The Growing Pains of Globalizing HR

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Authors: Rich Wellins and Sheila Rioux
Date: May 2000
From: Training & Development(Vol. 54, Issue 5)
Publisher: Association for Talent Development (ATD)
Document Type: Brief article
Length: 2,315 words

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Global companies do it differently.

It is a more common scenario than you might think. The corporate HR function of a global organization decided to implement worldwide leadership training without first understanding the needs of its 15 international operations. The company believed the training was necessary to help develop a consistent, global management style. But instead of a smooth rollout, there was intense local resistance that jeopardized not only the leadership training, but also other HR initiatives. In the end, the company had to realign its training goals with those of the local operations, losing valuable time and training dollars.

Such HR growing pains are becoming more widespread as companies around the world continue the steady and rapid march toward a truly global economy. Only eight U.S. industrial businesses are likely to be among the 100 largest in the world by 2037--a significant drop from 1955, when 75 of the 100 largest worldwide industrial firms were American, and from 1996, when 24 American companies made the list (see Harvard Business Review statistics in Global Literacies: Lessons on Business Leadership and National Cultures by Robert Rosen, Patricia Digh, Marshall Singer, and Carl Phillips).

Although operations, sales, and marketing functions have generally made great strides in adapting to the global reality, most HR functions are still breaking new ground in developing policies, structures, and services that support globalization.

During the past six months, Development Dimensions International has been examining the priorities and challenges that HR professionals face as they take their practices global. The resulting study, Globalization of HR Practices by Sheila Rioux, Paul Bernthal, and Rich Wellins, looks at global HR priorities, key challenges to effective HR implementation, and what organizations are doing to maintain a consistent corporate culture. The study involved 206 companies, including such global players as PPG Industries, Eli Lilly & Company, and United Parcel Service.

The priorities

So, what priorities will drive global companies in the next two years? It should be no surprise that leadership development is the number 1 global HR priority, followed by performance management and the recruitment of high-quality employees.

Leadership development. For the past few years, organizations have been sounding the warning bell about a looming void in leadership strength. The gap between current leadership skills and those that will be needed in the future is becoming increasingly apparent. In fact, DDI's 1999 The Leadership Forecast: A Benchmarking Study shows that even leaders don't consider themselves to be strong in eight of the top 10 skills deemed important for future leadership positions. Some of the skills with the biggest perceived deficiencies are strategic decision making, vision, communication, and innovation.

A 1998 study of 13 international firms, Developing Leaders for the Global Frontier by Hal Gregersen, Allen Morrison, and Stewart Black, showed that 67 percent of respondents had no capable global leaders or the leaders had less capability than they needed.

Global companies face an added burden in dealing with this leadership crisis. Not only do they require leaders with solid leadership abilities,...

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