Saturday, September 3, 2011

Do regional and global roles always make sense?

"Do you know why am I staying on in this organization? It is because if I hang around here for another ten years, I will be in a global role where I can make 25 people in 20 different countries run around doing absolutely meaningless work", said the frustrated HR professional.

I had heard this statement about 7 years ago. It popped up in mind recently, possibly because of my current 'obsession' with 'sense-making'/'meaning creation' process in organizations (see 'Architects of Meaning - From CHRO to CMO' for details).

This post is primarily about regional and global roles in the context of careers in HR. Similar to what we did in 'Career Development and Sublimation' let us define 'career' as 'pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement where one takes up positions of increasing responsibility, complexity & contribution'. Going by this definition, regional and global roles seem to make 'career-sense' for HR professionals as they can provide a natural progression from country level roles in terms of geographical scope of the responsibilities. These roles also make 'organization-sense' as the HR structure that includes regional and global roles often mirrors the organization structure of the business.

So what (if any) can be the possible problems with moving on to regional and global roles in HR?

The first is that while comparable regional and global roles are usually at a higher organization level as compared to country level roles, they might not necessarily be more complex. Also if there are basic problems with the HR operating model of the company (e.g. in terms of definition of roles, nature of the responsibilities, feasibility of carrying out those responsibilities, buy-in from business leaders at various levels etc.) progressing from country to regional roles might not enable the HR professional to solve (or even to 'grow out of') the problems' that he/she has been struggling with at the country level.

Another set of problems arise because of the nature of regional and global roles. Because of the large geographical scope, role holders in these roles will have to influence indirectly and/or focus very narrowly. This might lead to 'diffusion' of responsibility and/or 'marginalization of the role' (in terms of not being able to create a tangible impact on the business). This create difficulties with the 'taking up roles with increasing contribution' part in our definition of the term 'career'. This bring us to another type of 'sense' - in terms of the role change being 'personally meaningful' for the HR professional concerned (the 'sense-making' or 'meaning-creation' process that was mentioned in the second paragraph in this post).

Again, since these roles have to look at multiple territories each with different contexts, the role holders will have to work mainly at the level of guiding principles, guidelines and targets that will have varying degrees of relevance in particular territories (and to the HR professionals who are implementing them in those territories). The impact will depend on the extent of centralization/ monitoring/ enforcement, degree of detail and the flexibility (or lack of it) to make modifications at a territory level. This can create situations where HR professionals at local level get frustrated (as these inputs/interventions/demands from the role holders in regional/global roles do not make sense to them)- leading to statements like the one with which we started this discussion/post. May be one of the key responsibilities of regional/global HR roles should be to actively help in (influence!?) the sense-making process in the minds of the HR professionals at the country level!

This inference is not without irony. Earlier in this discussion, reference was made to a previous post which said that HR professionals should become 'Architects of Meaning' (and even that the 'Chief Human Resources Officer' should become the 'Chief Meaning Officer'). Now we are saying that HR professionals need a dose of their own medicine. May be, there is no irony. It might just be that Human Resource professionals are also human!!!

Over to you for your comments/ideas!!!


Judy Lindenberger said...

One of the benefits of global assignments is that the HR professional can introduce organizational culture and values while keeping local culture and values intact.

Prasad Kurian said...

Thanks Judy. I agree. The HR professional in a global assignment can also enrich his/her own understanding of the organization culture/values by experiencing how they play out in different contexts. This will help in avoiding uni-dimensional interpretations organization culture/values. Hence the HR professional from the corporate team can introduce orgnization culture and values in a way that makes more sense to the HR professionals in various countries/geographies.