How HR software can help you act global, think local

Just how global businesses of all shapes and sizes have become has really come home to me recently. Over the past few weeks I’ve talked to a company teaching language skills to 40 million users around the world, a business with a workforce of 11 nationalities speaking 16 different languages and a technology specialist planning to expand into two new countries every year.

Managing a dispersed workforce is undoubtedly a challenge, whether you have 50 staff or 500. But all the Cezanne OnDemand clients I’ve spoken to have been clear about the fact that global HR software has proved to be both cost-effective and efficient in supporting their international expansion and bringing order and consistency to their people management processes.

Of course having an HR system that’s translated into different languages isn’t enough on its own. If a solution is to be truly effective in an international setting, it has to be flexible enough to take account of local needs (both practical and cultural) within the framework of a coherent, global approach.

So what are the five key factors you need to think about when choosing global HR software?

Make sure it feels ‘natural’

There is nothing more confusing for an employee than having to cope with terminology that feels ‘alien’.  Even the US and the UK, as the saying goes, are two nations divided by a common language.  The words associated with annual leave are a prime example. In the US, employees expect to see references to vacations or Paid Time Off (PTO) – whereas in the UK we are more likely to talk about ‘booking holiday’ or ‘taking sick leave’.  The way dates are presented can also cause confusion if they are not appropriate for the country in question. US-style dates start with the month, for example, whereas in the UK we start with the day.  Make sure the solution you choose can be configured to suit the terminology that’s appropriate in all the countries it is being applied to.

The right information for the right people

Make sure the system you opt for allows people in different locations to see the screens that are appropriate to their own situation. You don’t want employees in Sweden, for example, seeing maternity screens that support UK legislation. Equally, you want to make sure that people see locally adapted versions of key documents like your disciplinary process or appraisal guidelines.  The latest generation solutions have integral HR portals where you can house these important documents – but you need a system with rich functionality which will allow you to present the right information to the right people at the right time.

Make sure the translation is fit for purpose

We’ve all heard the horror stories about translations that don’t say quite what they are meant to – with either comical or sometimes potentially damaging effects. Some HR software companies use translation agencies on their products and the results are often less than perfect.  It’s important for credibility – not just useability – that the system speaks the right language.  Make sure you ask a potential supplier detailed questions about how the translation is managed and sense-checked before you make a decision.

Does the system calculate holidays based on local calendars?

Public holidays vary widely, even across Europe, so make sure the system you choose allows you to set up calendars that reflect public holidays in each of the countries and regions that you cover. It’s also important that the system recognises the time zone that employees are in, so that part-day holidays are allocated in the right way. The last thing you want to do is have to make manual adjustments – a good system will do the hard work automatically for you.

Find a system that supports your processes.

One of the big advantages of today’s HR systems is that they take the drudgery out of routine tasks – such as holiday requests and sickness absence – and automatically route information that needs to be approved or noted to the right person. But approval processes and lines of reporting are not always the same in different countries. One region may have an HR manager who oversees these kind of requests, while in another country, you may only have a small presence and it’s the local line manager who authorises holidays or monitors absence. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure the system you choose will allow for these local variations.

How is global HR software helping you manage your people? We’d be interested to hear your views on the features you’ve found particularly helpful.

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