It’s a Small World
AS MORE COMPANIES LOOK BEYOND THEIR
HOME COUNTRY FOR GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES,
HR PROFESSIONALS ARE TACKLING THE
TRICKY BUSINESS OF MANAGING PEOPLE AND
CORPORATE CULTURE ACROSS BORDERS
In early 1992, U.S. President George H. W. Bush went to Japan
with Lee Iacocca (then CEO of Chrysler Corp.) to meet with
Japanese leaders and discuss trade challenges between the two
countries. As legend has it, President Bush made aggressive and
explicit demands, blatantly violating a number of Japanese rules of
decorum. More than just ruffling some feathers, it’s believed the cul-tural
faux pas seriously damaged negotiations and put a significant
chill on relations between the two countries for years afterward.
It seems the president didn’t have a grasp on the cultural norms of
the region he was visiting – or any idea just how important observ-ing
those norms might be. If this kind of misstep can happen to a
head of state with dozens of advisors, it can happen to anyone who
doesn’t do their homework. These days, with the world becoming
smaller and more and more organizations conducting business in
multiple parts of the globe, it’s becoming critical to understand and
respect different regions’ priorities, codes of conduct and customs.
For example, not accepting business cards with both hands in
China is considered devastatingly rude. Refusing an offer of vod-ka
is a snub of enormous proportions in Russia, no matter how
sincerely you may despise the drink. The differences in cultural
norms can be surprising, and the ramifications can range from a
moment of awkwardness to the loss of a pivotal sales deal to a ma-jor
hiccup in international relations.
For HR professionals – who trade in the currency of healthy
corporate culture and solid business relationships – understand-ing
how to conduct business abroad, whether it’s a talent search in
a different country, managing a team remotely or being physically
relocated to another region, is fundamentally important.
BUILD A BASE OF EXPERTISE
It stands to reason that an HR professional needs a solid foun-dation
of essential skills before building a layer of international
experience and detail.
“First and foremost, you need to have in-depth knowledge of, and
expertise in, HR concepts and practices,” said Badar Khan, an or-ganization
transformation consultant, currently working in Qatar.
It’s a bit like developing skating skills before going on to play
hockey – you’ll never excel at the game without the fundamentals.
SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE
Conducting HR business abroad requires a heightened awareness
of the world beyond your own borders. Major global issues and
trends apply to whatever region you may eventually focus on, since
these days every country’s border is more or less permeable.
“Ongoing awareness of the changing global environment,
including an understanding of technological advances, labour eco-nomics,
regulatory climates and political movements is important
to ensure HR leaders can advise and lead on HR plans that inte-grate
with global and local business strategies,” said Alim Dhanji,
senior vice president of human resources with TD Bank Group.
By Melissa Campeau
16 ❚ MARCH/APRIL 2014 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL