The world is a vast, global marketplace—the exchange of goods and services untethered by geographic borders. That was true before the pandemic and it has become even more so since.
For companies in the US, capturing the North American market is relatively easy. Where the opportunities—and complexities—come into play is expanding beyond those borders. That’s really where the future is.
Technology, of course, has made this possible. But people are foundational to any organization and its success and technology serves only to facilitate that.
The Upside of Global Expansion
When organizations extend business operations beyond their home country, they are engaged in global expansion. A number of reasons determine why a company might decide to do this—growth opportunities, tax benefits, less competitive open markets, access to new resources and skilled talent, and more.
Clearly, there are many complexities involved. HR can play an important role in this process.
Going International with HR
As a company expands globally, it’s challenged with how to extend its culture into new global locations. There are two ends to the spectrum of how this might be approached. On one end is a totally hands-off approach—let the global locations form their own culture and take a less active role. On the other end is the American cut& paste method. Taking what works here and applying the same doctrine in India, Japan, Singapore, or wherever you may be expanding.
Neither of those approaches will work very well.
Striking the Right Balance
Companies need to extend their culture while also recognizing the uniqueness of each of the locations they operate in. When hiring in different regions we want to make sure we’re hiring people who, for the most part, fit the global culture but who will also represent the local culture and be able to effectively cross-engage with peers.
Understanding Local Customs and Culture
What makes sense in the US may not conceivably make sense in foreign locations. HR must understand the nuances of the local culture and its people. For instance, in Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany (to generalize), communication styles tend to be straightforward or direct. In Asia, communication may be more nuanced, less confrontational; staff may not feel comfortable expressing disagreements openly.
HR and organizational leaders need to recognize these subtle (and not so subtle) differences and manage them accordingly. That takes a lot of time—and trust.
Building Trust via Advocacy
Building relationships is about building trust. Technology can help make and support connections and relationships; we saw that during the pandemic. But nothing rivals face-to-face interactions and the opportunity to express one’s own and accept another’s cultural differences. That might mean trips to global locations by HR and other leaders. That might mean trips to the home office by foreign leaders.
Those visits are important. They provide a sense of what it’s really like for employees in other locations. (For example, in France, it’s against labor rules to put employees in a room that does not receive the requisite amount of sunlight.) Making in-person visits will help develop empathy for what it’s like to work in a different time zone, to be with people who aren’t connected with the day-to-day affairs of the home office.
Listening is crucial and that takes time. But it’s that investment in time that builds relationships. Eventually we should begin to feel comfortable with each other and comfortable sharing our opinions, giving and receiving feedback, accepting criticism, offering suggestions, even growing to become aspirational.
Meeting People Where They Are
Making an effort to reach out to global locations and the people in them provides a better sense of the culture—the terrain, the cuisine, the customs. It also demonstrates genuine interest in them. When you return to HQ you’re able to share stories about the people, their strengths and the unique talent and experience they bring.
This often involves identifying at least one key individual in each location who can serve as a brand ambassador, so to speak. A senior leader, or a few leaders, who are influencers.
Meeting these individuals in person and spending time with them can help break down barriers, minimize the potential for misunderstandings or misperceptions and, ultimately, build trusting relationships. Once back in the home office those relationships can be continued via technology—phone calls, Zoom meetings, etc.—but person-to-person connections are priceless.
Global expansion offers ample opportunities for businesses of all kinds to extend their goods and services and build a talent base. Technology has brought the world closer together and removed artificial barriers of time and geography. But people represent the engine behind globalization. People with experience with the company and its culture—and people with experience in new locations.
Together they create a foundation based on trust, understanding, and mutual respect. HR can lead the way.
About the Author
Ani Banerjee is Chief Human Resources Officer for KnowBe4, provider of the world’s largest security awareness training and simulated phishing platform used by more than 52,000 organizations. Banerjee oversees HR operations across 11 countries, and is responsible for developing new initiatives to enhance the company’s organizational culture, recruitment channels, and diversity, inclusion, and equity (DIE) strategies. He has 30 years’ experience in global HR leadership roles working for Dell, Yahoo, AOL, and VMware. https://www.linkedin.com/in/ani-banerjee-3319715