Human Resources: Global Mobility
Introduction, Background and Key Problems Identified
In an increasingly international world, the need for the workforce to become more mobile, both physically and mentally, with the willingness to travel internationally as well as being prepared to converse and work in multinational environments has become paramount. The issue here is to consider the way in which the HR function can manage and have an impact on the need for global mobility within any organisation, but specifically in the case of VL as noted here. The main issue facing both this company and any other company looking to improve its international expansion and to ensure that those working within the company is that they are able to make the most of the opportunities presented. For example, in the case of VL, the number of employees has nearly doubled in the last five years, many of whom work internationally as a way of ensuring continued growth within the company, yet this level of expansion presents potential problems that need to be tackled by the HR team, if the expansion is to be successful (Lawler, 2008).
The issue of global mobility has already been noted by the management team as being important in VL, with the factors associated with training, including culture and the general ethos of the company. Importantly in VL, the central location of London and Europe remains the head office, with operations then happening globally and feeding into the European offices. The aim is to bring the other locations in line with the overall European ethos, rather than to have several distinct groups across the world (Gillis, 2012).
The key issues which have been identified in this individual company include the need to recruit and retain the best staff in every location and to ensure that the training recognises the cultural differences, without allowing for divergent and distinct groups to emerge.
This report will look at how the capabilities will be developed within the company and will consider the key strategic issues that need to be taken into account, before then going on to look, in more detail at the role which HR can play in improving the impact of global mobility. Recommendations for next steps for both the HR team and the overall management team will then be established to conclude the report.
Within VL, it is identified that international activities will typically fall into two categories, namely the longer term 3 – 6 year projects and the shorter term 3 – 6 month projects that involve an individual travelling internationally to fulfil a short term agenda. The capabilities needed for these two different types of projects will be very different, and the capabilities needed by the individuals will also be different to meet with the company’s demands (Freedman 2009).
Firstly, it is recognised here that certain personnel are simply more likely to be open minded to global mobility and are therefore more likely to benefit from the process. For example, there are going to be certain individuals within the group who would find international travel practically very difficult, including those with young children, but this should not necessarily remove them from the pool of possible people, but rather should identify the additional needs of these individuals. The first challenge is therefore to identify the technical skills that are needed to narrow down the pool of available people and then to be able to narrow it down from this pool, to identify the personnel who will be most open to the experience. By making the identification process as comprehensive as possible, it is much more likely that the project will be a success. Although there are multiple ways in which capabilities can be developed by the HR team, fundamentally, the individuals themselves need to be open to the process, if it is going to be as successful as possible (Friedman 2009).
It is suggested here that the heart of the global mobility agenda is therefore the need to identify the most relevant group of people for the mobility programme, both from the point of view of technical expertise and the need to select those who are mentally and emotionally open to the notion of the global mobility and the desire to develop their own experiences.
Clearly, there is a need to have processes followed, particularly where there is an organisation such as VL, operating across several different regions; however, it is contended here that the company will not be best advised to have a set of inflexible policies which may not always allow for the individual personalities to adapt to the changing situations. The development of the business capabilities is therefore to look at the people, process, technology and third parties involved and to ascertain the best way in which the HR services and resources available can be deployed for most effective use. Consider, for example, a demand for a specific type of technology; it then needs to be determined whether the infrastructure in the location chosen is able to facilitate the appropriate technology (Schwartz,2011). From this position, it is then necessary to consider if the skills of the chosen individuals can support this infrastructure and whether the processes allow for this type of development. All of these capabilities need to be developed as a network of ideas and not as one stand alone process that is clinical and inflexible (Becker et al 2009).
Key Strategic Issues
Some strategic issues have been identified by the HR team as relevant to the notion of becoming globally mobile, as is the case in VL. Firstly, the HR team, as with any other business strategy needs to look at how the HR agenda can align correctly with the overall business strategy. The role of HR is to ensure that the suitably trained individuals are available and willing in whatever location is necessary to deliver the underlying proposition of the company (Wickham & O’Donohue 2009).
The key strategic issue with global mobility is therefore to ensure that there is improved value being offered by the company as a result of the global mobility. This actually starts with the management team, before getting close to identifying relevant individuals who will facilitate this process. The strategy needs to be driven from the top. Furthermore, there is a need to balance sensible and consistent processes, while also ensuring that there is sufficient flexibility to deal with local and national differences (Harttig, 2010). This requires the correct people to be present and to have the suitable decision making power at every level of the organisation. In the case of VL, for example, a more senior member of the team may be suitable for the new countries, or for the long term assignments. Crucially, these individuals will have greater experience and more confidence when it comes to making on the spot decisions that are in line with the underlying business strategy but which do not change the direction of the business, fundamentally (Barney, et al 2011).
Shorter term assignments will be subject to much greater control, in any event, as the individuals involved in delivering this service will typically be sent with a short term and specific agenda, with little room for manoeuvre. In this case, therefore, a more junior member of staff, or a less adaptable individual who has the necessary technical expertise, but who may not be as adaptable to changing circumstances, may be more appropriate.
The key strategic issues is therefore to determine the business level agenda and to then to ensure that the HR team works in such a way that facilitates and supports this agenda, rather than producing a set of processes that are unwavering, with little flexibility offered at a local level, to change processes, in order to take into account local needs.
Role of HR
When looking at the position within VL, it s clear to see that HR have several vitally important roles at every stage of the process. Therefore, in order to encourage suitable results alongside the business strategy from the outset and prior to any actual attempts to become globally mobile, a company such as VL will need to have a higher level management meeting, including the HR manager, to discuss what it is the company is hoping to achieve overall. This should not necessarily be looking at HR issues, but rather what it is the company is hoping to achieve as an end result. For example, it may be the case that the company is looking towards the international arena as a means of increasing market share; this may be more likely in an area where the product has reached saturation point in the home market. Once the overall agenda has been understood, it is then possible for the HR team to consider how they facilitate this. HR should be driven by the underlying aim of the company and not by the needs of the HR team itself. By identifying the skills needed, the role of HR is to identify the relevant individuals amongst the existing team and to engage in suitable training or potentially to recruit people into the team to fill in any gaps (Schuler and Tarique, 2007).
Once the global mobility structure is underway, the HR team will have a continuous responsibility for the management of the team and for making sure that the actions of the staff who are in a foreign jurisdiction remain congruent with the overall business strategy This is critical as, by definition, when a global team is established, there is a lesser level of control being shown directly, with the individuals and the HR team needing to ensure that the support is in place for remote management which is flexible, yet strong enough to ensure that the overall business goal is not lost.
The HR team will also have an important role at the practical end of global mobility strategy, particularly when it comes to short contracts where there are going to be issues of travel and accommodation which need to be managed. If this is done effectively, it can ensure that the staff members themselves are free to concentrate on the task at hand. The role of HR in this case is very much as a facilitator, both in practical and strategic terms and this should be maintained at all times (Lazarova & Caligiuri 2001).
Suggestions and Next Steps
Bearing this analysis sin mind and the current challenges facing VL, there are several next steps that the HR team need to take, in order to support and facilitate the business strategy aims of the company. Firstly, the HR team need to involve themselves with the management team, to understand what it is they are aiming to achieve by becoming global (Benson & Scroggins 2011).
Once this is understood, the choice of personnel to undertake this global move can be made, both in terms of the senior strategic individuals such as regional managers, as well as the team members who will facilitate this process. Selecting the correct people is going to be the main and arguably the most important role for the HR team, as they will need to be able to achieve the business strategy, but will also need to be sufficiently personally engaged and want to be part of the global move.
Once the individuals have been selected, the HR team then need to ensure that the practical issues such as infrastructure are put in place to enable these people to function effectively and to ensure that there is at least some consistency in processes across the company. When global mobility is focussed on processes, difficulties can arise; however, this is not to say that there is going to be no consistency. Ultimately, it is the role of the HR team to set the boundaries and to ensure sufficient consistency for efficiency, without undue constraints (Wright, & McMahan 2011).
Going forward, therefore, the HR team need to ensure that they are fully engaged with the business strategy and then focussing their work on achieving this strategy, rather than being process driven, which is likely to place constraints that will not be beneficial to the company. An ongoing and adaptable process is needed, with the HR team being central to facilitating this move, both initially and on an ongoing basis.
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