How in the World Can HR Get Global Skills?

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Apr 20, 2023

By The Institute for Corporate Productivity

With more and more firms expanding into the global marketplace, the pressure is mounting for HR executives to come up the global literacy learning curve. The ability to develop this more global skill set will likely emerge from a combination of experience, education and research.

Immersing oneself in another culture is probably the most direct method of becoming more globally literate. While multinational firms tend to ensure that line executives get opportunities to gain global experience, they’re less likely to provide such opportunities to HR leaders (SHRM, 2007). Therefore, HR executives must be proactive about requesting such rotational assignments.

In China, job rotations are considered to be among the best methods for developing global-minded leaders, according to more than two-thirds of the 331 executives surveyed by Korn/Ferry International and the Economist Intelligence Unit. The survey findings, which focused on leadership in Asia, suggest other methods of developing global leaders as well: mentoring, sponsoring employees for executive training, providing developmental coaching, and conducting on-site training from international colleagues (Korn/Ferry International, 2007).

Even a short-term assignment can be a valuable growth experience, particularly at the time of an overseas acquisition. International law firm Proskauer Rose LLP (2006) suggests that HR professionals involved in a foreign acquisition use a checklist to ensure that critical HR issues—such as organizational structures, local laws and document translations—are addressed. Such international organizational expansion presents a prime opportunity for HR to develop global knowledge at a time when building relationships with employees, vendors and government officials in another country can be crucial.

Participation on an international, cross-functional team is another option for gaining global experience (Lockwood, 2006). Collaborating with a culturally diverse group that is working toward a common goal can give HR professionals insights into norms in other countries.

If an extended visit to another country is not in the budget, HR professionals should consider developing global skills through academic sources, external conferences or in-house development programs. They can seek out universities that offer courses in negotiating across borders, leading multicultural teams and developing similar global skills (SHRM, 2007). Or they can glean all they can from global HR conferences. Such gatherings attract top-notch presenters who speak from their own experiences as well as provide attendees an opportunity to mix—socially and professionally—with colleagues from a wide variety of cultures.

External programs for developing HR leaders’ global skills are another option, but some multinational firms—such as General Electric, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever—accelerate global learning through action-learning programs developed in-house. While firsthand exposure to the culture itself is undoubtedly the best teacher, these firms use tools such as case studies, role-playing and simulations to introduce cultural issues (SHRM, 2007).

Another corporate example of developing cross-cultural literacy is Intel’s Learning Through People (LTP) program. One of the world’s largest producers of semiconductors—with 91,000 employees located in 48 countries—Intel launched LTP to instruct 800 of its midlevel managers over a period of eight years through a series of globally dispersed seminars (Frauenheim, 2005). The brainchild of Kevin Gazarra, Intel expert on management and organizational leadership, LTP trades out lectures and textbooks for experiential workshops that compel cross-cultural teams to grasp and resolve cultural issues while carrying out a specific business initiative. The results from LTP seminars already held in Ireland, Israel, and China are promising: Participant ratings are the highest given for any leadership workshop in 15 years.

One especially rewarding way to research a particular region is to participate in a professional contingent of business colleagues visiting that country, such as trips coordinated through People to People Ambassadors. Another research method entails expanding reading beyond U.S. publications and scanning other offerings such as Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, Canadian HR Reporter or other regional or international journals.

The ultimate goal is to develop the kind of mindset needed to understand today’s culturally diverse, global workforce. This mindset takes time to develop, so HR professionals with an interest in gaining global skills need to begin as soon as possible lining up research and educational resources as well as looking for opportunities to experience other cultures firsthand.


Frauenheim, Ed. “Crossing Cultures.” Workforce Management, November 21, 2005, pp. 25–32.

Korn/Ferry International. The Dream Team: Delivering Leadership in Asia, 2007.

Lockwood, Nancy R. “Leadership Development: Optimizing Human Capital for Business Success.” 2006 SHRM Research Quarterly, 2006.

McConnell, Beth. “HR Professionals See the Old and New Meet in India.” HR News []. May 22, 2007.

Miller, Adam. “Workforce Flexibility: Managing Employees on the Move.” Workforce Performance Solutions, March 2006, pp. 34–37.

Proskauer Rose LLP. “HR Checklist for Entering a New Country.” International HR Best Practices, November 2006, pp. 1–2.

Schramm, Jennifer. SHRM Workplace Forecast. SHRM, June 2006. Society for Human Resource Management. “HR and Business Education: Building Value for Competitive Advantage.” 2007 SHRM Research Quarterly, Second Quarter 2007.

About the Author(s)

The Institute for Corporate Productivity (formerly the Human Resource Institute) works to improve workforce productivity and bottom-line results within corporations. The Institute for Corporate Productivity has been created on a foundation of four primary offerings: research, community, tools, and technology. For more information contact Jay Jamrog at 727.345.2226 or [email protected].