It IS a Small World After All

February 12, 2015

Written by: John Hinojos

Over the past years, I have been amazed at the growth of companies with a global focus.  Historically, being concerned about global issues was the purview of those in larger corporations, but as the economy of the world has changed so has the administration of HR data and use of technology.  Now, relatively small companies, under 250 employees, can easily have people located outside of their home country.

This change presents some challenges and many are not prepared to deal with the complexities of dealing with a work place which does not always operate in a familiar manner.  Here are some of the pitfalls I have noticed over the years as people look at implementing HCM technology.

1. Our system’s language of record will be English.

Many companies discount the importance of language.  While most global organizations operate with English being the primary language, this does not always mean that everyone using the HCM technology in an organization is proficient in English.  Many of the non-English speaking employees of an organization may have just a basic understanding of the language.  Some may find it easier to translate what is being said from English to that native language before responding.

This is not just an issue for organizations with locations outside of the U.S. but can also pertain to parts of the U.S. workforce who primarily communicate in any other language but English.

What does this mean for your HCM system?  First, you need to have a language of record.  This should probably be English for reporting and other analytics you may be running through your system.  Second, you must know the legal requirements in the countries in which you operate.  Many countries have rules and regulations governing the communications in a local language.  To make sure you are aware of all local requirements, you should have some legal organization contracted in each country who can advise you on communication requirements in all the countries you operate.  Do not assume that your software vendor will provide you with this guidance.  This is your responsibility and you need to take ownership of it.

Third, as you are selecting HCM systems, you should always consider that the system may need to be used in other countries and languages.   This is a requirement which should be used by all organizations even if your current sphere of operation is in the U.S. only.  You never know what tomorrow will bring, and changing software can be expensive and disruptive.  Always plan for the inevitable and the future.

Last, as you translate the field names or anything else into a local language, do not solely rely on translation software.  This can be spotty at best and can oftentimes border on incorrect.  You should use a person fluent in the language of the country – not just the language.  For example if you are operating in Colombia, do not use a person in the U.S. who speaks Spanish.  All regions have unique phrases and usage.  Be sure a true local translates.  If you are in multiple countries who speak the same root language, have a translation for each country just to be safe.

2. If the system will work for Headquarters, it will work around the world.

Another sin which I see committed by HR departments during technology evaluations, is that while many systems will work globally, much of a systems’ success will come from adoption and not the technology itself.  Many companies short change or overlook the key role adoption plays in the success or failure of a system.

The best way to get global adoption is for everyone in all locations to feel they have had some say in the selection or implementation of the system.  When you are implementing a global system, multiple English words can be used globally to mean the same thing.  Decide what vernacular you will be using and let each group win and lose some of the decisions.  In the end, the adoption will be better as everyone will see a little bit of their input in the final product.

3. Administration of Global Teams is just the same as working with remote employees.

There are two major components that will come into play here – Time Zones and Local Customs.

A. Time Zones

Conducting a global meeting can be tricky.  Your team will be over multiple time zones and some may actually be asked to meet during the middle of the night or very early in the morning.  Know what the time difference is for all your team members.  Even if most of your team is located in one or two close time zones, consider having an occasional meeting to accommodate the time of one member who may be on the other side of the world, even if it means inconveniencing most of the rest of the team.  It is only one meeting and will go a long way in creating a singular team environment and ultimately a better product.

One other item to remember is that some time zones are actually on the half hour and not the hour.  There are many good tools on the Internet which can help to schedule global meetings.  Use one of them.

B. Local Customs

This can be a bit more difficult and will take some research.  Each local will have their own way of operating.  Many in Northern Europe are early for meetings while those in Latin cultures consider themselves on time even when they are 30 or more minutes after the start. While you will never overcome these differences you need to plan for them.  Understand the local customs.

Another area you need to understand is how people expect to be addressed or is there a team or leader norm within the culture.  There is in many countries a differing view of how women should be participating.  While these practices may seem totally different to you, understand them and how to work within each confine to accommodate.  Again, there is a wealth of knowledge out on the Internet about customs by country.  Be sure to understand those of all your team members.

These are just a few of the areas which can impact the successful deployment of a HCM systems strategy, evaluation, or implementation.  While there are many others, if you consider that it IS becoming a small world, but with a wide variety of options available, your project will be more successful.