My first professional HR job was at the corporate office for a large grocery store chain. I sat in a cubical, did statistical analysis for programs, and calculated turnover rates by every variable imaginable. I then made recommendations based on these numbers.
I was doing great! Adding real value! My ideas were top-notch!
Then my boss sent me to work in one of the stores for three weeks.
Sometimes reality hits in the form of sore feet.
After three weeks of stocking shelves, sorting produce, running a cash register, dealing with customers, weighing and wrapping seafood, and everything else in the store (except for the bakery), my recommendations changed.
Why? It wasn’t that the numbers I used were wrong. They were right. It’s that I was sitting in a cubicle thinking about how things worked in the corporate office. Putting me in the store opened my eyes to what the real business was. I understood why turnover in produce was higher than in other departments (it’s hard, busy, and customers are picky!). I understood why bus schedules were critical when making store schedule recommendations.
This wake-up call can come to many companies who create a global strategy but forget about local implementation. The keys to scaling globally are consistency, collaboration, and tracking. These can help drive and implement your corporate policies and culture.
Consistency (but with local flair).
Just like all politics are local, all employee relations are local as well. It becomes more complicated as you cross international borders – laws, regulations, and culture all play a role. In pre-Covid times, a couple of kisses on the cheek between a man and a woman were a perfectly respectful business greeting in France. But that would be incredibly inappropriate in Saudi Arabia.
Your policies should be general guidelines that can be adjusted to local conditions. For example, focus on a respectful workplace policy, but let each location apply that according to local customs rather than setting hard and fast rules. Don’t let your US experience convince you that your way is always the best.
By focusing on consistent core values, you can have unity across the corporation, but with adjustments for local practices.
Of course, there are times in which you want to override local customs. For instance, your company should prohibit age, sex, and racial discrimination worldwide, regardless of local traditions. (Unless it’s expressly prohibited by local law!) But, accept that it may take some training and gentle corrections to get local managers to leave these requirements off job postings and stop asking about them in job interviews. Yes, it has to change, but it will take time.
Collaboration (getting local input)
Like my boss sent me to the store to learn how the company operates, you need to meet with people outside your corporate offices. Hopefully you can meet in person soon, but right now, you’ll probably need to use video conferencing. Listen to what people say. Ask questions about what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t be defensive. Listen! You may find out that your satellite office has a better idea for the entire company than yours.
Make sure you have representations from all countries in your general policy guidelines. Even if you ultimately decide that your corporate policy needs to be worldwide, you’ll know what people think and what problems you’ll face.
Without local collaboration, you’ll find you make mistakes. Like, for instance, what if you schedule a large project that will need heavy input from your Egyptian office – but the due date is in the middle of Ramadan? Do you know when Diwali is? It’s an important holiday in India, and you want your employees to celebrate and take time off. Don’t expect your global employees to adopt a US holiday schedule.
Tracking (how else will you know what is going on)?
When you’re documenting employee relations cases, you need to take a global look and track problems. To do that, you need a consistent process and information that you can easily combine to get a global look. If you allow each office to create its own processes, your leadership will find tracking and fixing problems challenging.
Of course, this can be a bit difficult with employee relations because there will be different laws in each country that will dictate some of the information gathered and some of the consequences. (For instance, most countries do not have employment-at-will like the vast majority of US companies do. Firing can be complex in many places.)
But there needs to be consistency in reporting and keep those core values in mind. It will allow for a unified global culture and protect your employees.
Growing pains hurt.
Growing is fantastic, but it can be painful. If you go into it thinking you can just open a new office and everything will be fine, you’ll hit a wall quickly. You won’t be able to send an American in to make everything “work the way it does here.” While you may send someone, that person needs cultural training and an open mind. Hiring locally early can help your company grow in that area.
Remember, think in broad strokes and implement locally with things that work in the situation. Everyone will be more engaged and happier.
Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She's sure not evil. She's super nice! Learn more about her at www.evilhrlady.org and email her directly for decidedly unevil advice.