Let me tell you a story. When I was just starting out in “international” HR I made a trip with my manager to Japan. (Keep in mind that I was a cultural neophyte.)
In a discussion with the Japanese HR Manager I asked him a question. He talked and talked and from my perspective nothing he said had anything to do with my question. Finally he stopped and I looked at him and said, “So what’s your point?” I immediately felt my manager’s shoe gently (?) pressing down on my foot and knew I had committed a faux pas.
My story illustrates one of the key differences between the cultural norms of East Asia and the West. Eastern Asian cultures tend to think holistically, seeing an entire situation and how its parts are connected. In contrast, Western cultures tend to think specifically, removing a subject from its environment and analyzing it as a single entity separate from the whole.
My question to the Japanese HR manager had focused on an issue specifically. He, in turn, was providing background context holistically.
OK now hang on because I’m going to make a big leap. What if we think about our company’s business representing the macro level --- subject to all the contextual issues in the world of business. Issues such as external environmental impacts, financial turmoil, globalization, political upheaval, etc. And HR/Compensation representing the micro level? Meaning, do we as Compensation pros really stop and consider our decisions in context --- or do we make decisions based solely on our Compensation theories, rules, best practices, etc. at the micro level?
We’ve all heard/read more than we want to about how HR/Compensation pros need more business acumen. I believe it means not just taking a course in Accounting or Finance. It’s not just learning how to calculate the ROI of HR programs. It’s not just about applying metrics. It’s broader in context. It means understanding the company’s business. Sounds so fundamental doesn’t it?
HR/Compensation pros need to check their mind-set. The key question is not "does the rest of the business ‘get us' --- it’s do we ‘get the business’ ”?
As far as Compensation goes, it doesn’t mean:
•giving managers Comp 101 responses to their questions
•doing a “cracking good” analysis of a compensation problem and then making a decision based on that alone --- without taking a broader look at how that affects the business
•designing an incentive plan that’s a “work of art” and that makes us positively giddy, but not checking to see if really makes sense for the company
•refusing to bend “the rules” when business reality says we need to
•identifying the risks we don’t want to take --- it’s about identifying the risks we need to take. --- just like all the other company functions do
Ed Holton says it best:
"As disappointing as it may seem to some, HR(Comp) is just a means to an end. So is Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Manufacturing, etc. The real end goal is to make the company more successful. The only tools and tactics we should be implementing are those that drive the company toward its strategic goals.”
So let’s make sure we are looking at the “whole” --- looking at things in context --- before we get to the “point”. Or . . . we may just miss “the point”.
Jacque Vilet, President of Vilet International, has over 20 years’ experience in Global Human Resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career. Her true love is working with local national issues. Jacque has the following certifications: CCP, GPHR, HCS and SWP as well as a B.S. and M.S in Psychology and an MBA. She belongs to SHRM, Human Capital Institute and World at Work. Jacque been a speaker in the U.S., Asia and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications.