Success in regional HR roles – a how-to guide

by 22 Mar 2012

The Australian HR community is in two minds when it comes to taking on roles in the Asia-Pacific region. For some, it represents an unparalleled opportunity to further their career and to experience HR and business in general on a new level. For others, working in a regional role and for a global company is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, and they fear they will lose autonomy and the ability to implement their own agenda.

In an HR survey from 2010, just 2.1% of HR professionals were attracted to work in a globally driven environment, and fear of losing autonomy was regularly cited as a reason.

But gaining international experience in the Asia-Pacific region can mean better career prospects in the years to come. HC spoke with three top HR leaders working in regional roles based in Australia to ask what advice they would offer to their peers seeking to take on an Asia Pacific role and what they felt it had added to their HR ‘tool-kit’ as a result.

Choosing the right organisation in which to forge an international career is the key to solving the fear that autonomy will be lost in the move abroad, John Francois, McAfee HR director-Asia Pacific says. “The route I personally took was to secure a local role with a reputable multinational company that had a strong growth outlook in the AsiaPac region,” Francois says. “This gives you very good exposure to the initiatives being driven and challenges that are being addressed across other AsiaPac countries.”

Tony Lehner, HR director, Asia Pacific for Unisys, agreed that research is the key to making an informed decision. He suggested web-based research, including company blogs, as an important investigatory tool. “[Ask] do they offer the right culture and tools to support working across different time zones and geographies?,” he suggests.

An appreciation of the organisation’s culture and an understanding of the cultural and social norms associated with each country in the region is also one of the keys to success in performing a regional HR role. This can take on both a formal and an informal aspect, according to Lehner. “I was lucky enough to study cross-cultural management as part of my MBA,” he says. “This prepared me with a better understanding that not all cultures are the same.”

By the same token, the best cultural advice Lehner has received has come from his local HR teams on the ground across Asia. Trusting your team, he says, is the key to success.

Tracy Staines, Executive director HR, Media, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa for Nielsen, agreed that building relationships at a local level is crucial to gaining an understanding of the cultural nuances across the region. “The ability to listen and ask lots of questions to make sure that you understand and that you have been understood is key. Never assume!” she said.

Diplomacy is important, Staines added, as is being flexible and generous with your time to help break down the tyranny of distance.

“You need to build relationships and trust and that’s harder when you’re not seeing people face to face on a regular basis. Have regular calls with your stakeholders and get to know your talent at all levels,” she says.

But Staines added that taking on a regional role has broadened her commercial and business outlook. “I’ve learnt a lot about different markets, cultures and employment practices, which has helped me broaden my knowledge and ask better questions to help solicit better solutions,” she said. “It’s broadened my experience and I think I’ve learned to listen more, be more flexible and truly appreciate diversity.”


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