Organizations are faced with increasing complexity as they grow their businesses globally. As a result, companies are innovating and transforming their global infrastructures, technical platforms and business functions to achieve their strategic business goals. However, too many organizations still have human resources departments that function primarily in an outdated and ineffective administrative capacity.
Over the past 20 years, People Focus Consulting (PFC) has helped many of the world’s leading companies, including more than a quarter of today’s global Fortune 500, develop their people and organizations. Many of these companies are considered benchmarks in strategic HR. Their HR professionals effectively partner with and influence stakeholders inside and outside their organizations to realize the business goals and vision. Essentially, HR professionals at these firms act as influential leaders and internal consultants to the businesses and people they serve. They provide insights and lead change to create a people strategy that is aligned with and enables execution of business strategy.
PFC helps seasoned global HR leaders and eager beginners alike. We find ourselves working with an increasing number of companies that are striving to move from a fragmented, operations-focused and reactive HR approach to a more strategic, global and value-added HR function.
Below I provide some practical “first steps” for HR practitioners to become more influential and global-minded human resource business partners (HRBP). First, let’s consider my client Jane and her situation.
I understand the concept of strategic and global HR, but where should I start?
Jane, a client at a global medical device company, was new to her global HRBP role when I met her. She had just been promoted to head a business unit that was critical to achieving the firm’s global revenue goals. The business unit was focused on growing revenue in three key overseas markets and Jane was partnering with them to create a people strategy and talent management plan to execute their business strategy.
Jane was knowledgeable and experienced in domestic HR. She understood the basics of organizational development and knew that an effective “people strategy” should enable and accelerate execution of the business strategy. She also knew that the ability of her firm to attract, retain and develop the best talent in overseas markets could become a key competitive advantage. She understood that the essence of strategic HR is to influence and drive global change that would make her company both healthy (i.e. a great place for people to meaningfully contribute and grow globally) and strong (competitive, valuable organization at home and overseas).
But in her new global role, Jane had many questions and no clear idea of how to begin answering them: “Everyone talks about thinking globally and acting locally but how do I actually do this in my role as an HRBP? How do I get my business leaders and partners to wake up and see that HR global support is not just about language training or hiring more salespeople overseas? How can I make sense of all the global challenges and provide insights to help achieve our business goals? – I don’t even know where to start!”
So we discussed her situation and agreed that the obvious first step was for an HRBP to clearly understand the business strategy, goals and priorities of the businesses and teams they serve. After that, her next step was to analyze her division’s global people and organizational challenges in a holistic and objective way. We discussed how a simple framework could help her do this. Then I showed her how to use a “CSP” framework developed by PFC to initiate a dialogue with her business leaders and ask insightful questions to influence them. Ultimately, this would help her engage and co-create with her clients a “people strategy” to achieve their business goals.
Jane explained that she understood her company’s overall global business strategy and goals and their impact on the business partners she serves. But she was having a hard time identifying the global people and organization-related challenges that would impact the business’s ability to execute its strategy and achieve its goals. She was also struggling to organize her thoughts so she could provide valuable insights and influence her business leaders.
So we discussed how to help her identify and clarify her company’s global challenges so she could influence her internal clients in a more global and strategic way. The second step is outlined below.
Based on PFC’s practical experience and research, we’ve created a simple framework to consider three key types of global complexities that HRBP professionals and their business partners will need to address to achieve their goals on a global scale. The three types of complexity are cultural, structural and physical.
The CSP Global Complexities Framework
Jane considered how the overseas subsidiaries of the business unit she serves differ from headquarters. She also wondered about how these differences impacted her business unit’s goals to grow overseas and the organization’s ability to attract and retain the best talent in their key overseas markets. As we discussed the business we began to connect back to the people issues and identified the following HR-related global complexities using the CSP framework. They are listed below in the chart.
After considering the above, Jane began to identify which areas needed to be addressed first. However, she didn’t have enough visibility or understanding of the overseas situation to get a clear picture of what to do and what to propose as solutions to her business partners. She realized that she needed to have a conversation with her internal clients to fill in the blanks in her understanding and to co-create a plan to address the HR challenges as a way to accelerate achievement of the business plan.
Jane was concerned about two initiatives in particular. The first was an initiative to hire and develop 100 local leaders in the next 3 years. The plan was for many of them to replace expatriates to build local capabilities and achieve growth goals. Jane wanted to analyze in more detail the global complexities and how they may impact the existing and new leaders. In addition, the new business strategy involved significant changes to her company’s global talent and performance management systems. Her business unit would be significantly impacted in terms of how leaders are evaluated, compensated and promoted. She wondered how the overseas entities would perceive and accept the changes that were coming. So I suggested we discuss questions related to leadership and implementing change (see a list in Appendix 1) as way for her to initiate a dialogue with her clients.
By the end of our discussion, Jane did not discover the one “right answer” or a quick fix to the global challenges her business and HR function were facing. But, she said, “at least now I know insightful questions to ask and how to identify which global HR challenges are key to achieving our business goals”. Jane felt more confident that she could add value as a global HRBP and decided to initiate a dialogue with several business leaders in the next few weeks.
Later I heard from Jane that the dialogue helped her to get a proposal for a leadership development program approved. She said she was able to include key comments in the proposal from the business leaders about the cultural and structural challenges they discussed. She showed how the topics and skills learned in the proposed program would address the cultural differences between the local hires and existing leadership, who were mainly expats. And she showed how a key structural change, such as the new global performance management and promotion system, was aligned with the program and ultimately lead to new behaviors and better results for the local business. Jane’s effort to initiate a dialogue and ability to embrace the complexities of global HR helped her to have a greater impact and contribute in a meaningful way.