Our latest in the HR Postcard series, comes from Rani Hammond who is a Global HR Executive based in Washington D.C.

Rani recently joined 2U as Chief People Office. A publically listed company on the New York Stock Exchange, 2U is experiencing a 30% year on year growth and has a market cap of 4 billion dollars.   2U is a technology company that has an education component to it. They partner with leading University brands across US and internationally, at graduate degree level (masters) and curate classes in real time online.
We are thankful to Rani for the generous gift of her time to converse with us about her personal experience of HR across the multiple markets that she operates in. 

What are the challenges of the business environment you are operating in?

“There are multiple challenges that my organisation encounters, however the three that specifically come to mind include”
  1. “Our High Growth Environment. 2U is growing exponentially at 30% year on year and it takes considerable effort to keep up with the pace of growth and scale the business accordingly”.
  2. “Our Age. The organisation will celebrate its 10th birthday in April, so we’re a relatively young company in the space we operate in. Our average employee age is 30, so again a young company both from a tenure stand point and life stand point. Many of our employees have only ever worked in 2U”. 
  3. “Start- up culture. Our founder is the operating CEO and has created a start-up style culture which can be seen as anti-establishment, anti-process. And as we are now a publically traded company on the NYC stock exchange with a market cap of in excess of 4 billion, we have to “grow up” and that’s brought its own set of challenges.  In order to sustain continued growth, we need to review and improve processes”.

What are your key observations on the HR trends playing out in the market?

“Our biggest market now is the US domestic market, we’re also in South Africa. So as far as trends go, we’re seeing a lowering of unemployment in the U.S. and the effects of that include”
  1. “A scarcity in some areas of talent that relate to our industry”.
  2. “The growing skilled labour force will observe a salary increase of 3-4% year on year”.
  3. “A rise in the return to work for baby boomers and the challenges that presents in regards to up-skilling them as roles have evolved from when they were part of the workforce”.
  4. “Over in South Africa, it’s more political, it’s about the recent change in government. However, salary wise we have a great pool of talent over there that is significantly cheaper. There are a lot of self-taught talent, who become highly skilled and they are a great resource for us in regards to the rapid growth of the business and keeping up with that”.

What are some of the differences in the HR landscape offshore when comparing to Australia?

“The two main differences I’ve observed are accessibility and complexity”.

1. Accessibility

“When you step out of the Asia Pac time zone, it’s actually much easier to hold a role in a global business in terms of operating because the time zones are much friendlier. More often than not, when you are in Asia Pac, calls tend to be at extreme ends of the day and when you compare that to managing the logistics of a global role from the America’s, the time differences are much more manageable so communicating and collaborating becomes easier. Whilst that’s not just a HR logistics issue, given that HR roles rely on building relationships, we have to spend time on the phone etc. just to work with stakeholders, people underestimate this issue when they are trying to manage a global role or a regional role for a global business from the Asia Pac time zone. “

2. Complexity

“The U.S. is like 52 separate countries. State legislation and or lack of legislation is complex and difficult to manage. Then on top of this, there is another layer of complexity with County Laws which can also be quite random. They make unilateral determinations that add complexity, for example both New York and Philadelphia have now made it illegal to ask for past salary history.  Another example is that San Diego County now requires that businesses over 15 employees must provide employees with 15 days sick leave. All of this makes central management burdensome. 
This is even without mentioning the challenge with healthcare. The linking together of healthcare and employment creates significant complexity. It becomes more than just the individual at work and it’s a minefield to manage as you have to deal with insurance companies, doctors etc.  It doesn’t help that Obama care is being wound back either. This all adds to a really large administration burden on HR teams that makes them feel like they can get stuck in the benefits round-about and can’t get to adding real value to the business. ”
I guess that people don’t appreciate how easy healthcare is in Australia until you have to compare”.

In terms of calibre in HR professionals – how do you feel HR folks in Australia compare?

“Australian HR Professionals are quite robust I think and as they are not burdened with such complex issues such as varying legislations, they have better opportunity to work more on business outcomes and are quite developed in skills such as Business Partnering.  I feel with the restrictions and regulations in the U.S. it’s more difficult and HR professionals spend much time being siloed and getting caught up in areas such as health benefits”.

What you have benefited from as a HR professional in stepping out of an Australian only role and into foreign markets?

“A couple of key benefits come to mind, in my global role, I’m situated at HQ in Washington, this means I am at the centre of the action as opposed to being on the other side of the planet and, as I’ve already said, I don’t have the issue of jumping on a call at odd hours of the day where you don’t have that same physical presence and influence”.
“The scale and diversity of global industries offers a bigger range of work. When I was with Hilton, I attended a world forum called the next HR 50 – (where the top 50 global HR professionals nominate the next 50). It was the best networking opportunity I have been exposed too, I met some incredibly influential HR leaders and I gained access to building a global network.”

What advice would you offer to someone seeking to go abroad into new markets?

“Network, Network, Network. – Every interaction should convert into a connection and if you have an opportunity to help someone, do it, it will boomerang back around to you.
“Moving overseas is tough, I recommend that you commit to two years minimum. It’s not easy for the first year, you are out of whack with what’s happening however things will start to settle down in year two”.
“Be prepared to take a step back, and accept that you’ll be a small fish in a big pond for a while.  If you are prepared to put in the hard yards, a small step back will soon become a big leap forward”.

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