The team at Reputation Capital Media helped us capture some of the best sessions at HRevolution 2013Here’s their summary of attendees’ discussions on global HR.

challenges of global HR

In yesterday’s post on “Why Companies Need to Take HR Global,” we looked at The “Taking HR Global” discussion at HRevoloution and some of the challenges and frustrations HR practitioners face as they try to bring cultural and geographic diversity to their companies. Today we’ll look at some of the specific differences participants find challenging.

It’s one thing dealing with English-speaking countries where there are cultural differences but the language is the same, said one woman. It’s another thing when you start to work in countries in Asia and other parts of the world where people don’t speak English because you’re dealing with language barriers and cultural differences that cause challenges and misunderstandings.

Communication Differences

Different cultures have very different ways of communicating and that can cause stress in a global workforce.

For example, in Australia, if you like someone and are really accepting of them and comfortable around them, you’re really rude to them, said Linda Jonas, a transplant to Sydney from Germany. That was hard for her to get used to and take the right way because in Germany “we’re really direct” and believe there’s always some truth in everything people say, even jokes.

You have to communicate those differences in communication style to to employees because they won’t be able to figure on their own and may not know how to react, said Linda. You also need to think about how feedback works in different cultures and be sensitive to those differences.

That’s even true within a country because people take feedback differently in general, chimed in a woman in the group.

In the U.S. we all came from so many different countries and those values and communication styles get passed down from generation to generation, so we still have such a variety in styles from person to person and company to company, said Trish McFarlane.

Working Differences

The way people get their work done, the environments they work best in and the sort of incentives they respond to vary based on culture, participants and panelists shared.

So even when core values are the same, “the way people deliver on those core values may be different,” said Bill Boorman.

Bill offered an example from Russia: In Moscow people show up when they show up instead of at a set time each morning. They may arrive at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., but they stay as late as necessary to get everything done.

An Australian participant said his country was surprised when they expanded into Africa and found they needed an entirely different recruiting approach. They found that in Africa you have to recruit from a tribal perspective instead of a values perspective. You have to recruit people’s buddies to work with them if you want to succeed.

Legal Differences

Laws vary greatly from country to country, so companies have to be aware of what they can and can’t do when they start operating across international borders.

This is a big deal in terms of recruiting because what’s standard practice in evaluating a candidate in one country is totally illegal in another, said Bonni Titgemeyer.

When you’re dealing with computer programmers, there may be cultural issues that affect the use of intellectual property.

One participant who was born in India and later became a U.S. citizen says he’s had problems with some of his company’s programmers based in India. They’ve had to discipline and even fire employees in India for copying code, which isn’t a big deal there, but is in the U.S.

American companies have to be careful because they can get in legal trouble in the U.S. for things that their employees in other countries do wrong, he said.

Do Companies Need a Universal Culture?

The code copying example came out of a discussion that started when a participant who teaches a course on cultural competence said he didn’t think that a shared corporate culture was important when you’re dealing with programmers in India. He said he didn’t think companies really needed them to share their organization’s values.

The participant with the programmer problems insisted that a shared organizational culture is important for all workers operating in all parts of the world. The secret is to find a way to effectively communicate those values to everyone because “values mean different things to different people in the world.”

Since 2009, HRevolution has been creating unique opportunities for HR professionals, recruiters, consultants, and vendors to come together to discuss and debate the future of HR. HRevolution 2013 was on October 6 in Las Vegas. 

We had a great day at HRevolution 2013. The team at Reputation Capital Media helped us capture some of the best sessions. Here’s their recap of the group discussion on Taking HR Global.

managing a global workforceThe “Taking HR Global” discussion at HRevolution dove into the challenges involved with hiring and managing a diverse workforce. Panelists and participants alike shared frustrations over the difficulties they’ve faced trying to get organizations’ leadership to understand the flexibility and understanding necessary to maximize today’s workforce.

There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Approach for HR

A lot of organizations want consistency in HR practices, said Trish McFarlane. “But I’m always trying to tell people it’s okay to treat people differently as long as you don’t discriminate.”

“There’s no one-size-fits-all for HR,” said Bonni Titgemeyer. Different cultures respond to different types of incentives. Different countries have different laws on hiring and managing employees. Organizations need to consider developing sub-strategies to fit the different countries they’re operating in.

“Work is changing much more rapidly outside of the industrialized nations,” said Bill Boorman. “From an HR point of view that’s what we need to be looking at. We need to see how other countries are doing things and what the working culture is elsewhere.”

Whether you’re an international company or not, you’re going to have international employees and you’re going to have to think about how to work with different cultures within your company, said Tammy Colson.

This is true even if you’re a small or mid-sized organization working in small-town America, Tammy said. “If you’re not going to them, they’re coming to you.”

The American Way Isn’t the Only (or Even the Best)Way

Although we were meeting in Las Vegas, a good number of the panelists and participants weren’t from the U.S., which made for an interesting environment to discuss the cultural differences that matter today. Among the non-Americans in the room, there was an overwhelming feeling that American companies think they’re culturally superior and everyone else needs to change to fit that culture.

There are a lot of places in the world where the last place people want to work is for an American employer, said Bill, who’s British. But U.S. employers think everyone wants to work for American companies because they consider themselves to be the best.

“Canadian employees don’t want to work for an American company,” said Bonni, speaking of her countrymen and women. The idea that American companies have a long reach and no matter where they operate people have to do things the American way isn’t appealing. “Canadians want there to be a Canadian twist” in the places they work.

“You can’t enforce the American culture on everyone,” agreed an American participant.

Diverse Employees Require Diverse Approaches

Even other Americans have different cultures than you might in your small town or region and a lot of companies have to change the way they think if they want any diversity in their workforce, said Colson.

One good way to do that is to tie new tactics to your company’s overall business strategy, she explained. “We don’t market our product the same way in California as in Ohio,” so HR shouldn’t be the same everywhere you’re recruiting, hiring and employing people.

When Robin Schooling made the move from Milwaukee to Louisiana more than a decade ago, she says she learned this lesson firsthand. “I might as well have moved to a foreign country. Literally there was a manager named Bubba.”

Does it Even Matter Where Work Takes Place?

Even as more and more companies are embracing remote working arrangements and looking beyond the area around their office locations for employees, some still resist diversifying by hiring people who won’t work on site.

Companies need to be asking: “Do we have to have everyone physically in the office, or can we have that great person working from somewhere else?” said Bonni.

Many in the room agreed that you have many more recruiting options when you’re willing to take on people from anywhere in the world.

“It’s much easier to take the work to the people than to take the people to the work,” said Bill.

Since 2009, HRevolution has been creating unique opportunities for HR professionals, recruiters, consultants, and vendors to come together to discuss and debate the future of HR. HRevolution 2013 was on October 6 in Las Vegas.