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Ten Steps to a Global Human Resources Strategy

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Essay title: Ten Steps to a Global Human Resources Strategy

Ten Steps To A Global Human Resources Strategy

By John A. Quelch and Helen Bloom

Creating an effective global work force means knowing when to use "expats," when to hire "locals" and how to create that new class of employees -- the "glopats."

The scarcity of qualified managers has become a major constraint on the speed with which multinational companies can expand their international sales. The growth of the knowledge-based society, along with the pressures of opening up emerging markets, has led cutting-edge global companies to recognize now more than ever that human resources and intellectual capital are as significant as financial assets in building sustainable competitive advantage. To follow their lead, chief executives in other multinational companies will have to bridge the yawning chasm between their companies' human resources rhetoric and reality. H.R. must now be given a prominent seat in the boardroom.

Good H.R. management in a multinational company comes down to getting the right people in the right jobs in the right places at the right times and at the right cost. These international managers must then be meshed into a cohesive network in which they quickly identify and leverage good ideas worldwide.

Such an integrated network depends on executive continuity. This in turn requires career management to insure that internal qualified executives are readily available when vacancies occur around the world and that good managers do not jump ship because they have not been recognized.

Very few companies come close to achieving this. Most multinational companies do not have the leadership capital they need to perform effectively in all their markets around the world. One reason is the lack of managerial mobility. Neither companies nor individuals have come to terms with the role that managerial mobility now has to play in marrying business strategy with H.R. strategy and in insuring that careers are developed for both profitability and employability.

Ethnocentricity is another reason. In most multinationals, H.R. development policies have tended to concentrate on nationals of the headquarters country. Only the brightest local stars were given the career management skills and overseas assignments necessary to develop an international mindset.

The chief executives of many United States-based multinational companies lack confidence in the ability of their H.R. functions to screen, review and develop candidates for the most important posts across the globe. This is not surprising: H.R. directors rarely have extensive overseas experience and their managers often lack business knowledge. Also, most H.R. directors do not have adequate information about the brightest candidates coming through the ranks of the overseas subsidiaries. "H.R. managers also frequently lack a true commitment to the value of the multinational company experience," notes Brian Brooks, group director of human resources for the global advertising company WPP Group Plc.

The consequent lack of world-wise multicultural managerial talent is now biting into companies' bottom lines through high staff turnover, high training costs, stagnant market shares, failed joint ventures and mergers and the high opportunity costs that inevitably follow bad management selections around the globe.

Companies new to the global scene quickly discover that finding savvy, trustworthy managers for their overseas markets is one of their biggest challenges. This holds true for companies across the technology spectrum, from software manufacturers to textile companies that have to manage a global supply chain. The pressure is on these newly globalizing companies to cut the trial-and-error time in building a cadre of global managers in order to shorten the leads of their larger, established competitors, but they are stymied as to how to do it.

The solution for multinationals is to find a way to emulate companies that have decades of experience in recruiting, training and retaining good employees across the globe. Many of these multinational companies are European, but not all. Both Unilever and the International Business Machines Corporation, for example, leverage their worldwide H.R. function as a source of competitive advantage.

Anglo-Dutch Unilever has long set a high priority on human resources. H.R. has a seat on the board's executive committee and an organization that focuses on developing in-house talent and hot-housing future leaders in all markets. The result is that 95 percent of Unilever's top 300 managers are fully homegrown. Internationalization is bred into its managers through job content as well as overseas assignments. Since 1989, Unilever has redefined 75 percent of its managerial posts as

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