How to manage staff overseas

Until recently, the furthest you had to 'reach out' to employees was Milton Keynes. But now your company has got people in a dozen countries. So how do you manage them? Here's a Crash Course.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 17 Jun 2015

Start with strategy. 'If you've outsourced or acquired businesses, it is probably linked to your overall strategy,' says Laura Hinton, who leads PWC's HR management practice. That leads you to a people strategy, and in turn to an HR function strategy with some overarching principles, she says. 'That should pull together all the populations you have around the world.'

Cut your cloth. 'Every market is different and if any business says it will stick rigidly to the same compensation and benefits everywhere, it will come unstuck,' says Teresa Lamy, group head of HR at global business adviser TMF Group. The cost of living varies significantly, as do pay and benefit expectations. 'Make sure you base your decisions on real market differences,' says Hinton. 'You can still be consistent with principles, such as paying top quartile in each country.'

Employ local. It's common to put expats in place in a new country, but you should install locals as soon as possible. 'Expats are expensive,' points out Lamy. 'A local hiring often understands the lie of the land much better.'

Think jurisdiction. In the EU, the employment law that applies is the one where the work is done, says Roger James, head of employment law at international specialist firm Taylor Vinters. 'If you say "English law applies", you may simply be offering employees a chance to go to English law as well as to local law,' he points out.

Beware of legal traps. Certain areas of employment law vary significantly from country to country, says James. Termination of employment is a key area where companies should be well informed.

Level the playing field. 'If all managers use the same balanced performance measurement scorecard, you can see how they measure up against each other,' says Lamy. 'Then you can identify countries where you are weak and target them accordingly.'

Embrace diversity. Building a universal company culture might seem like good idea - but not if it's at the expense of what's important to your employees in their own country. 'For branding purposes, yes,' says Lamy. 'But internally I think you should understand local culture and embrace it.'

London calling. 'You can't communicate too much,' says Hinton, especially where the smaller offices are concerned. 'It makes people feel important and helps them to understand how they fit into the bigger picture.' Global businesses are reversing the trend for virtual meetings and getting their people physically together, she says.

Do say: 'We are going to determine our global values as an organisation and we want every office to contribute to that process.'

Don't say: 'Our man in Bratislava just called. Can he fire everyone and hire a new lot?'

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