Picture Jenny, a highly sought after project manager, walking into a new company that has just recruited her away from a place where she was happy, secure, and valued. The reason she entertained the opportunity was because it is a growing company in a new market that would provide her with challenges that she wouldn’t have with her current employer. Your talented HR team had done a great job to source top talent and your leadership team pulled out all the stops to convince her that this was the right place for her to work. She took that leap of faith and joined your company. On her first day, she sits in a orientation to learn about the company and it seems like a totally different company— nothing about the products or services she will be working on are mentioned, the policies and rules seem to contradict laws, and at the end, the benefits aren’t the same that were discussed in the offer process. The HR person mentions that there are some local differences that they will discuss at the end of the presentation. By the end of the day, Jenny is more confused than ever on what applies to her and what doesn’t. Nonetheless, she remains excited to make contributions and be a part of a new team. She gets even more excited to get emails about upcoming events, only to be later told that those don’t apply at this location. In addition, she starts to be given last minute deadlines that fall over holiday weekends. During those holidays, she gets more emails so she ends up spending the whole day responding to requests. Conversely, when she is working on a deadline during a non-holiday week, her peers, that she is depending on for answers, are not available because they are on holiday. She starts to talk to others at her location and realizes that it isn’t just her; everyone is experiencing the same treatment, even the leadership and HR teams. They tell her they have grown to accept it, and it doesn’t bother them as much anymore. Worse, they indicate there is no use in complaining, it is what it is, and she just has to learn to deal with it. After all, she works for a global company, and since they develop programs across the globe, she and her co-workers just have to adapt things locally.
As an HR Professional, if this were the work environment at your location, would you stand by and do nothing? Of course not! You would take immediate steps to address the working conditions. However, for some global companies, this is exactly what they do to their international locations. You have heard the cliché, “think global, act local.” It is what you do in a global capacity, but it is almost as difficult to deploy as “eat healthy and exercise regularly.” I have had this as a lifelong struggle to obtain a healthy lifestyle. I have read about how to create a healthy lifestyle, I have attended Weight Watchers, and I have tried every diet that has ever come out. By doing all these things, I have over thirty years of knowledge and experience on this subject, but it is a daily commitment that I have to make in order to be successful. It is no different when I am working in the capacity of global HR leadership. Everything you suggest, practice, and deploy must take into account the associate experience at the local level. Even with all the knowledge and background, without that daily commitment, you are sure to fail in your efforts. That is why thinking globally and acting locally is outdated—we need to shift to thinking locally in order to act globally. I will discuss three tactical ways that you can start incorporating this into your daily habits. These are in your communications, how you develop global programs, and a simple way to establish deadlines.
There is a delicate balance that you must take in your communication strategy between being transparent and being relevant. If associates feel like you are hiding things that are going on at other locations or countries, they will lose trust in leadership. However, if you share every piece of communication, regardless of its relevancy to them, they will stop reading what you are sending out because they will assume it doesn’t apply to them. To help combat this concern, have an open forum with your HR team at each location to help develop messages. Even better, develop a cross-functional, cross-location team to help develop messages. Determine with them what is globally applicable so you can have a consistent message. Now that you have that consistent message as the template, have the local HR team tailor the message for what is different at that location. One of the most important things is that the local HR Leader sends the message out. Coming from them, the associates will automatically infer applicability and credibility. Equally as important is that the HR leader hears and understands the differences in the messages that are occurring in other locations. This gives the HR team knowledge to help explain variations and the rationale behind them if associates have questions.
An even simpler tip is to make a habit of acknowledging the time of day at the location that you are speaking with. If you are talking with folks in Asia and say “Good evening,” even when it is morning for you, it shows an awareness and sensitivity to them.
Developing Global Programs
My simple words of advice here are “don’t develop things by yourself.” You might have every global credential after your name, but what you don’t have is the ability to take into account every possible custom or cultural norm that could interfere with the ultimate success of your program. In September’s issue of Workforce Management, they illustrate the consequences of this in what they call the hong bao incident. A United States Technology firm in Hong Kong wanted to reward associates after the company went public. They gave each associate a hong bao—a red envelope that contains a monetary amount given during special occasions. The company thought they were being culturally sensitive and giving the associates something of local significance. Where they went wrong was in the amount given. In Asian cultures, many items are symbols for other things, including numbers. Unbeknownst to them, they gave out the equivalent of four Singapore dollars, which signifies death. The thought was overshadowed by the symbol of the four and resulted in morale issues that they never recovered from. If they had simply asked their trusted HR team at the location to help them develop recognition for associates, they could have avoided the noise that ensued for their seemingly good deed.
To be a truly global organization, you need to develop programs with participants from all cultures and rotate which HR groups take the lead on developing those global programs. Otherwise, each location becomes their own “domestic” site that tailors and deploys programs provided by headquarters.
This is a very simple, yet almost always overlooked item. Last minute requests for information are impossible when you need to gather it from someone in Asia who won’t be online to see your request until the next day. In addition, there has to be acknowledgement of the global holiday calendar when setting deadlines. Depending on how diverse your company is, it might be impossible to accommodate everyone. The magic is that they know you have at least considered that before setting the schedule. And, if another location had to complete something on their holiday, the next program should take that into account so that you aren’t always imposing on the same location.
By deploying these simple ideas, you can start to act global by thinking locally. As I mentioned before, this is a process, not a simple task to check off. You will make mistakes. The good news is that since people will start to see you are making efforts to take them into account, they will start to give you feedback that will help prevent you from making similar mistakes in the future.
Heather McBride-Morse, SPHR/ GPHR, is the VP of Human Resources for a global technology company in Lake Mary, FL with locations in the United States, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. She also serves on the board of the Central Florida HR Association as the Director of Student Chapters. Her advice has appeared in many publications including “Get the Interview Every Time: Fortune 500 Hiring Professionals’ Tips for Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters” and “The Web 2.0 Job Finder.”