When Global Doesn’t Work for Local.


Having worked for several foreign MNCs, it still astounds me when we are forced to implement “global HR initiatives” that make little sense in the local context. “Think Global, Act Local” or “glocalisation” (I abhor fusion words by the way) is not a new thing for businesses – Mickey D’s McAloo Tikka in its outlets across India comes to mind. But HR seems to have fallen behind when it comes to adapting HR strategies to our local markets.

Take for example, a global HR plan to consolidate and use a single payroll agency for all countries. On paper, it makes perfect sense – economies of scale, right? Instead of working with a vendor in each country, the company appoints one agency which offers a globally negotiated preferential rate. In reality, there are few (if any!) vendors who can fulfill the hiring needs of multiple markets, and most who claim to do so work through 3rd-party agencies on the ground.

End result: Higher cost and longer turnaround time (job assigned to global vendor, who links up with the local agency). The job could have been more efficiently done by the local HR working directly with the local agency in the first place.

Or consider a global HR directive for medical benefits to be extended to immediate family members to attract better talent. Great if you are targeting experienced candidates who are more likely to have partners and children. In markets where your hires are mostly young singles who will never use a smidgen of those benefits you’ve paid a premium (insurance premium – geddit?) for, your dollars would be better spent on a free iPhone for each employee.

Another real face-palm moment is my experience of trying to implement the global talent and performance management process in a site that had an annual employee turnover rate of more than 50%.

Global: Every Director must have a named successor.
Me: There is no one. The potential successor quit. We should focus on attrition instead.
Global: Every region needs to fill up and submit the template.
Me: Ok. I’ll fill the box with a brand-new hire who’s technically still on probation.
Global: Yes, that’s fine. Maybe just add a remark “Ready in 5 to 10 years” then.
Me: @(*&$!_%#*

Now obviously, a company cannot be running on ten different HR database systems, or have twenty versions of their employee value proposition. But to really be effective, it’s no longer just polite, but necessary to socialise “global initiatives” and listen to local HR before implementing them. Gone are the days where global HQs, often based remotely, know best. In many cases, I daresay even the local janitor may know better.

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