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Going global

Posted on from Totum Partners

Humility, strategic skills and a cross-cultural mindset will help you achieve success in an international HR role, says Kerry Ford. The Hong Kong-based HR director offers his insights.

HR challenges

I first came to Hong Kong on a secondment with PricewaterhouseCoopers and am now into my second period working in Asia.

Working in HR across global regions is exciting because of the market growth opportunity, broad cultural canvas and what you can learn from it.

Some of the HR challenges here are the same as those experienced by all HR leaders – understanding business needs and priorities, building trusted advisor relationships with leaders and working strategically to help define and lead business change. The special challenge of working in Asia comes from the complexity of dealing with markets at different stages of maturity and opportunity.

Hong Kong is an exciting place to live and work. As a mature but adaptable market, it has a key central role within the greater China region. To work here you need to adopt the best HR practices from the West to fit an Asian cultural context. You must also have the humility to realise what you don’t know and be able to build local relationships that can help to reduce this knowledge gap.

Skills in demand

In this region, there is a high demand for strategic HR leadership and true HR business partner skills with the knowledge, experience and credibility to support and challenge the business. Historically, this represents HR evolution from a focus on personnel and administrative processes, but there are also cultural differences in leadership and expression. For example, a traditional Asian leadership style is more ‘command and control’ with less interchange and questioning from staff. Focus groups tend be on a homogenous group basis as junior staff often wait for the most senior person to express a view first. While this also happens in Western cultures, it’s more pronounced in Asian society.

One of my top priorities is to introduce a talent management approach focused on differentiated management and development. It will include better defined and communicated career paths. I am also working on the continuation of a strategic reward approac

and harmonising HR service delivery across our offices.

Global mindset

In the legal sector we are seeing the international integration of law firms in a variety of structures. The employment market is increasingly global, with graduates and experienced professionals looking for opportunities outside of their home countries. As a result, HR leaders needs to adopt a wider and more cross-cultural perspective.

Looking for a global role: top tips

  • Talk to people that have worked in the market you’re interested in and find out what they liked or disliked and learned from the experience.
  • Balance the short-term value proposition with the longer-term career goal.
  • Be measured in approach when working in a new culture. You will not have the whole picture and will rely on others to translate – both literally and figuratively – what will work in that context.

Kerry Ford

KerryHR director, Baker & McKenzie China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Korea

Kerry has extensive HR strategic and operational experience in financial, legal and professional services businesses in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

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