HR from a global perspective

Posted on: 25/07/2016

How many times have you been on the receiving end of a fabulous new ‘global initiative’ created by your US colleagues? It’s rolled out with lots of enthusiastic fanfare only for it to be received badly over here in Europe, as they haven’t taken into consideration cultural implications, the legal framework, consultation with works councils, translation into local languages or all of the above?

Global HR

Frustrating, isn’t it?

I’m certain all senior HR professionals that work in multinational companies parented in the US will be familiar with the stereotype of US leaders imposing global programmes and change initiatives with a one size fits all approach, on the rest of the world. (Incidentally, Donald Trump isn’t doing much to dispel this myth about US culture at the moment!). This can obviously cause a lot of frustration for non-US HR leaders and can result in failed initiatives and disengaged employees that feel their employer doesn’t understand their needs.

When you find yourself on the receiving end of the latest great idea, it is easy to feel that your stateside colleagues are wrong to roll out programmes without understanding the local markets and that they just don’t understand the complexity of employment law outside of the US (or indeed they just enjoy making your job more difficult!).

However, as HR leaders operating in increasingly global markets, it is incumbent upon us to work together with our colleagues not only in the US but across the globe. It’s only by working in this way that we can overcome cultural, technical, legal and process challenges in different jurisdictions to deliver lasting change. I would suggest we need to take a closer look at our role in that rather than directing a few choice words across the pond.

In my experience, US leaders in US parented companies often just can’t comprehend the complexity in other jurisdictions. They are simply are not familiar with the industrial relations framework and employment law landscape outside of their own country. When they learn about it, they are often disbelieving of how complex some jurisdictions can be in relation to the US.

It is absolutely true that some jurisdictions are substantially more complex from an industrial relations and employment law perspective than others. There is a spectrum of employee-centric to employer-centric employment law frameworks in different parts of the world – the US is at one end of that spectrum with it being very employer friendly, with little employment law restrictions (except in the state of California – known as the ‘France of the US’) and therefore it allows US organisations to drive change quickly and at a reasonable financial cost.

The real France, for example, is at the other end of the spectrum where the labour code, derived from a long standing socialist culture is firmly in favour of protecting employees’ rights – any kind of organisational change that will impact employees can take months of negotiation with the works councils and comparatively be much more expensive to implement than it would have been in the US. The UK lies somewhere in the middle on this spectrum with a healthy employment law framework to protect the rights of employees but with enough flexibility to enable organisations to move forward with their plans without debilitating legal hurdles or cost.

So how can we avoid these pitfalls to become more effective at rolling out global initiatives, locally?

If you have a senior team of collaborative HR and business leaders, global organisations are able to celebrate and take the best from each culture. There are some very easy ways to do this; making sure that all geographies and cultures are represented on change teams is an obvious first step; taking the right amount of time to test with a global audience new initiatives before a roll out helps to refine the end product and ensure it can meet the needs of the whole workforce. Frequent, open and honest dialogue in an environment that listens to others perspectives is the key to ensuring all voices are heard and all corners of the globe are represented.

It’s not helpful to US colleagues to continuously hear that they can’t do something because of the ‘law’ in a specific jurisdiction as often that’s simply not true. Due to this non-US HR leaders need to be solutions focussed and explain how something can be achieved within the boundaries of the legal frameworks in different jurisdictions. Never say never – just tell them how it can be done even if it will take time and cost more!

Finally, my advice to any senior HR professional working in a multi-national company is to embrace – as a core part of their role – the need to educate, educate, educate US colleagues to ensure that enough time is planned in advance to manage the legal requirements to consult and the needs of local markets when making any kind of organisational change. Have a ‘summary of employment law outside of the US’ presentation in your back pocket ready to be adapted and shared with your US colleagues when the occasion presents itself.

Working in a global environment can be challenging but it is so rewarding when an organisation takes the right steps to ensure that its people initiatives do meet the needs of a global workforce and HR leaders play a vital and exciting role in making that happen.

This is a guest article, written by Coleen Highfield, who is Vice President of HR (Europe and Africa) at MoneyGram International. You can get in touch with her via LinkedIn by following this link…

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