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Preparing for an international HR Career

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2018 22 Seiten

Führung und Personal - Sonstiges



Index of Abbreviations

List of Tables

1. Introduction

2. Human Resource Management in a global Context

3. Careers in International Human Resource Management

4. Research Findings on Human Resource Competencies

5. Individual HR Career Management

6. Conclusion



Index of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieer Leseprobe nicht enthalten

List of Tables

Table 1: General & Specific Competencies

Table 2: Research Findings on HR Competencies


Appendix A VIII

1. Introduction

The increasing globalisation of business activities that is driven by rapid and extensive global communication, rapid development and transfer of new technology, decreased trade barriers, knowledge sharing across borders, increased travel and migration, and exposure to new countries and cultures necessitates adaptation of all management functions in organizations and particularly impacts the policies and practices of their human resource (HR) management (Briscoe, Schuler & Tarique, 2015, pp.14-16).

In consequence of the proceeding process of globalisation, that refers to the ever-increasing interaction, interconnectedness and integration of individuals, companies and cultures, international HR management plays a critical role to the future success of organizations. This requires developing and recruiting international HR professionals with the requisite skills and abilities to provide solutions for global HR problems, such as training and development, compensation and benefits, or performance management (Briscoe et al. 2015, pp. 14-16; Dowling, Festing & Engle, 2017, p. 175). However, ‘in a world of increasing change, there has never been a greater need to identify what HR professionals must be, know, do, and deliver to contribute more fully to their organizations’ (The RBL Group, 2016, p. 4).

Against this background, the central question that motivates this paper is: “How can one prepare for an international HR career?” To answer the research question, this paper primarily focuses on the skills and abilities needed for a successful career in international HR management and how they can be acquired through individual career management. The first chapter provides a definition of international HR management and briefly outlines the differences between domestic and international HR management. Based on the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) different HR professional career levels and their characteristics are described in the second chapter.

The third chapter gives an overview of considerable findings of the research on the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for HR professionals because in recent years many HR associations, research organizations and consultant groups have investigated the HR competencies and developed various competency models (Ulrich, Brockbank, Ulrich & Kryscynski, 2015, p. 56). In addition to that, the definition of competencies and what refers to as a competency model is clarified. After having outlined different HR career levels and findings of the research on HR competencies, the next chapter analyses aspects of individual career management to acquire these skills and abilities. Finally, the most important findings are summarized in the conclusion.

2. Human Resource Management in a global Context

The purpose of this chapter is to define international HR management in the context of international business and to outline the differences between domestic and international HR management. But before the term international HR management is characterized, the general field of HR management needs to be clarified.

According to Dowling et al. (2017) HR management in general refers to ‘those activities undertaken by an organization to effectively utilize its human resources’ (p. 2). These activities include HR planning, staffing (recruitment, selection, placement), performance management, training and development, compensation and benefits as well as industrial relations (Dowling et al., 2017, pp. 2-4).

As described in the introduction, the origin of international HR management lies in the increasement of global business operations and the development of multinational enterprises (MNEs) (Harzing & Pinnington, 2011, p. 1). Even though some MNEs, such as Unilever or Royal Dutch Shell are conducting their international business for several decades, the professional and academic area of international HR management is relatively new (Briscoe et al., 2015, p. 30; Harzing & Pinnington, 2011, p. 1). Currently many organizations from all over the world are operating in global markets and experience global competition. Therefore, HR management faces the challenge to recruit, select, develop, and retain workforce talent that can achieve global competitiveness in a complex and dynamic environment (Briscoe et al., 2015, p. 22).

Referring to this global business context Stahl, Björkman and Morris (2012) define international HR management broadly ‘to cover all issues related to managing the global workforce and its contribution to firm outcomes’ (p. 1). A further definition is offered by Briscoe et al. (2015) who determine the term as ‘the study and application of all human resource management activities as they impact the process of managing human resources in enterprises in the global environment’ (p. 14). Along with these two broad approaches, this paper uses the term of international HR management as the management of human resources at MNEs.

But, what specifically differentiates HR management from international HR management? In comparison international HR management is responsible for more HR activities, which would not be necessary in a domestic environment, ranging from the management of expatriates, including foreign work visas as well as social taxes, to international relocation and orientation. Moreover, international HR managers must develop a broader expertise, including knowledge about foreign countries, their employment laws and practices as well as cultural differences. The complexity of dealing with more than one national group of employees is one of the primary differences between domestic and international HR management. This in turn necessitates the design of different training, staffing, compensation, and benefits programs for the international workforce. Furthermore, international HR management must deal with a greater level of risk and difficulties in respect of political uncertainties or financial consequences of failure, e. g. due to the premature return of employees from international assignments (Briscoe et al., 2015, pp. 15-16; Dowling et al., 2017, p. 4). Because of these differences there is a requirement to develop a set of key competencies needed to successfully manage the international HR management function. But before the findings of the research on key competencies relevant to an international HR professional’s career are examined various career levels are presented in the next chapter.

3. Careers in International Human Resource Management

With regard to the question of how to prepare for an international HR career, it is necessary to reflect how HR professionals perform and what defines proficiency at a certain career level. Based on their research the SHRM and the CIPD, two of the largest national human resource management professional associations, developed own competency models that can be used for development purposes and career path planning. These competency models distinguish between different HR career stages and operationalize each level. The ‘Profession Map’ designed by the CIPD describes what successful HR professionals need to know and need to do at four ‘bands’ of professional competence and which challenges HR professionals face when moving from one band to the next (CIPD, 2015, pp. 3-6). Likewise, the competency model developed by the SHRM defines the specific behaviors required for HR professionals at an entry, mid, senior and executive career level of the HR profession (SHRM, 2016, p. 6). In the following, the career levels defined in SHRM’s competency model are exemplified.

According to the SHRM (2016) an HR professional at the entry career level is characterized by little or no experience and hold job titles, such as HR assistant or junior recruiter. HR professionals in such a position support operational functions of the HR department, manage small sized-projects and carry out the HR strategy at the transactional level. Typical examples for the responsibilities at this level are supporting HR initiatives, executing tasks passed down from management or operating at the tactical or transactional level (p. 12).

The next career level is the mid-level. At the mid-level HR professionals have moderate experience in HR with around five years and hold job titles like HR manager, HR generalist or HR specialist. In these positions HR professionals characteristically lead or support operational functions of the HR department, lead or manage small- to mid-sized projects, programs and initiatives, implement the HR plans passed down from management and delegate tasks to early-level staff (SHRM, 2016, p. 12).

If HR professionals reach the senior level, they will work as high level strategic and operational leaders or HR consultants and are characterized by significant experience with approximately ten years. As Directors or principals, professionals at this career level have responsibilities, such as managing large or multiple programs or projects, analyzing business information, operationalizing the HR strategy and developing and leading implementation plans (SHRM, 2016, p. 13).

The fourth and last career level of SHRM’s competency model is the executive level, where an HR professional works as an organizational leader and designer of human capital strategy. As one of the organization’s most senior leaders in the HR department, employees in these positions hold titles, such as vice president or chief human resource officer (SHRM, 2016, p. 13).

4. Research Findings on Human Resource Competencies

Performing successfully in the HR career levels represented in the last chapter requires both identification and development of the critical competencies. There is a large body of literature that explores these critical competencies and professional standards for international HR professionals. This section aims to delineate key findings of HR competency research.

Because of the variance in the use of the terminologies competency and competency model in the literature, it is important to explain what is meant by these terms in the framework of this paper. An appropriate definition of a competency is the description as the individual knowledge, skills and abilities and other characteristics (KSAOs) or combinations of KSAOs, that are needed to effectively perform a given job (Campion et al., 2011, p. 226; Schippmann et al., 2000, p. 706). These competencies can be either technical or behavioral. Technical competencies reflect what knowledge HR professionals apply, whereas behavioral competencies reflect how they apply knowledge to their jobs (SHRM, 2018, p. 3). A set of competencies that defines the needs for effective job performance is typically referred to as a competency model. Competency models frequently entail descriptions of how their competencies change or progress with an employee’s level of proficiency (Campion et al., 2011, p. 226; Martone, 2003, p. 23).

A first overview of the critical competencies for international HR professionals is provided by Briscoe at al. (2015), who differentiate between general and specific competencies (p. 483). The authors highlight the need to acquire a global mindset, international experience, and strong technical and strategic business skills. Acquiring these skills involves the development of multiple general and specific competencies, which are summarized in Table 1 below. Examples of the general competencies are cross-cultural interpersonal skills or the ability to manage global risks, whereas the ability to design and implement global HR systems, such as training, compensation, or performance management is an example for the required specific competencies (Briscoe at al., 2015, pp. 483-484).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1 : General & Specific Competencies

Besides this overview provided by Briscoe et al., the chapter now focuses on some considerable findings of the research on HR competencies in detail.

Because HR competencies are receiving increasing attention there has been an enormous growth in research and practice in the field of international HR management. Hence, many HR associations, research organizations and consultancies have elaborated on identifying the critical competencies for HR professionals and developed sophisticated competency models (Briscoe et al., 2015, p. 30; Caldwell, 2008, p. 275; Ulrich et al., 2015, p. 56). Many of these competency models are linked to the HR business partner model developed by Ulrich and associates. Following this approach, the required skills and competencies of HR professionals are the factors through which they deliver value to their organizations in a business partner role (Ulrich, Younger, Brockbank & Ulrich, 2012, p. 1; Ulrich & Brockbank, 2016, p. 18; Lo, Macky & Pio, 2015, p. 2309). Hence, HR competencies ‘should be seen as predictors of important personal and organizational outcomes’ (Ulrich & Brockbank, 2016, p. 19).

Even though some researchers have called into question the effectiveness of existing ‘business partnering’ competency models regarding the linking of HR strategy and business performance (e.g. Caldwell, 2008, 2010), this part outlines the research results of leading HR professional associations from a career preparation perspective.

Table 2 presents the results of the competency research conducted by the SHRM, the University of Michigan and the RBL Group, as well as the CIPD.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 2 : Research Findings on HR Competencies

The research program initiated by SHRM in 2011 led to the creation of the ‘SHRM Competency Model’ which describes the personal and professional attributes that HR professionals need for success and career advancement. Through the series of studies conducted, eight behavioral competencies (ethical practice, leadership & navigation, business acumen, relationship management, communication, consultation, critical evaluation and global & cultural effectiveness) and one technical competency (HR expertise) were identified (SHRM, 2018, p. 4).

Another competency model is the ‘Profession Map’ developed by the CIPD. Based on the conducted research the CIPD identified two core professional areas (leading HR and insights, strategy and solutions) and eight additional professional areas (organizational design, organizational development, resourcing and talent planning, learning and talent development, performance and rewards, employee engagement, employee relations, service delivery and information), that are critical to the success of today’s HR managers (CIPD, 2015, p. 9).

A research project initiated by Dave Ulrich and the RBL Group and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan explores the competencies, that are important for HR professionals and how those competencies impact business performance. With a sample size of 30,000 worldwide respondents the 7th round of the HR Competency Study is one of the largest global studies, that has empirically defined the competencies of HR professionals. The results of the study indicate that HR professionals deliver business value through three core competencies (strategic positioner, credible activist and paradox navigator). In addition to these core competencies three competencies that help position the HR function to deliver strategic value were identified (culture and change champion, human capital curator and total rewards steward) as well as three other ‘delivery enablers’ (technology and media integrator, compliance manager, analytics designer and interpreter). These enablers refer to competencies, that enable the translation of business strategy into individual action (The RBL Group, 2016, pp. 2-6; Ulrich et al., 2017, pp. 37-38).

Without defining the individual competencies[1] of each model, it can be stated that ‘as the number of these competency models increases, the amount of confusion in the HR field about what is required to be an effective HR professional also increases’ (Ulrich et al., 2015, p. 56). Rather than comparing different HR competency models Ulrich et al. (2015) offer a ‘synthesis of competency models’ as an approach to structure and categorize them (p. 56).

Across the range of existing competency models, they propose six common categories of HR competencies: The Business category encompasses the core knowledge of a firm’s value chain, such as operations management or supply chain management, that HR professionals must have. HR professionals also need to be able to apply this knowledge to formulation and implementation of business strategy. Human resource tools, practices, and processes as the second category involves the ability to design and utilize basic HR tools, such as performance management or recruitment. HR information systems, analytics, and architecture includes the involvement of HR professionals in the field of information management or the ability to apply predictive analytics. The fourth category , ‘Change’, encompasses the ability to encourage innovation, flexibility and adaptability while providing institutional stability. The category Organization and Culture refers to that, HR professionals need to be able to create and sustain a culture requisite for competitive organizations. Finally, Personal credibility is essential for HR professionals to perform their job effectively. This requires strong relationships with key leaders, the ability to communicate clearly and discipline in reaching goals (Ulrich et al., 2015, pp. 56-62).

However, it must be taken into account that the identified key competencies need to be adapted to different contextual conditions. Therefore, competencies may vary depending on current and future business requirements, different geographical regions or the requirements of different industries. For instance, the specific competencies that are helpful in one country may be less helpful in another. Apart from that, due to the constantly changing business conditions new essential competency requirements, such as HR analytic skills will continue to emerge and gain in importance for the future success of HR professionals (Ulrich et al., 2015, pp. 59-63; Ulrich & Brockbank, 2016, p. 19).

5. Individual HR Career Management

After having described different HR career levels as well as considerable findings of HR competency research this chapter outlines how to acquire these competencies through individual career management. As presented initially the internationalization of business activities leads to many challenges for organizations affecting their HR management. One of the resulting challenges is the following: ‘Organizations that operate in the increasingly competitive global economy of the future will need and expect their IHR managers to develop the professional competencies needed to help them successfully steer their organizations through the chaos of global competition’ ( Briscoe et al., 2015, p. 480).

But how can this goal formulated by Briscoe et al. be achieved? As mentioned initially the management function of international HR management is a comparatively new professional and academic area. For this reason, there are only limited opportunities to gain a specific academic education in international HR management. Additionally, the relatively limited body of literature and publicly available training programs and seminars make it difficult to acquire the requisite skills and abilities to meet the needs of the international HR management function. Considering the academic education as one primary way to acquire the necessary knowledge, it must be noted that there are unfortunately only a few master’s degree programs in international HR management. Nevertheless, a great number of universities offers at least a course in this subject area as a part of a master’s degree program in HR or as an optional course within a program on international business (Briscoe et al., 2015, p. 28; pp. 481-482). Apart from that, internships are an opportunity especially for early HR entrants or graduates, to gain practical experience and develop the specific knowledge and skills required for a career in international HR management (SHRM, 2016, p. 1).


[1] The definitions of the individual competencies of each competency model represented here can be found in Appendix A.


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Titel: Preparing for an international HR Career