Accommodating Cultural Nuances in a Global HR Software Deployment

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    Consider this scenario: Your company is expanding globally, and you’re overseeing the deployment of a global HR software platform. It has some excellent features that have proven to be highly valued by your users in the United States, like one that facilitates the rollout of a 360-degree performance appraisal tool. You’re looking forward to your own performance appraisal, because you know this deployment is going to make you come out smelling like a rose. There’s just one problem: You blew it.

    You messed up, big time, because you didn’t take into account the cultural differences that global HR software needs to accommodate. And there are a lot more of those differences than you might expect.

    I had the opportunity to discuss this topic in a recent interview with J.P. Medved, content director and HR software specialist at Capterra, an Arlington, Va.-based provider of an online platform that connects buyers and sellers of business software. Medved explained the performance evaluation issue, which he said involves a cultural element that is often overlooked by HR organizations.

    “In the U.S., you tend to get a lot more 360-degree performance reviews. It’s a lot more of a two-way dialog. In other cultures, that’s absolutely not the expectation,” Medved explained. “In fact, that can be disrespectful, if you have an employee giving feedback to a manager.”

    It may not cause a huge rebellion, Medved said. “But you may make people uncomfortable, and you may have people subtly resisting implementing something like that.”

    Another example of a cultural difference that needs to be accommodated has to do with taking time off from work. Medved said the United States tends to be more flexible and laid-back than a lot of other countries, especially in Europe. That issue cropped up at his own company, Capterra, when it was acquired by Gartner last September.

    “When you’re looking at vacation rules, or approving sick days, we had a very lax vacation rule culture here [at Capterra], where for quite a long time we had a ‘no vacation policy’ policy,” Medved said. “You take off whenever, you let someone know, and that’s how it goes. In a lot of cultures, that type of free-wheeling culture doesn’t work as well. It’s a very American thing that I don’t think has penetrated a lot globally.”

    All of that ended with the company’s acquisition by Gartner, Medved said, due to the international nature of Gartner’s business. “You do have to standardize that a little bit,” he said. Capterra is in the process of integrating with Gartner’s Oracle system, having begun uploading data into the system earlier this month, he added.

    Medved also cited data privacy and data protection issues. While those are clearly matters of regulatory compliance, he pointed out that differences in regulations stem from cultural differences around privacy expectations.

    “That is a big difference between the U.S. and Europe, and even in Canada now, where you have more stringent data privacy and data protection laws,” Medved said. “They’re worried about cloud-based HR systems, if they have data centers in the U.S. or some other region that doesn’t have the same data protection laws. So a big thing to consider when you’re getting a global HR system is where the data is actually being held.”

    When evaluating HR software systems for a global deployment, it’s important to do your homework, Medved said.

    “You have a lot of HR systems that bill themselves as international. But when you actually dig into it, it’s really just skin deep,” he said. “They have other languages, and they allow you to change some fields around, and they accommodate other currencies. But they’re not as customizable as they need to be to handle subtler differences.”

    Those differences can be as simple as the way the org chart is structured in the software, or the ability to put in different honorifics for names and title conventions. “If you don’t have that customizability for the small things, they can become big issues,” Medved said.

    So what has his research shown to be the best HR software for a global expansion? Medved said it depends on your resources and the size of your organization.

    “If you have the money, a lot of the bigger guys, like Oracle, are probably going to be where you want to go,” he said. “If you don’t have the tech resources to really build that out and customize it, you’re going to want to look for something that’s built from the ground up as being intended for international deployment. Cezanne HR is a good one that focuses on that.”

    Most important of all when looking at a global HR software deployment, Medved said, is to understand your requirements.

    “That’s a process that’s going to involve sitting down internally, and brainstorming your need-to-haves and nice-to-haves,” he said. “But also doing the research to understand what’s available out there.”

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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