International HR management

There is an increasing move for organisations to go global, particularly today with international trade considered to be the norm and not the exception. This change may be driven by the need to reach out to new territories to increase sales, or to reduce operating costs, or perhaps to enhance existing business by offering global support on a localised basis. Whatever the reason, globalisation is here to stay, irrespective of company size.

It is impossible in this short article to cover the breadth and depth of those common skill sets needed by today’s International HR Advisor, but we can touch upon a few interesting aspects arising during a typical HR day.  Here is a glimpse into the daily trials of that International HR Advisor trying to keep plates spinning …

Who do you need to keep on side? As an HR Advisor, your clients are across the business, including the officers, directors, staff and occasionally, country-specific organisations such as Works Councils. You cannot keep everyone happy, but you can ensure that you follow best practice and communicate across the spectrum. As George Bernard Shaw noted “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” and so ensuring that all parties take away the same understanding is key to creating a sustainable team.

Sadly, organisation size has little to do with the complexities of employing staff across multiple jurisdictions, although larger organisations tend to retain in-house some element of practical experience.  Where this resource is not in place then recruiting or transferring your first employee overseas is often a daunting experience with the scope to go badly wrong. It is not unheard of to find a family arriving in the new country without the appropriate right to remain and being returned by the authorities to their destination, having already let out the family home and with their possessions somewhere on the high seas in transit to the new location!

Common to all sizes of concern is the need to ensure statutory compliance in each territory. This compliance cuts across employment matters such as contracts, benefit programmes and insurances, but also extends into matters affecting the financial health of the employee regarding areas such as tax equalisation or protection, relocation packages and so forth.  When preparing to send out your first intrepid team players to new locations it is often wise to pull together your legal, tax, financial, HR and benefits professionals to ensure a fully rounded solution is put in place.  If you can get this right, then you create the template for future roll outs which can be amended before pressing the go button with input from local country specialists.

Having only one overseas employee can mean that you have a smoother run. However, as mentioned, do not consider one aspect in isolation. There may be times when legal requirement mean that you need to comply with a raft of local country conditions, irrespective of headcount.

The more people that you have, and the more locations in which you operate, the higher the risk of mismatching your global talent pool when considering remuneration packages and global mobility of key personnel.  How do you ensure equality and access to opportunities across all locations for your relevant peer groups? How do you compare remuneration and benefits? How do you nurture your most valuable asset in a way that supports and strengthens your corporate ethos?  In answering all of these questions, tackle the subject matter in advance: do not wait until you are time restrained.

The challenge of employee global mobility is heightened when comparing remuneration, benefits and allowances across each location and peer group, and managing any resulting dissatisfaction when peers get together and share their personal data (which they will)!

Grievances can be felt across a range of aspects, all equally important to the employee who is making the leap to represent your Company. Whether the concern relates to what type of employment package you offer, whether you choose a tax equalisation or tax protection package, the terms of any relocation assistance, schooling, family pets, and so forth.  These are real reminders that your people are just that and not numbers.

As you focus on creating a fluid team comfortable at being moved across the globe, strengthening your business, do not lose sight of the need to ensure that they are, indeed, a team. Have a thought for corporate communication …. You cannot reach all employees at the same time due to time-zone differences. How might your message be received in different cultures?

When addressing topics that are personal to your audience: be that remuneration, career, location, etc recognise that cultural differences may mean that your message will be better received, for example, in person.  How do you measure risk when a communication is received at varying times across your locations? If not managed carefully, this could backfire spectacularly (especially if the message is negative in connotation).

Many corporations have decided to roll-out their employee stock option plans globally, only to find out later that due to the way in which it was structured it has led to draconian tax charges on those employees in overseas territories. Plan this out up front. As covered in our first Land & Expand article in our second newsletter, much unnecessary hassle can be avoided by following a structured land & expand project plan. Please do speak to the Briars team if you want help with this.

So, in conclusion, the mindset of the International HR Advisor should be focussed upon:

  1. Recognising that each location is disparate of culture and regulations
  2. Ensuring that you do not treat overseas locations in the same way as your home territory
  3. Creating a Land & Expand template
  4. Involving all specialists in advance

In short, use a completely different framework of reference when considering global HR implications and seek guidance from those with experience of operating internationally. You will not find a reference manual to give you all the answers and will need to think dynamically.  However, you can reach out to Briars: we are always happy to help!

Briars Group has over 25 years of experience in managing international HR and, while there are no one-size-fits-all answers that suit every organisation, we are happy to use our knowledge and familiarity to find the answers that work for your business.  If you are expanding internationally or about to ‘go global’, contact us at info@briarsgroup.com.