Competency: Global & Cultural Effectiveness Veterans' Experience and Training Prepares Them for HR Success

By Lindsay Northon May 2, 2016
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In the course of their duties, many members of the U.S. armed forces are deployed into situations requiring the ability to work within different cultures. The military provides its troops with basic language and cross-cultural training to support them and their families with the adjustment to different cultural norms.

To ensure success, soldiers must harness a global perspective and a diversity mindset. These skills, often referred to as Global & Cultural Effectiveness in the HR space, are also increasingly valuable for doing business in a global economy. Veterans can have a distinct advantage in achieving HR success because they frequently come armed with training and experience in one of the nine critical competencies for HR success, making them a hot commodity for recruiters in multinational corporations.

Having a global perspective involves understanding viewpoints from cultures throughout the world, including individual nations' economies, market trends, politics and current events. In today's mobile and globalized work environment, it is critical for HR professionals to develop a global perspective, as it provides the foundation for adapting policies and practices to the countries in which their organizations operate.

Most members of the military are already familiar with one important aspect of having a global perspective: knowing that a friendly gesture in one place can be considered offensive in another. They have learned, for instance, that in certain regions people make eye contact to show respect, while in other regions people avoid eye contact as a sign of respect. They know that in some cultures, people tend to speak within inches of each other’s faces during business meetings or social gatherings, whereas in the U.S., speaking so closely is an invasion of personal space.

A diversity mindset allows a person to see and respect individual differences within an organization’s context, such as ethnicity, gender, age, tenure, educational background, personality and work style. With a diversity mindset, one is aware that every person at work—employees, contractors, vendors, board members and clients—brings to the table unique insights, opinions and experiences.

Members of the armed forces are taught that their decisions must always align with the service mission and goals. This is where some people misunderstand what the military seeks to instill in its soldiers; it is not an attempt to remove diversity, but rather to create a common alignment on service mission and goals while gaining from different viewpoints and skills. This experience—working alongside others from many walks of life and backgrounds on a common mission—helps position veterans for success in the increasingly diverse world of HR.

Developing a Global Perspective and Diversity Mindset

You can boost your own proficiency in Global & Cultural Effectiveness without a lot of pertinent experience or training, or a military background. Consider a few of the following activities, within or outside of a work setting:

  • When developing HR practices and organizationwide policies, seek out an array of perspectives, and do your best to understand and incorporate them.
  • Read or watch news stories involving other cultures or countries.
  • Join a group or professional organization with members of various cultural backgrounds.
  • Collaborate on a work project or team-building activity with colleagues of different generations or backgrounds.
  • Attend conferences on, or celebrations of, global HR and diversity.
  • Seek a short-term assignment in another country. Travel to a different place where you might do business.
  • Mentor an expatriate.
  • Create a holiday policy that is sensitive to all employees' religious traditions.
  • Organize a potluck to which employees bring food from their countries and share information about their cultures.
  • Expand your outreach and recruitment efforts to capture more widely diverse candidates in the applicant pool.

To prepare for and truly leverage the realities of diversity in today’s shrinking sociopolitical world, organizations must prepare and encourage staff to embrace the strengths and benefits of a diverse workforce. HR can set the tone by applying a diversity mindset and a global perspective—that is, the Global & Cultural Effectiveness competency—when setting policies and practices. Veterans’ experiences in cultures and workplaces around the world can help to put those policies into action.

Lindsay Northon is specialist of HR competencies at SHRM.

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