Culture is a powerful, unifying force for every business. Its sheer strength can influence everything from productivity growth and talent retention to open performance conversations and meaningful personal development.

As a continuous experience that extends across every touch point at work, employees should feel like they’re never forgotten, their best interests are always considered, and their long-term goals are actively supported.

However, it seems that no workforce culture is strong enough to achieve such a strong employee-employer relationship. Throughout Gallup News’ decade-long research, very rarely has global employee engagement ticked past the 15 percent mark. Plus, it was recently revealed that only five percent of employees with 10 years or more in tenure are engaged.

By now, HR leaders and the executives they support are well-aware that employee engagement is a pervasive issue that needs to be tackled. So where’s the disconnect? For global companies, the answer is unlikely about whether the HR strategy is wrong. Instead, it’s a matter of how it’s rolled out to each individual region.

Global Engagement Depends Heavily on Regional Perspectives

The development and acceptance of digitally driven habits have profoundly changed how businesses operate, when people engage with each other, and what consumers value and expect. As the adoption of mobile devices and Internet access continues to accelerate, digital services are now the bare minimum of what people at all stages of life expect as employees and consumers.

However, there’s a myth that the more digital our world becomes, the more people will behave similarly globally. The IDC research report HR Must Deliver on Transformation,” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors, noted that “the most dangerous way to approach the disruption caused by digital transformation is to apply the same processes and strategies that were relevant in the past.”

While IDC’s observation is good advice, I would like to take that thought a step further: applying the same methods used in other regions can be equally – if not more – dangerous too. I came to this realization recently after talking to a customer that manufacturers its products worldwide with large entities in North America, Europe, and Asia. What I learned from that experience are the five fundamentals in a regional rollout of digital HR transformation. These apply to any business, large or small, looking to expand internationally:

  • Communicate precisely how the company envisions the future of the business, HR, and the region and what local teams can do to support it
  • Identify region- and culture-specific bottlenecks that need to be addressed before taking action
  • Treat the talent needs of each geographic area – such as work/life balance, pay equality, benefits, and professional development – as unique requirements and create a customized plan to act
  • Engage each regional office to help modify the global HR strategy to address local cultural norms and legal and social regulations, while staying aligned with the overall business vision
  • Put HR transformation at the center of your evolving business with your regional talent leading the change

Digital HR Success Requires a Balance of Respect – for a Company’s Global and Regional DNA

A global HR strategy is essential for a successful transformation project because it provides the foundation for lower complexity and higher standardization. However, this is only the first step in a long journey. HR leadership must also modify the global strategy and lay a flexible, yet structured and process-driven, foundation that can handle the unique needs of each region with the right tools and vision of the new role HR needs to play respecting local laws and habits and, with that, the society and employees located in that specific country.

Find out the five key trends and actions that can help businesses of all sizes address the challenges of digital transformation and the development of the HR organization. Read the IDC interactive report “HR Must Deliver on Transformation,” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors.

Hindrik Jan (René) Zigterman is vice president and head of Business Development and Center of Excellence Middle and Eastern Europe for SAP SuccessFactors.