,
hot-swapping one set of knowledge workers in one country for another, may
quickly become the hallmark of good global HR.
We must be careful with entrepreneurial behaviours which may not play well
in every culture. What may be considered a desirable work trait in one place
could be viewed as clear insubordination in another.
Changing role of the HR professional
If anyone knows about the changing role of HR professionals, it’s those of
us who practice HR in multiple countries. Gone are the days when administration
of local insurance schemes or expatriate allowances consumed the day.
Now, it is a focus on merger integration teams, ‘green field’ start-ups, and
suddenly arranged alliances. The global HR professional must not just be ready
to react, but must stand shoulder to shoulder with those who drive change to
benefit the enterprise.
Measuring human capital
We are all aware of the HR metrics being used today to calculate, hopefully,
improvements in the services we provide or to validate that money spent on HR
is, in fact, money well-spent. On a global scale, a key driver must be that HR
refuses to allow non-meaningful comparators to enter the equation. Implemented
and managed carefully, a series of well-designed metrics will increase HR’s
perceived value, focus the work of HR professionals, demonstrate that HR
understands the business – and is aligned with its direction.
There is no Holy Grail for measuring the efficacy of an HR function. At the
end of the day, many HR components simply defy clean valuation. The point here
is that the areas which can be measured, should be measured.
Impact of technology
Those of us who have briefcases packed with a dozen currencies, electrical
adaptors and telephone cords don’t need to be told about the impact of
technology. The case could be made that technology has enabled global HR
management to be where it is today. The advent of e-mail less than 15 years ago
dramatically changed how an HR professional dealt with the far corners of the
world. Still, we lack reliable connectivity outside major world centres;
non-irritating videoconferencing is hard to find, and we still have to carry
three or four different cellphones on a business trip of any reasonable length.
The technology impact has also allowed us to draw more data, more input into
the work we do.
This, in no small part, has enabled companies to craft global policies which
encourage local practices to be not only globally compliant with the
enterprises’ vision, but locally relevant as well.
I personally was delighted that globalisation fell into the top five list –
coming from a largely American group of senior HR leaders. For professionals
already practising in the global arena, it is good to know that we are already
in motion, where many of our domestic-focused colleagues are now pointing.
In this respect, it is our responsibility to be evangelists to our
colleagues whose focus is single-country. It is essential that, as our
organisations expand and grow internationally, we lead the globalisation turn
within our own HR departments – and our organisations as a whole. What are we
doing to globalise our employee population, to educate them about the places
where our enterprises do business? How are we encouraging and motivating our
best and brightest to take assignments outside their home country?
The message here? HR professionals are expected to develop and deliver high
value solutions that are executable at the speed of global commerce. The ones
that do will be leaders in their organisations.
Richards is managing director of Suddenly Global, a global HR consultancy. He
is on the board of SHRM Global Forum, and writes a scheduled editorial column
on global HR issues for globalhr’s sister publication, Personnel Today. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org