We Can't Stop Globalization in HR—So Let's Embrace It

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

I love to go to book signings.

As an author myself, I find there to be something really special about meeting the writer of a favorite book, or one that I know I can’t wait to read. I thoroughly enjoy getting a personalized greeting and signature on that book. In fact, I have an entire bookshelf of signed books, and they are my treasures.

Several years ago I went to hear former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she was on a book tour for her 2005 book Madam Secretary: A Memoir.

In this outspoken and much-praised book, Albright, who was then the highest-ranking woman in American history, shared an insider’s view of world affairs in an era of political turbulence. A national bestseller, her memoir combined warm humor with profound insights, along with her personal testament of what she believed was happening at that time in history.

During her talk, one person stood and asked, “How do we stop globalization?”

Along with the rest of the audience, she stopped to look at him in shock, and she replied simply: “You don’t.”

When it comes to HR, being global isn’t just an idea. It has been a reality for decades.

The first time this hit home to me was on 9/11. I was in London when the terrorists launched their attacks on US soil. At first, I felt totally disconnected. But the day after the attack, I was on a train to Scotland and was absolutely amazed at the number of strangers who found out I was an American and hugged me to offer sympathy.

I don’t know if you remember that at noon on the Friday after the attack, many countries asked for three minutes of silence in memory of the lives lost.

I was on a plane, landing at the airport in Madrid. The pilot came on and said that we would be stopping on the tarmac for three minutes to honor the lives lost in America.

There was total silence on the full plane—except for me. I was so touched by the outpouring of support for us that I was sobbing. It was then that I felt I was truly a citizen of the world.

It is true that each of us needs to think globally but act locally, and it’s one thing to feel it personally. But how do you put it into action in the HR department at your firm?

In The Big Book of HR, my co-author, Cornelia Gamlem, and I discuss how working in a global world creates unique challenges including:

  • How do you schedule a team phone call when you have team members on multiple continents in a variety of time zones?
  • Who gets to get up at 3 a.m. to be on the call?
  • What are the language barriers we need to consider?
  • Do we know enough about the cultural differences in a particular country to be respectful—and effective?

Even more critical is learning the differences in laws country to country—from hiring and firing practices, to meeting etiquette expectations.

In most cases, US laws are more restrictive than in other countries. In fact, I have colleagues who work in the US for companies based in Europe or Asia who spend a great deal of their time trying to convince their organization’s leadership why something they do in their country won’t fly here in the States.

That’s a real example of thinking globally but acting locally.

There are many more positives in our global economy than negatives, and I think this is a wonderfully exciting time for all of us. We aren’t going to stop globalization—so why not embrace it?

Are you doing everything you can to recruit the best talent available? For more information on innovative staffing strategies, see The Big Book of HR.

About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.