How To Successfully Run Human Resources In Another Country

Ansgar Ruhnau

For the second time, I’m being sent abroad to manage human resources in a foreign country. This is exciting, but at the same time not an easy ride. Being away from your home turf as an HR professional poses various challenges, ranging from working in a foreign language to cultural differences and different labor laws. Nevertheless, if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to make the leap. It is a rewarding experience!

I’ll share how I survived, hoping that it may help you to manage, too. For me, the success of the assignment rested on the following three bullet points, with a well-functioning HR system at the core of it.

1. Surviving the first days: Know the people!

On my first assignment abroad, I was send to the beautiful Netherlands. I was a corporate freshman who hadn’t seen anything except the headquarters. I had no clue about what to expect or who the local decision makers were. My predecessor was on leave, and I was on my own to figure everything out. I prepared with live information on the business entity’s organizational structure – the hierarchy, personal information, and HR data were all at my fingertips in SuccessFactors. By studying this data in advance, I knew all the important names and faces from the first day in the office. This was helpful for me, because on the first day loads of people pop into your office to test you as the new HR person. It’s easy to impress them when you already know their function and performance rating.

2. Be on top of it: Pick three challenges!

After surviving my first days, I was invited to give a presentation to the board of directors. I was nervous, but eager to make a positive impression. I had to figure out how to deliver a meaningful HR speech addressing the core pain points the business was facing. It took me a long night to prepare a decent presentation. What really helped though was having access to performance indicators that were globally consistent. I accessed the latest analysis and benchmarked it with similar business entities.

Predefined dashboards can give you a good start on a high-level approach, so you know where you need to investigate further. Pick three items that you can use to challenge the board. Be as specific as possible, e.g., “I wonder why you let XYZ go last year despite his status as top talent.” The audience will be surprised by your in-depth knowledge, and you can use that moment of silence to continue with a programmatic statement, “…that is why I want to introduce a consistent talent management going forward.” You probably do not want to push them too much, but in small portions, this will help you set your mark.

3. Delivering on promises: The perks of standardized HR processes

If you’ve followed my advice, hopefully you left a good impression from the first day and made your mark with the board of directors. Now it’s time to start the execution machine. The first 90 days will be about delivering the promises that you made and earning the employees’ trust by managing talent, approving salary increases, or dismissing ineffective employees. In addition to building a strong local team, this requires knowledge of the local HR processes and labor law. The bad news is, you can’t avoid studying local labor law. The good news is, with standardized HR processes that are already adapted to local requirements, you can execute on HR services the same way you’re used to in your home country. The HR system will guide you with the required information and all the necessary steps. That makes delivering on promises simple.

Now that I’m on my second assignment abroad, I fully appreciate how beneficial a well-functioning, easy to use HR system has been to my career. It enables me to focus on making a successful start with the local HR team, rather than having to dig into local data and processes from scratch.

SAP can help with all your people initiatives. Learn how to manage the modern workforce with our HCM software.

This was originally published on LinkedIn.


Ansgar Ruhnau

About Ansgar Ruhnau

Ansgar Ruhnau is an HR business partner at SAP and has a track record in various HR functions. His vision is to build the best organizations for people to live and work together. Ansgar is an upright HR professional that is enthusiastic to discover new things and lead us to the next chapter of how work is performed. He joined SAP in 2010 in a talent program and started his career in Global People Sustainability. He later joined the HR team in Germany as an HR business partner responsible for more than 400 employees. Today, Ansgar is inheriting multiple roles with HR for EMEA and MEE regions at SAP, lately as HR Director for SAP Netherlands and SAP Spain.