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Project Management 101 for International HR

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Busy people want easy instructions – and busy executives want you to implement your projects while giving them concise updates and instructions of what is needed from their teams. HR professionals starting to manage a new project need their plan to be clear and actionable.

I have collated my experience leading HR teams and managing international projects onto a few actionable tips for managing successful projects.

4 Important Project Management Principles

Project management basics help you set a firm foundation. If you are kicking off a project that involves multiple teams in different locations, here are some steps to follow for a well-organized, successful project:

#1: State what you are trying to accomplish. 

  • Identify the defining business need.
    Bring the question of ‘why are we doing this’ up a level until you can’t anymore. For example, is measuring employee engagement the true business need OR is it the task needed to be able to improve employee engagement? Does improving engagement serve an even higher need, like reducing employee turnover? Is turnover reduction a mere element of an overall need to lower operating costs?
  • Share the business need. 
    Clearly stating the actionable business objectives of a project helps all stakeholders recognize why they are involved, and helps you get buy-in.

#2: Lay out the steps needed to get there. 

  • Break down the project into digestible tasks.  
    Explicitly define the quantifiable improvements or results expected, especially if cultural nuances might impact interpretation. Make sure each task has a clear owner and a due date.
  • Define milestones. 
    Milestones indicate moments of completion in incremental steps toward the project’s end goal. This allows clear monitoring of the team’s progress and allows you to celebrate your collective wins along the way.
  • Schedule checkpoint meetings. 
    Both milestones and checkpoints are proven to be useful in increasing team morale. They draw attention to individual achievements, ensure all team members’ efforts are recognized and valued, and let everyone align to what is next. Never have a meeting simply for the sake of having one, but regular checkpoints help to keep the project team connected.

#3: Communicate to connect individual contributions to the bigger picture. 

  • Leave no room for misunderstanding. 
    Assume nothing. When working in multinational teams, communication must be crystal clear. While taking into account cultural sensibilities for receiving instructions and delegation, get each person’s deliverables for the project down in writing and help the team to understand how the tasks connect to each other and to your overall goal.
  • Collect all documentation in one place.
    All your project information should be in a location that anyone can access, in any time zone. This could include a project schedule, listing of team members, and a RACI (responsible, accountable, consult, and inform) matrix for additional clarity of roles.

#4: Engage your leadership team. 

  • Engage senior managers to help you keep everyone motivated. 
    Before your project begins, you need involvement and buy-in from the stakeholders outside of HR. Consider the departments needed for your project and the right senior managers to involve in each region – this might not be someone’s direct manager in different cultures.
  • Be respectful of high-level stakeholders’ inboxes. 
    Project managers should be in regular communication with the responsible parties for each task, while high-level stakeholders and executives should get brief, periodic updates.

3 International HR Project Examples

Our teams manage projects across borders every day. As part of an international company, we are well versed in best practices, but these vary by project type. Here are highlights of a few global HR projects:

Project #1: Implementing a cross-border engagement survey 

Globalization Partners is proud to report 96 percent employee satisfaction. We could not manage this if it weren’t for a robust engagement survey and subsequent HR efforts to continually improve the employee experience.

Measuring employee engagement can be largely automated once the methodology and questions are decided. HR teams can essentially click “send” and utilize the reporting that comes standard in many tools to identify trends and measure progress. At Globalization Partners, we use 15five for team management and its survey function has been a major asset to understanding our team’s workload, motivation and engagement.

Project #2: Designing a global remote onboarding experience 

Because we hire globally, Globalization Partners had to plan for remote onboarding out long before the pandemic. For our HR team, this meant creating a series of videos for new team members, setting multiple meet-and-greet calls with all the employee’s adjacent functions, and formally documenting expectations, learnings, and opportunities.

[bctt tweet=”Because we hire globally, Globalization Partners had to plan for remote onboarding out long before the pandemic. For our HR team, this meant creating a series of videos for new team members, setting multiple meet-and-greet calls with all the employee’s adjacent functions, and formally documenting expectations, learnings, and opportunities. ” username=”globalpeo”]

At Globalization Partners, we use Lessonly to generate the training piece of a great onboarding experience. Companies hiring internationally will also be considering timely payments, secure data collection, and transparent hour and expense management. Our full stack employment platform makes global hiring and onboarding fast and easy for HR teams.

Project #3: Scaling international recruitment efforts 

Our company size doubled despite Covid-19, and most of our new recruits are NOT based near our U.S. headquarters location. This distinction is important to know before you start your recruiting effort: are you hiring in a specific market or simply find the best person for the job, wherever they may live? The pandemic has proven that remote work is highly effective, and the growing global trend is to find the best talent regardless of their location.

LinkedIn is one of the biggest social networks for professionals in the U.S., but this is not the case worldwide. In China for example, a similar concept exists in Ushi, but there are differences.

The LinkedIn concept does not translate directly to all markets, so you’ll need to adapt job opening promotion to each region.

Your Project is Complete – One More Step

A project debrief (or retrospective) should be considered the final step of a project. It allows all stakeholders to celebrate their success and for the project owners to reflect on best practices for the future. Research also shows teams that conduct a debrief perform up to 20 percent better.

Keep culture in mind at this feedback stage — it can be the most sensitive step in global project management. Harvard Business Review cites Chinese culture tending to require positive reinforcement, yet a German corporate culture of only highlighting outstanding acts can actually lead to negative performance. There are many nuances within each country’s corporate culture and even within different companies — so at this stage, local knowledge is invaluable.

At each milestone the project team should ask:

  • What did we do well?
  • What can we do differently?

The final project debrief should include input from all phases, a review of the return on investment (ROI) of the completed project, and a summary of suggested changes for the next project. Changes could be anything from the scoping process to the departments that were involved on the team. Project owners also own the responsibility to ensure all information collected in the debrief is applied to the next iteration, so the process is continuously improved.

From project scoping and planning to documenting debrief findings, my biggest takeaway from managing cross-border projects is to over-communicate. You can rarely overstate the obvious when many business styles are involved.

Is your company planning to hire globally? We created this International Business Expansion Checklist, a project management tool for companies going global.

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