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Using Global Subtleties in HR Practice

As I was on the elliptical this morning reading Astronomy magazine (for all of about 5 minutes before I had to switch to something my mind could really grasp – Star) it struck me – as it often does these days – how insignificant we all really are in the grand scheme of things.  So break that down even further to the worlds we live in every day – as defined by the people we interact with regularly, the media we’re exposed to, the places we visit and see.  Basically we get perspective on all of about .00000001% (not scientifically founded) of what’s going on out there.  The Social Media craze has helped broaden our horizons for sure.  It’s great to regularly connect with some of our HR colleagues abroad – see recent video, as an example, from Bill Boorman on HR Ringleader.  So I’d like to think we’re starting to share “best practices” and thought leadership across boarders.  Or are we?

I’ve had two international assignments in my career – one took me to Brussels, Belgium for a year-and-a-half and the other took me to India for a year.  As I reflect back, I was there as an American to bring the American way of business to a fledgling foreign operation.  While successful as an instigator, the local environment & culture ultimately took root – as it should – and helped morph those businesses into what they are today.  So I wonder what did I bring back from my global assignments that help me in my HR practice on home soil?

  1. How we do things around here ain’t the only way to do it.
  2. Using the old-fashioned form of employee interaction, group presentations, team gatherings, office events are often more effective than any fandangled new communication tool or technology.
  3. Indian’s aren’t shy about discussing performance concerns – when someone isn’t up to the mark, they let you (and them) know it.  Feedback is more immediate and more constant…we need more of that around here too!
  4. Employers make tough decisions even when those decisions may alienate their employees…employers aren’t “held hostage” by employees easily in developing economies.  I’d like to see a bit more thick skin in that regard on the US home front. 
  5. “Breaking Bread” is sacred – everyone goes to lunch together every day…rarely, if ever, do people eat at their desks alone.  Lunch is an event.
  6. Having a good time in the office – like really silly almost childish stuff – is important…and encouraged.

These are to some extent generalizations – and none of it is rocket science.  And that’s the point.  How do we capture the positive subtleties of global workplace environments and cultures and share them at home?  I’m curious: What have you learned from your global experiences, or from your peers and colleagues abroad, that you use in your HR practice today?

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  1. December 1, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Charlie,

    I continue to be big on #5.

    One of the things that has served me well over the years is a simple one: I look at people directly and speak more slowly (east coast guy). Have spent 30% of my career consistently outside the U.S. and people want to see what I’m saying and process it into a second or third language. (Louder doesn’t cut it:-) It’s a good rule to follow in Kansas, Orlando, or Billings as well; just makes sense to give folks as much chance as possible of understanding your words and dialect (we all have one, except some guy in Iowa).

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