Organisations operating in EMEA that leverage a localised approach to HR can connect to an international workforce.
By Christa Elliott
The EMEA region encompasses 116 countries on three continents, but despite the area’s cultural and geographic diversity, there is at least one thing that its businesses have in common—the need for a localised approach to HR policies and processes, particularly in Europe. Many organisations have implemented localised hiring programmes and benefit rollouts for years, and these practices are more widespread than ever before in EMEA.
What is “localisation” exactly? In the context of HR, localisation refers to the process of adapting policies, operations, or strategies to accommodate the diverse cultures of the countries in which the organisation operates. It may translate to reviewing country-specific laws regarding benefits and making sure that the organisation’s offerings and policies are compliant. It can also mean having local leadership in place and tackling language considerations early on.
“We embrace a globalised workforce and our talent strategies have a global reach and overarching proposition,” says Arne-Christian Van der Tang, senior vice president of HR for TomTom. “However, to be successful in deploying those strategies, localising this proposition—whether in policies, remuneration, language, employer branding activities—allows you closer reach to the local and international workforce.”
The challenge, of course, is to keep intact global strategy, core employer brand, and other signatures that set the organisation apart, whilst still factoring the unique needs of each operating country and the employees therein. In this regard, solid local leadership is a must and can often lead to international offices that are more autonomous and effective. This general autonomy, however does not preclude a connection to the global HR team. Rather, many companies have found success in giving local HR teams direct lines of communication to C-suite-level HR.
Jenn Mann, executive vice president and CHRO for SAS, knows this all too well. Her organisation has had offices in EMEA for over 38 years, and during that time, has focused on globalising whilst simultaneously empowering local leadership.
Each time SAS opens a local office or country office, they hire a country manager, who is then familiarised with all parts of the business, including sales, consulting, legal, finance, and HR. “They had their own ecosystem. It was truly a fully-functioning, subsidiary-type model,” she says.
In this model, globalisation enables the creation of direct communication lines between local and corporate teams, giving those leaders the opportunity to inject cultural insight into the process. “Just because we changed reporting lines, or we established a model that has a little more of a direct link to corporate doesn’t mean that your support or coordination and collaboration with the local team is no longer important.”
Local leadership is also critical to reaching international workers and making them feel that their needs are met and that their individual concerns are heard. One example of how companies have done this in EMEA and around the globe is by hiring executives who speak the local language and have insider knowledge of local values and social norms. This empowers leaders with a better understanding of which benefits are most valued by the local workforce, expectations for the workplace dynamic and time off, and other country-specific HR considerations. Van der Tang finds that ability to “reach” the workforce, regardless of location, can be the difference between engagement and disengagement, high retention and high turnover.
“A company that connects with local workforces and offers the attractiveness of a global employee value proposition will have higher engagement and fewer retention challenges. Failing to do so may result in employees feeling less ‘connected’ to a global head office, policy writers or even the company’s strategy,” Van der Tang adds.
Europe may be the source of the westernisation movement, but this does not mean that its policies and practices will flow seamlessly into business operations in other countries, particularly given the ongoing Brexit and the inevitable cost increase for hiring U.K. workers and outsourcing them to other parts of the EU that will result. Cost is a big driver of localisation for the U.K., as are new trade agreements between the U.K. and the U.S., China, and India.
“Brexit has some serious implications for businesses with multiple EU territories: passporting, hiring, movement of people cross border with U.K.,” says Nigel Sullivan, chief people officer for BUPA. “I suspect things will become even more localised or that business will relocate all/some key functions out of U.K. Interesting new trade agreements (eg: U.S., India, China) may also create a global pull of talent into and outside the U.K. for those countries.”
Talent acquisition will likely be one of the first areas to experience localisation in Britain once Brexit takes full effect, but businesses operating in other European countries may also adopt more concentrated localised hiring efforts without the option of hiring talent from the U.K. Even so, Britain may be less affected by localisation than other countries in Europe. Historically, Van der Tang says, countries with heavily unionised infrastructures, such as Belgium, Germany, Poland, France, and Italy, have higher demands for localised HR and legal practices. Employees in those countries are protected by language laws, and companies working within them often choose to communicate in local language and apply country-specific policies.
Although there are many benefits to a localised HR model, this approach is not without its own set of risks, explains Sullivan. Country-specific privacy legislation can sometimes interfere with global initiatives and strategies, and costs will not always be lower, as they are for the U.K., particularly if the organisation incurs fines for non-compliance.
“If the business strategy is to drive cost out through shared services or internal mergers and acquisitions, over-localisation can equal complexity therefore higher cost. So, it’s important to think through the level of localisation in strategic context,” Sullivan says.
Equally important is the notion that localisation may not be the right fit in every area of the business. Whilst some areas, such as benefits and their rollout, travel reimbursement, primary talent acquisition channels, and even certain elements of employer branding can vary from country to country, other functions and programmes should remain consistent across borders in order to present the organisation as a cohesive unit. This may include onboarding procedures, company vision, performance management philosophy and approach, and core learning and development initiatives, amongst others. For these globalised areas, localisation comes into play differently.
“We have global initiatives, and we’ve been working together as a global HR team to roll those initiatives out,” Mann says. “But even when you are rolling out an initiative, you may have certain laws or practices or norms in that region that may drive a slightly different approach to the way you might roll it out based on the employment rules there.”
Van der Tang agrees and adds that even a globalised company culture can have room for interpretation across cultures:
“A company culture should not be descriptive and forced on a global workforce. This may work in a mono-cultural workforce, but in a diverse and multinational environment a company may have strong shared values but will have to allow space for local interpretations.”
SIDEBAR: When to Localise
Localisation can be a helpful tool for providing international employees with local resources and processes, but there are some areas of the business that will benefit more from a cohesive, globalised strategy. Below are a few examples of areas in which localisation is most and least helpful.
• Hiring regional or country-specific leadership.
• Designing benefits packages and their rollout.
• Determining travel reimbursement policies.
• Deciding primary talent acquisition and marketing channels.
• Customising employer branding to a region.
• Reiterating organisational values.
• Rolling out global initiatives in areas such as learning and development.
• Designing onboarding and off-boarding procedures.
• Presenting a strong performance management philosophy.