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Avoid the Pitfalls of International HR Management

Human resource (HR) management in the modern world of international business involves many unique challenges. Whether domestic or international in scope, HR is tasked with developing and maintaining a workforce that will support and effectively execute an organization's mission and goals. This task has never been a simple one, but is exponentially more complicated when it involves globalized people management for multinational organizations.

Labor laws vary widely around the globe, as do cultural and societal norms surrounding work and employment. Therefore, the modern HR manager or director has much to think about when considering the recruitment and management of people in different global markets. Old HR management models do not necessarily serve organizational goals optimally in every market's economy, whether foreign or domestic.

As the performance of talented people is the basis of a business's success, modern business studies are often concerned with addressing these and other pitfalls of international HR management. For those who wish to be at the forefront of tackling these challenges, the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) offers in-depth study of the complexities of globalized HR management through its online Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a Specialization in International Business.

How Does Employment Law Affect International HR Management?

A major concern for managing HR in foreign markets is international employment law. Simply put, laws are different in every nation. Even in areas such as the European Union, where a number of countries follow a wider set of accepted labor regulations, there are still individual variances from country to country.

Before launching a team to expand a business venture into a new foreign market, HR management must fully grasp the given country's employment laws. This requires extensive research as well as consulting experts on laws and regulations in that country. Additionally, in some countries the employment laws on the books does not translate consistently into practice. Again, centralized HR management has the obligation to find and recruit experienced individuals who know the nuances of law and practice in each new market. With this expertise, the company can modulate their HR management model to be both effective and lawfully compliant within that market. 

What Do Cultural and Societal Norms Have to Do with HR Management?

On one level, it may seem common sense: HR deals primarily with managing people. HR management should therefore strive to understand cultural differences among the people they employ, as well as what motivates them to perform and what provides job satisfaction. This involves understanding variances in cultural norms of politeness, communication styles and other aspects of what will make each individual feel comfortable and respected on the job. But it also requires delving further into cultural and societal perceptions and customs regarding work and interaction.

What may be seen as professionalism in one society may be perceived differently in another. Punctuality is of utmost importance in some cultures, whereas in others being "on time" may be considered rude or imposing. The "nine to five with a lunch break" workday model is not universal. In many places people work at different times or spread the workday out with a long break in the middle. Forcing people in such cultures to conform to the typical American workday could, in effect, isolate them from their communities and families — clearly not a good thing for motivation and job performance. These are simplistic examples, but they illustrate the importance of broadening one's cultural perspective to effectively manage individuals and teams across the globe.

What About Internal Business Culture?

Globalizing an organization's business practices, however, does not automatically create a unified global culture for that organization. Effective centralized HR management works diligently to foster a unified business culture which supports that organization's goals and mission. But, it can be difficult to get people around the world to feel connected in collaborative purpose, bridging their differing cultures to form a collective international culture within the company. Video conferencing can only go so far. Ideally, HR can help address these divides through international conferences and other opportunities for global teams to interact and collaborate in person.

Moreover, a business's internal culture may be so entrenched in its encapsulating society's norms that it translates poorly to other societies. As mentioned above, the HR management model needs to be considered carefully along with the company's internal culture. These constructs are intertwined and may need to be modulated and iterated as appropriate to best suit varying norms in differing cultures and societies.

International HR management is both challenging and fascinating. Overcoming the inherent cultural challenges presents a unique opportunity for HR managers and directors to affect a company's broader sense of global awareness, diversifying cultural perspectives at the individual and structural level. Advancing cultural awareness throughout an organization can help every department become more successful when expanding into new markets. In this way, effective international HR management can provide a strong foundation for successful international business as a whole.

Learn more about UNCW's online Executive MBA with a Specialization in International Business program.


Forbes: Top Challenges Facing HR Directors of Global Firms in 2017

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