Human Resources in the Age of Globalization


Three years ago, the Society for Human Resource Management, the country’s largest professional human resources organization, commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit to find out what the typical company would look like in 2020 and what corporate leaders could do to prepare workers for change. The EIU researchers surveyed senior executives and interviewed experts, and presented their findings in a document titled “Global Firms in 2020: The Next Decade of Change for Organizations and Workers.”


The report concludes that companies will become larger and more global, handling operations in more countries than they do today. They will be more globally integrated, with better information flow and collaboration across borders, and they will be less centralized, but not fully decentralized. Local operations will be free to move on opportunities that further the global organization, while headquarters will continue to play an important role in setting the tone and values of the company. In this setting, the human resource function “will be an important link between corporate headquarters, where the global workforce strategy is devised, and overseas operations, where managers will face the most pressing recruitment and people management issues,” the report says.


Skilled workers are keeping pace with this global shift. Human resource consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP states in its report “Talent Mobility: 2020 and Beyond” that more than two-thirds of the graduates they surveyed said they wanted an  overseas assignment during their career.


The firm says mobility levels have increased by 25 percent over the last decade and predicts a further 50 percent growth by 2020, putting new pressure on HR departments. Among millennials alone, 75 percent say they expect to work outside of their home country at some point in their career. “The pressure on HR to provide insight to support mobility decisions and manage program costs will increase in the future,” PwC says.


As globalization begins to transform the way companies do business and how workers set their career agenda, human resource practitioners are coming to grips with the inevitable: they, too, must transform the way they do business, and even the way they perceive their function, in order to be effective.


Globalization is the emerging business paradigm of the 21st century; and in the globalized world, transformation of thinking vis-a-vis human resources is required for corporate success, affirms William A. Guillory, Ph.D., president of Innovations International Inc., a Utah-based leading provider of diversity and inclusion training and workplace diversity consulting. “If you have a human resource function that is really respected, as opposed to one that is in fear all the time because you don’t bring a business language to the table, you can do some wonderful things,” he says.


In a lengthy telephone interview, Bouvier Williams, vice president of the Learning and Development Committee of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources — Greater New York Chapter’s board of directors, told The Network Journal how the group’s members are responding to the globalization trend.


“They are asking lots of questions as they see these trends, and everyone is trying to figure out where they fit and how to prepare themselves for what they see happening,” he said. “Particularly the junior ones, they’re asking, ‘what does this mean for our career? Should I think about taking a job overseas at some point? What do I need to learn? Do I have to learn Chinese in addition to French in order to have a successful career in a global marketplace?” said Williams, who has more than 20 years’ experience in providing human capital solutions to global organizations in the Fortune 500 and served as vice president of talent, learning and leadership at Viacom Media Networks from 2005 to 2013.


Members with more experience ask different questions. “Some of it is more ‘what does it mean that my company just got acquired by a European-based organization?’ Or, ‘the company is putting lots of resources and investment into the emerging markets, what does this mean for this stage in my career? Do I have to make a move? My family is settled, what do I do to keep my career vibrant because I still have a lot of years to work?’” Williams said.


Compounding their anxiety is the difficulty of getting out the HR message as it relates to driving strategy, helping people develop and helping businesses achieve their goals in an environment flooded with all sorts information flowing seamlessly across borders. “Human resource practitioners have to spend a lot of time thinking about the messages we’re trying to get out to the employee population: What is the mission? What is the strategy? What are the development opportunities within the organization? How do we get those messages out in a clear, compelling manner to employees around the world when those messages are competing against other messages, other information sources, to the point of distraction,” Williams explained. “So if you think about how distracted we are as individuals between what we see on the news, and read on Twitter and other social platforms, how do you create space to get those messages across?”


With all this to worry about, the HR department still must address fundamental talent-related issues. At the Talent segment of Mercer, the human resource consulting subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Cos., the most critical of these issues are identified as sustaining an adequate pipeline of leaders and critical talent; engaging employees to maximize business performance; aligning rewards with business priorities; effectively managing costs of HR programs; retaining key talent and critical skills; and providing appropriate governance of people risk.


Figuring out how and where to fit in the emerging business paradigm may be challenging, but Williams sees tremendous opportunities for African-Americans in the HR field. “When you look at those who work for global organizations, never before has there been a need for expertise and practice, talent management, talent acquisition, leadership development, performance management and career development. That’s creating tremendous opportunities for African-Americans to take on senior roles working with business leaders. In the course of my career, I’ve seen those roles increase,” he said. “If we’re going to land those key jobs within the HR organization, we have to have the right networks in place and a high degree of visibility, and we have to have some pretty strategic, value-added, long-term solutions we can bring to bear for the organization.”


People of color should raise their visibility by getting involved in global HR projects, which they can do by collaborating with peers in overseas locations. The African-American practitioner must have a global mindset. “You have to think broader than what’s happening with your business in terms of a specific location … Understand that your business has opportunities all over the world and this presents unique challenges.” If you can play a part in solving them, then you’ll have a seat at the table.


A global mindset involves understanding the “colorization” of the United States and what diversity and inclusion means to the rest of the world. “Outside the U.S. you have to be able to speak intelligently about how organizations are operating globally, are able to leverage employees of thousands of backgrounds, different skills, and diversity of thought,” Williams said. “If you’re not strong in this area, you have the opportunity to learn because the resources are out there, online. Begin to broaden your reading beyond things like HR publications and The New York Times. Read the Financial Times to get a perspective on the business landscape on a global basis. Look to publications like The Economist because they tend to look at the world, what’s happening in business, with an international flavor.”