In the Summer of 2017, ChapmanCG brought together three groups of Global and Regional HR Leaders in the metro areas of Chicago, Seattle and San Diego to discuss global HR trends. We were very grateful to be hosted by JLL, Microsoft and Thermo Fisher Scientific in each of these respective locations, and were also happy to invite HR representatives from companies as diverse as Amazon, Aon, Baker McKenzie, Baxter, Boeing, Booking.com, DocuSign, Eaton, Edelman, Ericsson, Getty Images, H.B. Fuller, Panasonic Aviation, Roche, SAP, Teradata and United Airlines. The meetings were moderated by Alan Mait and myself from ChapmanCG, with additional support from Stefanie Cross-Wilson.

The theme of these meetings was around the question, “How to successfully manage and nurture remote talent?”. While we haven’t sought to replicate the content from these meetings, we have summarised some of the most useful findings:

1) When Leading Remotely, HR Needs to ‘Secure Its Own Oxygen mask Before Taking Care of Others’

This beautiful analogy was mentioned by one of the participants at the JLL meeting in Chicago. When it comes to implementing processes to improve remote management, be it with new technology, new workflows, or new self-service tools, it is key to start by engaging with your own HR team. Sometimes HR rushes to facilitate change across business affiliates, without first making sure that HR practitioners in remote environments are themselves in agreement. When an HR Leader is asked to advocate and communicate a change in which they don’t personally believe, the well can be poisoned from the start. So this process is crucial as a litmus test for the resilience and adaptability of your HR team members, and if the test isn’t passed after numerous attempts then either these individuals may not be in the right role, or you may need to rethink and scale down your ambitions.

2) Centralisation versus Exceptionalism

The key tension in remote leadership lies in the question of how many processes need to be consistent around the world. Local affiliates will often argue that special rules need to be carved out to properly allow for specific market conditions. Headquarters will almost always prefer to centralise rules, because consistency allows for efficiencies of process, as well as uniformity of data. When this topic was discussed at the Microsoft meeting in Seattle, participants agreed that in the age of Big Data, the argument for centralisation is starting to win the day. With all global processes and data in alignment, the company can start to employ the most forward-thinking practices in predictive analytics, so there is increasingly a huge advantage in getting all affiliates to operate as one global organism.

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3) Designing HR Processes for Scalability

As HR is becoming more digitised and less reliant on face-to-face quality of service, HR processes need to be re-imagined so that the advantages of scalability can be properly harnessed. Many companies rush too fast into directly mirroring an existing system rather than taking a step back to create something that’s more future-ready.

4) HR Needs to Have Its Own Data Analytics Team, Rather Than Borrowing Resources From I.T.

Experience suggests that it’s important for the HR team to have its own HR analytics leader. This ensures that the function is not dependent on the conflicting priorities of the IT Department. The correct workflow can then be built internally, allowing for optimised functionality and the most powerful results.

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5) Collaboration versus Speed

Particularly with decisions that have global impact, there’s a necessity to bring remote colleagues into the decision-making from the start, so that they have input into its design and subsequently take more ownership of the results. But there also needs to be an understanding that there will be other times where a decision needs to be made swiftly. In these time-sensitive situations, a company’s agility can outweigh the necessity to build consensus.

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6) Building Empathy and Human Connectivity is Crucial

When managing remote talent, it’s fundamental not to just rely on structure, hierarchy, processes and the overall corporate matrix. These constructs only work smoothly when human beings work in partnership with other human beings. Build teams that consist of worldly, open-minded, curious people and make sure that they are engaging all stakeholders on a human-to-human level. In one case study discussed at the Thermo Fisher Scientific meeting in San Diego, this could be achieved by simply gathering people together and asking them to pull names out of a hat to put themselves in that colleagues’ position in any given situation. Aligning teams should not be taken for granted, whether in small and cohesive environments or at one of the large corporate behemoths.

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