When it comes to managing a sales force for a company just making its start in the global marketplace, the company must first address basic human resources. Although it may seem obvious to implement different human resource practices in each individual country and culture, studies have shown that it is actually preferable to create a global human resources system and then make minor adaptations to that system as required by local cultures. The key to implementing a global human resources system is to remember that the system is about standardizing the goals of the system not specific practices. In other words, it is important to develop a global company culture and then let local culture flavor as necessary (Dessler, 2008).
Once human resource policies are standardized, the company can get down to the business of managing people. In every culture in which the company operates, managers will have to deal with local employees. For a company that truly desires a global footprint, it is advisable to cultivate leadership from within the company, and encourage managers to work outside their home culture. Therefore, it can be expected that managers will eventually be placed in charge of teams whose cultures are different from their own. This geocentric staffing method promotes the ideas outlined in the global human resource policy that the company’s culture is a guiding force behind operations (Wild, Wild, & Han, 2008).
The manager of this global sales force can be confident that the local managers in each international market are the best candidates for that position. The global manager must then help each local manager understand the local workforce and how the local culture influences it. The work of Geert Hofstede is extremely helpful in this regard. After analyzing a survey of 110,000 IBM employees in 40 countries, Hofstede developed a four dimension framework to describe any culture. The first two dimensions individualism versus collectivism and power distance are somewhat related. A culture can be described as being focused on individuals and promoting individual performance or being group-oriented, preferring to share successes and failures as a team rather than an individual. Power distance describes how accepting a culture is of inequalities between employees and supervisors. Countries that favor individualism also tend to display a small power distance. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, are generally more accepting of large power distances (Wild, Wild, & Han, 2008).
The final two dimensions of the Hofstede framework describe how hard a culture tries to avoid uncertainty and whether it favors achievements or nurturing. Cultures that strive to avoid uncertainty generally create strict rules that provide assurances to workers. For example, in Germany an employee may be entitled to at least one years’ service in severance pay (Dessler, 2008, p. 696). The achievement vs nurturing dimensions measures how much a culture favors materialism over quality of life. A low score in this dimension describes a culture with a relaxed lifestyle (Wild, Wild, & Han, 2008).
The Hofstede framework can help all levels of management make decisions regarding the global sales force. It provides a quick reference for any manager to use to gain a perfunctory understanding of the local culture. Before entering a new market, local managers should accustom themselves with the local culture’s Hofstede measurements. This will give them insights such as whether to employ an individual or team-based incentive plan.
Dessler, G. (2008). Human Resource Management. (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Wild, J. J., Wild, K. L., & Han, J. C. (2008). International business: The challenges of globalization. (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.