So my wife has been on a homemade donut kick lately. That’s right, every weekend I get to sample another dozen donuts. Those of you who read often know that my constant struggle to stay fit must work really well when there is a new batch of donuts sitting around the house every Saturday morning. We’ve got the chocolate dipped, the glazed, the orange glazed. She says she is going to try a custard filled next. I’ve sampled a quite a few dough recipes so far. It started pretty poorly. She tried to source a recipe off of some random website that sounded reasonable. The dough turned out to be a bit too firm and chewy. Therefore, the next go was from an authoritative cookbook by a guy who is a famous executive pastry chef and happens to have a cookbook exclusively about donuts. This went a bit too far, and the dough was possibly too airy. Not to be too Goldilocks, but my wife then blended the recipes until she found just the right combination of (turns out it was milk content). She went from kinda random, to expert driven, and finally figured out somewhere in the middle was going to actually work out.
We’ve been experimenting with the idea of standardization for decades, but more so in the last 15 years as our organizations have gotten more global and those global populations have kept increasing. The evolution started with zero standardization. it was really step one as global organizations just did whatever they wanted to. There were shadow HR systems everywhere, country specific processes, and inconsistent delivery to the business. Local HR organizations provided generally adequate service to the business, but corporate HR organizations couldn’t get simple head counts let alone anything that was actually useful.
Many organizations have moved to the next stage of evolution, the corporate mandate. Corporate HR organizations tried to make some sense of this mayhem by implementing core HR systems and mandating that all countries around the globe had to have their employees entered into the common HR system. This did nothing except ensure that country HR double entered employee data but kept their own individual way of processing transactions. In almost all cases, the shadow systems (usually spreadsheets) still existed. The problem is that most organizations think that there is a way to make the corporate mandate work, when really this is as much a failure as the mayhem that existed before.
We’ve also gone down the road of “the only modifications to standard processes will be for local compliance needs.” Basically, we’ve told the local HR organizations that the local practice is not acceptable and we’re not going to cater to them unless there is a law involved. Personally, I can’t think of much that less engaging. Some things make sense, like if we’re transferring an employee, it should not be that different across the world. Especially if transfers are across country borders, we really do want some consistency. But when we get to things like how managers work with employee performance or the allocation of spot bonuses, there will often be some local flair that could be important.
What I’ve found is that the corporate HR mandate is just as dysfunctional as the mayhem of no standardization. This is because the corporate mandate does not solution for local needs in any way, or even admit that local needs might be different. It’s a totally selfish view by corporate HR organizations that the need of central authority, consistency, governance and data override everything else. If we treated our personal relationships this way, we’d have no friends. Luckily, we seem to have some sons socially in our personal lives. Not so much in business though.
Here’s my solution. At the end of the day, it’s about the business. We need to let the in-country businesses decide that they can standardize and want to standardize. This actually means de-standardizing for them. In some cases, it’s as simple as providing them with the localizations they need (and that we promised them for compliance reasons, but for some reason we never came through on that promise). In other cases, it’s giving in on the one extra level of approvals they want for the salary increase process. In simple terms though, you almost never get what you want by mandate, you get it by partnership.
These days, the new HR systems all pretty much come with packaged localizations, so it’s not like the old days when you had to purchase the country pack and install the thing. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of massive process customizations for every country – this becomes impossible to manage. I’m really not a fan of anything other than the minor token tweak. What we’ve found over time however, is giving in on one or two battles that are genuinely important to the local business will leave you from ten other battles that could have happened. At the end of the day, it’s about finding that middle ground that gets you the desired results for both corporate HR and the local business at the same time.