Putting a Global-Local Mindset to Work

Originally published in Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management’s HR magazine.

  • With the continued shifting of the world’s business activities from West to East, today’s business managers, and the workforces they lead, need a “global-local” mindset that blends the best international practices with relevant local traditions, experience and cultures.
  • Nurturing a workforce with a “global-local” mindset is vital to enable organisations to succeed in a world that, in spite of some pockets of rising nationalism, is becoming ever more interconnected.

Culture shapes our behaviour. The places where we grow up, work and socialise influence how we perceive others and how we interact with them. We develop a “mindset” – a set of beliefs that can predetermine how we interpret and respond to different situations. While many of us pride ourselves on being citizens of the world, adept at having our passports at the ready to travel to a new business environment — having a global mindset goes beyond a desire to better understand different cultural and business norms.

As technology continues to rapidly break down geographical barriers and companies increasingly seek to corner a global market share, organisations are being required to shift their focus to new markets, which present new challenges.

Established business hierarchies are shifting. Across Asia, local and multinational organisations are increasingly targeting their products and services to the rapidly growing Asian middle class. For a growing number of organisations, key customers these days are located in the Asia region, which also means that growth opportunities now stem from domestic and regional markets. With its vast geography and different cultures, large workforces and rapidly emerging technology and innovation markets, Asia is quickly developing as the frontier for a new type of “globallocal” mindset. Within this setting there is a growing demand for HR leaders who can help their organisations to develop the type of “global-local” mindset necessary to ensure productivity, employee engagement and a sustainable workforce necessary to underpin future growth and development.

What is a “global-local” mindset?

While a global mindset can apply to individuals and organisations, it is generally defined as having a shared purpose of balancing global efficiency, responsiveness to local culture, and the transfer of knowledge. A “global-local” mindset involves the subtle difference of having the ability to develop many local mindsets, and to understand how these interact with an organisation’s overall business vision and mission.

Why is having a “global-local” mindset needed?

Across the Asia region, business dynamics are changing rapidly. As organisations seek to capitalise on lower labour costs, improving logistics and better infrastructure, they are moving their manufacturing processes away from established hubs, notably Mainland China, to emerging hubs in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. As this transformation continues to gather pace, to an ever-greater extent, an organisation’s success hinges on the HR function’s ability to develop a workforce with capabilities that allow the organisation to navigate a more complex, varied and unpredictable business environment. Therefore, a major effort has to go into understanding different work styles and behaviours and building trust to ensure effective coordination.

At the same time, as organisations begin to take a greater Asia regional focus, the established model of having a single central headquarters is starting to shift. The trend has become noticeable by the number of organisations opting for a multi-centre Asian headquarters model instead of a single global headquarters model, often located in the US or Europe, where the organisation’s global view is often tilted towards the views of the “home” country.

As the business spotlight shifts to Asia’s developing markets, nurturing a “global-local” mindset becomes more important as organisations adopt new technologies aimed at sophisticated customers and partners who hold higher expectations of quality standards. Organisations now need to work across multiple layers of complexity no longer framed by familiar cultural dimensions or neat geographical boxes. For HR practitioners, this presents the challenge of widening the breadth of their awareness across new environments to identify the different employee work styles, talent drivers and talent behaviours. These new dynamics may also create the necessity to redesign job descriptions, recruitment practices and performance management processes, all of which can benefit from a “globallocal” mindset approach.

Talent management practices can benefit from a “global-local” mindset philosophy

A “global-local” mindset can also be useful when balancing the efficiencies of global HR processes or models with the needs of different local environments. For example, organisations may want to use talent selection processes that have international validity in predicting performance, but may encounter challenges in new talent recruitment markets where the metrics and drivers of employee performance vary. Benefits and rewards is another area where a global one-size-fits-all may not be the ideal solution — a prime example of where a “global-local” mindset can come into play. Benefits and rewards systems, where the core values or outcomes are set globally but have flexibility in how they are implemented locally, can be critical to attracting and retaining local talent where companies are looking to enter a new market. A “global-local” mindset can also help to ease painpoints during a merger or acquisition where different existing reward sets need to be meshed.

Shaping a “global-local” mindset

To develop “global-local” mindset awareness at C-suite and middle management level, it is necessary for the HR function to develop programmes that expose leaders and potential leaders to new cultures and diverse populations aimed at overcoming stereotype beliefs. While this may sound simple, it takes time to get to know the basics about how regulations, customs, talent management and business are conducted in different locations. According to the International Institute for Management Development Business School’s Developing the Global Mindset — The Five Keys to Success survey, as well as formal learning programmes, informal learning opportunities such as conferences and networking gatherings between management executives from different industry sectors have a part to play in developing the “global-local” mindset. The HR function can also arrange for more experienced managers to serve as mentors to help less experienced managers to build their “global-local” mindset skills. This is vital for the organisation to connect the network of managers and the workforces they lead across different countries and jurisdictions to take advantage of regional opportunities.

At the organisational level, the HR function can explore ways to implement cross-cultural training focusing on cultural nuances, communication styles, approaches to risk-taking and ways to promote effective working relations. These should include not only an understanding of diversity and cross-cultural differences, but also areas in which misunderstandings are likely to occur and how they can be avoided. While every organisation’s training programmes will differ, the HR function needs to identify the “globallocal” mindset characteristics needed to deliver on employee recruitment and development strategies in order to support business growth.

Crucially, the HR function will need to identify how it can best mobilise its resources to develop “globallocal” mindset characteristics. For example, how to support and empower local management leaders so they can properly understand and respond to “global-local” mindset concepts.

Having clear processes for on-boarding new talent, and critically, quickly integrating their experience into the organisation’s regional and global operating mindset can contribute significantly to a win-win position. Having local HR business partners on the ground at country-level can make a significant difference in implementing “globallocal” mindset philosophies by providing valuable insights and advice.

By adopting a “global-local” mindset, business leaders and their organisations have the opportunity to advance innovation and best practices to bridge gaps essential to the advancement of sustainable business success and the wider benefit of the global community.

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