Title: Global HR
Authors: Peter Reilly & Tony Williams
Reviewed by Alan Warner, MTP plc
This book fills an important gap by trying to capture all the challenges faced by those in key positions in the HR function of global companies. It is very well researched, has an impressive list of examples from a wide range of companies and is well structured, covering most of the issues that this target group is likely to face.
The number and quality of companies quoted from the authors’ research is good – though I was more impressed by Shell and Unilever than by Oxfam – but I frequently yearned for something more focussed, rather than the fleeting references to particular practices every few pages. A chapter describing the Global HR strategy of one company as a case study would have been a useful extra feature, maybe with comparative references to other multinationals.
It also seemed that too many of the companies quoted were ‘old school’ – RBS, Shell, Siemens, Unilever – and it would have been helpful to see more examples of the ways in which the high tech, high speed multinationals like Facebook and Google are facing similar challenges, for instance the extent to which social media is playing a part in their global communications strategy.
I am only qualified to make critical comment on the areas where I have experience and understanding of multinational practices, in business partnering and learning and development.
In the case of business partnering, this topic was only covered towards the end of the book, under the heading of ‘Global Service Delivery Model’, and there is balanced coverage of the thorny issues of whether the reporting line should be to the business units or the centre, and where the specialist expertise should be based. I would like to have seen some discussion of why the HR Business Partnering model, launched by Dave Ulrich around fifteen years ago, has lost its early momentum and has been less well accepted than was promised. (Research at Roffey Park suggested that less than half of surveyed companies see the model as being effective in the HR function).
The section on global Learning and Development seemed to me to be rather short and shallow, descriptive rather than prescriptive; this perception may be because it is an area where I have been involved for many years. I was surprised to see no reference to the delivery of training programmes on-line, a new opportunity being seized by many global companies to solve resistance to the time and cost of travel. I was also surprised not to see anything about the increasing trend for companies to move away from generic business school programmes towards tailored events that reflect their own language and culture. However interesting is the Mintzberg Masters programme quoted by the authors, it is hardly typical of where most of the innovation and investment is going.
Overall the content is high quality and, as with their previous two books, the authors have done their research and are obviously leading thinkers in their field. I particularly liked their use of ‘success factors’ in each chapter to link the practical implications to the theory of their research.
This book is not an easy read and I suspect that few of those who buy it will read it cover to cover. It is quite long at over 300 pages and there is little white space; paragraphs are closely spaced and there are very few illustrations to break up the text. I expect that it will either be used for reference when particular issues come up or for partial reading by those with a particular need, for instance someone like me with a close interest in management development might dip into the relevant chapter.
But there is much else that is excellent in the book; the chapters on organisational cultures and diversity are particularly powerful and well thought through. I would recommend it to be on the office shelf of any manager involved in Global HR. It should be an immediate read for those who are new to the topic or likely to be involved in developing or implementing strategy for a major multinational. But put an uninterrupted day aside in a quiet room if you want to read and retain the content!
About Alan Warner
Alan is one of the founding partners of MTP plc and has delivered a range of finance programmes and led the move towards even higher levels of tailoring to client needs. He has written six business novels, designed to communicate management concepts in reader friendly style. He has also been involved in the creation of both generic and customised e-learning material.
MTP was formed in 1987 when the Founding Partners left Ashridge Business School to form an organisation which specialised in interactive management training. The core business is the provision of tailored learning solutions for high calibre managers of top companies, in the areas of business and financial management. They have established a consistent reputation for highly tailored programmes of business school calibre for top companies, including BP and Unilever.