Think Globally

By Jennifer Schramm Jun 1, 2011
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Globalization has often been associated with large multinational corporations. But leaders of small and medium-sized organizations in the United States are adopting a more global mind-set—and so are HR professionals.

In the most recent SHRM Workplace Forecast survey report released in February, a majority of HR professionals said that the following trends related to globalization will have a “major strategic impact” on businesses:

  • Increased global competition for jobs, markets and talent (72 percent of respondents).
  • The economic growth of emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil (62 percent).
  • A greater need for cross-cultural understanding and savvy in business settings (61 percent).

These workplace trends are among the top 10 identified in the report. In addition, 59 percent of the 1,247 HR professionals who responded to the survey predict that increased expansion of U.S. companies into the global marketplace will have a major strategic impact on the workplace—and on the HR profession itself.

Forty-two percent of the respondents report that, in response to globalization, their organizations already are selling or are planning to sell products and services in the global marketplace; 38 percent said they are expanding or planning to expand their business operations internationally.

These numbers are likely to increase in coming years because there is a growing base of middle-class consumers overseas that represents a major opportunity for increasing U.S. exports. In fact, the vast majority of economic growth during the next decade is expected to be outside the United States.

Large multinationals have led the way in tapping these growing markets, but now small and medium-sized companies are also expanding overseas. And recent trade numbers are promising: U.S. exports rebounded strongly last year, increasing 16.6 percent from low 2009 levels, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

There has been a growing push among business organizations and the government to help small and medium-sized businesses increase their exports. The Obama administration launched the National Export Initiative in 2010 with the goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years and creating 2 million new jobs. Helping small companies expand into international markets is a primary focus.

The move into global markets can be daunting for leaders of many smaller businesses, but HR professionals in these companies can help. They can learn more about the cultural and human capital factors that will have the biggest effect on new international initiatives. They can work with government and business groups to navigate the legal and bureaucratic environments that can make it difficult for businesses to get started in new markets.

Just as the global marketplace represents a business opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses, HR professionals who adopt a more global business mind-set have an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

The author is manager of the Workplace Trends and Forecasting program at SHRM.

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