Customize HR Programs for a Global Workforce: McLean & Company


Given that cultural norms vary significantly by region, global HR research and advisory firm McLean & Company emphasizes the importance of designing HR programs that focus on meeting the organization’s goals through an inclusive lens that acknowledges regional differences to ensure a meaningful employee experience for all.

As the way we work continues to expand beyond the traditional in-person, in-office model to include hybrid and remote work options, the talent pool extends beyond organizations’ immediate geographic regions. The shift in talent sourcing opportunities has created a more globalized workforce, with many employees living and working at a significant distance from organizations’ brick-and-mortar offices. As a result, HR programs must be adapted to meet employees’ differing regional and cultural needs. To support HR leaders in creating effective programs that align organizational objectives with regional requirements, global HR research and advisory firm McLean & Company has released its new industry blueprint, Customize HR Programs for a Global Workforce.

The new blueprint explores how working across regions introduces several factors that add complexity to HR programs at the regional level, such as labor laws and regulations, languages and communication styles, cultural norms, and region-specific access to resources. With employee experience continuing to rank high on the list of organizational priorities, employing a one-size-fits-all approach to HR program design and implementation does not meet employees’ unique regional needs and further risks detrimental long-term organizational and people impacts.

“Customizing HR programs without determining the driving force behind the need risks misplaced efforts and an inefficient use of resources,” says Jodi Callaghan, director of HR Research and Advisory Services at McLean & Company. “A clear understanding of organizational goals helps steer where customization is most needed and will have the greatest impact. However, it is critical to balance the need for analysis and action. Thorough analysis helps avoid making assumptions about regional needs, but spending too much time analyzing the environment delays the rollout of the program. In turn, the delay risks implementing a program that is no longer relevant.”

The blueprint from McLean & Company offers actionable guidance to help HR leaders identify where HR program customization will be most impactful, modify selected HR programs where required, and implement customized HR programs that account for nuances affecting change management at the regional level. The firm’s three-step process to customize HR programs for a global workforce can be found in the full resource and is also outlined below:

  1. Step one: Determine the need for customization.  

    The first step includes establishing guiding principles for customization, identifying key players to participate in program customization, and inventorying HR programs to create a shortlist for customization. HR leaders will also conduct an environmental scan to help inform the degree and anticipated impacts of customization and select HR programs where customization will be most impactful.

  2. Step two: Customize selected HR programs.

    Step two of the firm’s process guides the exploration of common factors that apply to HR program customization across HR functional areas and the review of implications for customized HR program design. The second step also supports the preparation to customize selected HR programs by appointing a project team, creating a project plan, and selecting goals and metrics for each HR program. 

  3. Step three: Implement customized HR programs.

    The third and final step coaches HR leaders through reviewing regional nuances of change management, determining the appropriate roll out approach, and crafting a communication plan for each customized program. Additionally, upon the completion of step three, plans to evaluate each customized HR program and iterate as needed will be in place.

“At the end of the day, HR leaders need to remember that workforce needs are not universal across regions,” adds Callaghan. “Strategically customizing HR programs to align with organizational objectives and regional requirements ensures meaningful employee experiences that can be shared by all, regardless of geographic location.”

McLean & Company reminds HR leaders that pushing ethnocentric programs and expecting regional employees to adapt comes with risks of significant people impacts, including disengagement and reduced psychological safety in the workplace. However, involving regional employees in the development of customized HR programs increases program adoption and alignment. The blueprint also suggests that organizations find the right balance between customized and standardized HR programs and cautions that frequently changing an HR program may do more harm than good. As such, it is critical for organizations to allow time for changes to come into effect, listen to regional employees’ feedback and concerns, and uncover the root causes of why customization is not working before taking additional action to implement changes.

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